Tips for Improving Your Wildlife Photography Composition

Wildlife photography blends my love of nature with my love of photography. But capturing those frisky critters in an image is a challenge.

Here are 12 tips for better wildlife photography composition. I’ll talk about composition, how to prepare for a photoshoot, and what camera settings to use.

Whether you want to photograph hummingbirds or zebra, these composition and wildlife photography tips will help you make amazing wildlife photos.

Be Prepared With Pre-Program Camera Settings

The golden rule of wildlife photography is to Be Ready!

That means being ready with your camera settings. There are some situations where you won’t have time to fiddle with your camera, so let me start with a basic setup.

As a wildlife photographer, I have a pre-programmed mode for wildlife photography set up on my camera. This means I can change all my settings quickly.

I shoot in Manual Mode. My default settings are f8.0, 1/1000 of a second shutter speed, and auto-ISO (with the maximum set at 5,000). From here, I can change settings depending on lighting conditions and how quickly the wildlife is moving.

For a shallower depth of field, I widen the aperture to f5.6 or f2.8. With slower moving animals, a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second might be fine, but quick birds may need a faster shutter speed (1/2000 of a second).

If my light is even, I can switch out of auto-ISO and if the conditions are dim, I can increase my maximum ISO to 8,000 or even 10,000 in a pinch.

I also shoot on silent mode (a feature available in some mirrorless cameras). I enable burst mode and continuous autofocus. I’ll talk more about these settings later in the article.

I may only get one attempt at a photograph, so I don’t turn off or let my camera go to sleep. I may have only a split second to react and my camera needs that second to start up and focus.

Get the Close-Up

Let’s face it, we can’t always get close to the animals we want to photograph (and sometimes, we wouldn’t want to)!

They generally flee when they hear us coming. We sometimes catch only a fleeting glimpse or hear a rustle in the bushes. If we’re able to photograph the animal, it’s only from a distance.

The most impactful wildlife images show us wildlife close-up. It’s a view that most people don’t often experience except through photographs.

It’s ok to leave a bit of space for the animal to visually move, but if there’s too much space then the image becomes more of a landscape composition.

Luckily, we have telephoto lenses to help us get photographically close even if we can’t get physically close to the animals. Most wildlife photographers use very long lenses (e.g., 100-400 mm telephoto lenses or 600 mm prime lenses) to achieve perfect wildlife photography composition.

They use the lens to get closer without scaring the animal or putting themselves.

The downside of long lenses is that they can be heavy. I use a monopod to stabilize my lens when I’m in the field.

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