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Wildlife photography is growing both as a hobby and as a profession due to increasing interest in nature and the environment, along with advancements in technology. The availability of affordable, high-quality cameras and lenses as well as simply smartphones that can now take exceptional professional photos has made wildlife photography accessible to nearly everyone.

Wildlife photographers often travel solo, as this allows them to be more flexible with their schedules and gives them the ability to more easily adapt to changing weather and lighting conditions as well as being able to accommodate an animal’s schedule. Being solo also reduces the risk of disturbing wildlife, which is often vital for capturing natural behaviors and ensuring the safety of both the photographer and the animals.

The drawback of being a solo traveling wildlife photographer is that you are on your own to master the technical, physical, and environmental challenges that come with photographing the natural world. Thankfully, we thought we’d offer some of our top practical tips to help you master your skills and capture more professional-quality wildlife shots on your next solo adventure.

How to Capture Perfect Wildlife Shots on Solo Adventures

Get Familiar with an Area

Researching and getting familiar with a travel destination and local wildlife habitats is equally as important for wildlife photography as knowing the technical aspects of photography. Such preparation increases the chances of capturing high-quality images and allows you to anticipate what you may realistically be able to photograph.

While you may see images of animals like jaguars taken in the Amazon or tigers in India, the reality is that it likely took a great deal of time and effort knowing where and when to seek out such species. Photographing animals in the wild is not like visiting a zoo where animal sightings are guaranteed; rather it takes research and getting familiar with a natural area.

You’ll need to learn the best times of day, seasons, and specific weather conditions when animals are most active, and understand aspects such as the terrain, local vegetation, and water sources which will help you better anticipate animal movements.

Identifying key locations within a habitat where animals are likely to be found helps in planning your photography sessions, while understanding feeding, mating, nesting, and migratory behaviors helps in anticipating where and when animals will be present. Keep in mind that animals also often have daily routines which can vary from area to area.

Research helps in understanding how to approach animals without causing stress or altering their natural behaviors. It allows you to learn about and adhere to local guidelines and regulations that may be in place to ensure ethical practices that protect wildlife and their habitats

Research Animal Behavior

Knowing animal behavior is another crucial aspect of capturing captivating wildlife photos. Understanding whether certain animals are more apt to be diurnal or nocturnal, as well as learning their possible migration or seasonal patterns will allow you a better chance to plan your trips at the proper time of year and schedule your photography outing at the right periods of the day.

Recognizing signs of stress or agitation in an animal can prevent you from triggering an attack or a retreat. Following key guidelines by Audubon will help you learn how to be a more ethical wildlife photographer on your future trips. They include things like keeping your distance to avoid causing stress, not feeding wild animals, not disrupting natural behaviors, using silent camera shooting modes to minimize disturbances, and sticking to designated paths to protect habitats.

Some of the best ways to learn animal behavior is by studying travel guides, watching documentaries, attending workshops, consulting with local experts or park guides, and of course personally observing animals in the field on your trips. Collectively, these steps will help you gain a deeper understanding of wildlife behavior to hopefully ensure more successful and responsible photography.

Use Natural Light Effectively

Wildlife you'll see on an Antarctic Expedition

Whether you’re taking photos using your camera phone or DSLR, you’ll quickly learn just how important proper lighting is for producing quality wildlife images. Because wildlife photography doesn’t take place in a studio, you have the added challenge of being at the mercy of nature when it comes to achieving ideal lighting conditions.

Mother Nature forces us to continuously adapt to changing conditions and plan photo sessions accordingly to better ensure we will have quality light to work with such as shooting during early morning or that special hour before sunset.

Whether you’re capturing a scenic landscape on your travels or a bird in flight, proper lighting can dramatically improve your shots by producing rich colors, ensuring crisp shots with sharp details, or creating special artistic effects.

Set Up Your Camera for Motion

Wildlife rarely stays still for long, so using the proper camera and configuring it properly to be able to capture motion is often quite important. The camera settings you’ll choose such as ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and focal distance will all affect how motion is captured.

You can set a high shutter speed to freeze action and prevent motion blur, adjust the ISO settings and aperture accordingly to compensate for the high shutter speed, use continuous shooting mode to capture multiple frames per second, and benefit from autofocus for fast-moving subjects.

Enhance Backgrounds with Editing Tools

The background in your wildlife photography is almost just as important as your main animal subjects. It often plays a crucial role in terms of a photo’s overall composition, aesthetic appeal, and the story an image tells.

A busy background can obstruct or distract viewers from seeing the beaty of your animal subjects, while a pleasing background can accentuate an image with color and natural elements that showcase an animal’s natural habitat.

Because of the sad reality that nature often doesn’t always cooperative when we want it to and because incredible wildlife moments are often fleeting, photographers often have little control or time to select or manage backgrounds in wildlife shots while out in the field.

This is where editing tools can come to the rescue, as they allow you to adjust or change your background easily to ensure your animal subjects remain the main focus of an image and are only complemented by background elements. Such editing tools can be used to remove unwanted elements, add lush landscapes, adjust brightness and contrast, play around with color and tint, and enhance overall composition.

When out in the field, you can use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field which helps to blur the background and make subjects stand out. Shooting from a lower angle can place the subject against a more neutral and less cluttered background, such as the sky or distant brush.

Take time to plan where you set up your tripod or wildlife photo hide if you plan to wait for animals and use elements like branches, leaves, or rocks to frame your subject and add depth while keeping the background less distracting. Likewise, ensure that the background color contrasts well with the subject to make the subject pop.

Spend time observing the environment to understand how the background changes with light, weather, and the animal’s movements. If you already have experience with wildlife photography, you know it requires patience and often requires waiting for an animal to move to a more favorable spot to ensure a pleasing background.

Be Ready To Be Patient

And while we’re on the subject of patience, you will quickly learn that it is more than a virtue in wildlife photography; rather it’s a necessity. Animals move to their own rhythm, and waiting for the right moment is often time-consuming. Successful shots often result from hours if not days or weeks of waiting quietly and observing.

The most successful photographers understand that perfect shots don’t come easily or quickly. Many of the most compelling wildlife photographs capture rare behaviors or interactions which are rare to see unless you are willing to spend a great deal of time with a subject,

Spending considerable time in habitats can make animals more accustomed to your presence, allowing you to get closer and capture more natural behaviors. Observing animals over time helps in understanding their routines and patterns, making it easier to anticipate and photograph key actions or behaviors.

As we already mentioned previously, natural light can change rapidly which means it often requires patience to wait for the best lighting conditions. And respecting the natural behavior and habitat of animals often means waiting for them to act on their own terms rather than forcing interactions.

Learn to appreciate the time spent in nature, even if you don’t capture the perfect shot. These moments can offer an escape from the stresses and chaos of daily life. Don’t simply sit around and wait for wildlife shots, rather use this time to take in nature using all your senses to make the “waiting game” a pleasant and sensory experience that will hopefully only add to the story behind each image you take.

Utilize Silent Shooting Modes

Icelandic Puffin

Icelandic Puffin

Silent shooting modes are invaluable in wildlife photography. Loud camera noises can startle animals, interrupting natural behaviors and ruining photo opportunities. Most modern cameras have a silent or quiet mode, which minimizes shutter noise.

Using this feature ensures you capture candid moments without disturbing your subjects. It’s especially beneficial when photographing shy or skittish animals, at nighttime, or during close encounters. Practice using this mode beforehand, so you can switch it on effortlessly when in the field.

Get Close While Still Ensuring Safety

Getting closer to wildlife allows for more detailed and impactful photos. However, maintaining your safety and ensuring the animals’ well-being is more important than getting quality shots. This is where telephoto lenses come into play, as they allow you to get close to the action without physically having to encroach upon an animal’s space.

The whole goal is to capture intimate shots of animals displaying natural behavior and often the only way to do this is from a distance with telephoto capabilities. You’ll often find that by giving wildlife distance they may actually be inclined to move closer towards you on their own which may not have been achieved if you were the one who chose to advance towards them.

Abide by any national park or reserve regulations that may dictate how close you should approach various animals learn to recognize signs that an animal may be in distress by your presence. You never want to put an animal’s life in jeopardy or become a target for a predator yourself.

Learning wildlife photography can be challenging, but it is equally rewarding. Spending time observing animals in their natural habitats allows you to gain a deeper appreciation for wildlife and the environment. Your work can also raise awareness about conservation issues and inspire others to protect nature, in addition to giving you many memorable moments and stories to tell.

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007.  Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.



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