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5 Tips for Taking Compelling Wildlife Photos

Wildlife photography is an amazing way to experience the spectacle of life on Planet Earth, but it can be challenging to make photos that truly capture the wonder and beauty of animal subjects. As with any type of photography, to make photos that stand out, you need to get creative with composition, light, and the magic of the moment. I just recently returned from a 10-day photo safari in Tanzania, visiting Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Central Serengeti. Here are five techniques I used while there; these tips can help you take your wildlife photos to the next level.

Tips for Taking Compelling Wildlife Photos

Zoom in tight to focus on the details

I'm a huge fan of wide-angle photography, and with wildlife, I love going wider to provide context, tell a story, and make the composition more interesting. But when I have close encounters with wildlife, sometimes I like to zoom in tight, focusing instead on the details that make my subject interesting. For the photo above of an elephant, I was lucky to be only twenty feet away from her in my safari vehicle. I chose a tight framing to create an abstract study of the textures, colors, and patterns of her face. Sony A7RV camera, Tamron 150-500mm lens, ISO 2000, f/6.7, 1/500 second.

Tips for Taking Compelling Wildlife Photos

Get an eye-to-eye perspective

When photographing wildlife on the ground, you want to get low enough to get an "eye-to-eye" perspective, where you are staring straight into the animal's eyes. Avoid angles where you are looking down at your subject. For the photo above of a young male lion stalking the savanna, I shot through the window to get a lower perspective rather than the open top of my safari vehicle. While the lion was still farther away, this kept the camera at an angle that allowed me to aim almost directly into its eyes. As the lion got closer to me, I would have needed to be sitting on the ground to get the same perspective, which of course would have been extremely dangerous! Sony A7RV camera, Tamron 150-500mm lens, ISO 200, f/6.7, 1/800 second.

Tips for Taking Compelling Wildlife Photos

Pay close attention to your background

A bad background can ruin your wildlife photos. Avoid busy, distracting, and bright backgrounds whenever possible. For the above photo of a leopard in a tree, I originally had a bright white, featureless sky as my background. I asked my safari driver to pull a few feet forward, which put leaves behind the leopard instead. Using a wide open aperture, I was able to throw the background out of focus. The resulting blurred orbs make a more colorful and pleasing background than the blank sky. Sony A7RV camera, Tamron 150-500mm lens, ISO 1250, f/6.7, 1/800 second.

Tips for Taking Compelling Wildlife Photos

Wait for moments of interaction

You can make powerful photos when you capture the moment when two or more animals interact. A mother and her baby, an exciting predator/prey chase, two males fighting for territory, or (as with the photo above) a female letting a male know his attention isn't wanted—these are all moments that can help you tell a compelling story. Such moments of interaction often don't last long, so make sure your camera is set to continuous shooting (burst) mode so it is ready for high speed capture. Sony A7RV camera, Tamron 150-500mm lens, ISO 125, f/6.3, 1/800 second.

Tips for Taking Compelling Wildlife Photos

Capture "power poses"

Wait for your wildlife subjects to strike what I call "power poses." These are poses that create powerful compositional shapes, or that show lively activity and imply energy and movement. These are the poses that will cause viewers to take notice of your wildlife photos. Knowing something about the behavior of your subject can help you capture power poses. For the photo of a lioness above, she is exhibiting what is known as the flehmen response, which occurs after sniffing or smelling the urine or feces of another lion or lioness. The lion lifts its head, holds its lips back and makes a grimacing gesture, resulting in a dynamic power pose. Having witnessed this behavior many times before, I get my shot lined up whenever I see the early stages of the flehmen response. Sony A7RV camera, Tamron 150-500mm lens, ISO 200, f/6.7, 1/640 second. You can learn more by reading my article on wildlife photography power poses.

More Tanzania photos

Here's a gallery of some of my favorite wildlife photos from my trip to Tanzania.

Learn more about making compelling wildlife photos

Want to learn more about wildlife photography? Check out my video Wildlife Photography Tips: Kenya, which is available exclusively to PRO subscribers. A PRO membership takes a deeper look at how compelling photos are made, and unlocks access to this video as well as a number of my other courses and tutorials.

Wildlife Photography Tutorial

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Fantastic photos and good advice too. Thank you.



Excellent shots thanks for the advice

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