6 wildlife photography tips for amateurs – from an amateur wildlife photographer

6 wildlife photography tips for amateurs – from an amateur wildlife photographer

Going on safari is one of those bucket list items for most of us. Personally, my safari experiences are some of my most cherished ones. Driving through the bush and watching animals as they go about their business and being able to just sit there and enjoy the view.

I like to enjoy the moment while I’m there, that is always my number one priority. But lately I’ve found a new hobby: photographing wildlife. As an amateur photographer, trying to capture moving animals and learning how to use my camera so that in low light conditions, with moving subjects, my pictures still came out sharp; proved difficult.

This is my list of wildlife shooting tips – written by a totally amateur wildlife photographer. I’ve learned these through experience and talking to rangers and guides – they sure know how to use a good camera well.

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6 wildlife photography tips

6 wildlife photography tips for amateurs

1.Use your shutter speed priority mode

When taking pictures of moving animals in low light conditions (during dawn and dusk) you will need to increase the shutter speed to get sharp pictures. The shutter speed priority mode (usually shown as Tv mode) will allow you to give the shutter enough speed to capture a still moving object.

The idea behind it is that the shutter speed needs to be quicker than the movement. The quicker the movement (let’s say an animal running) the higher (let’s say 1/2000 for example) you will need your shutter speed to be.

One good trick to check if your picture is sharp enough is to zoom in on the whiskers of the animals – if they are blurry, your picture still needs a higher shutter speed. In order to increase your shutter speed you will have to use a higher ISO when light is not abundant.

2. Be at eye-level with the animals

Trying to position yourself at the same level as your animal will create more meaningful pictures that evoke deeper feelings. By staring at the animal at eye level the sense of knowledge is transmitted into the photography – making it feel like you belong. When you take pictures from an open 4×4 vehicle or a minivan, your pictures will look like this:

Leopard picture taken from a 4x4 vehicle

You want to try to make them look like this:

Be at the animal's level

As it gives the image more realism and the person viewing the image will feel more aligned with what you are showing and connect with the photo more.

It is hard to get eye-level with some small animals like predators, but doing your best to gain some centimeters will improve your pictures.

3. Listen to your guide

In a perfect world, we would have many days and weeks to spend in the bush, learning the animal behaviour ourselves. But in case you (like me and many others) are only going on safari as a holiday – listen to your guide, they have been in the bush for far longer than you and can tell you beforehand when something is about to happen. Guides know everything about animal behaviour.

Guide and ranger in the Kruger National Park

That means that if a lion is moving his ears a certain way he is about to yawn. If you pay attention to the information your guide and tracker give you, you can be ready to shoot when ephemeral moments like yawns happen.


WANT TO GO?: Staying at nThambo Tree houses in Kruger National Park, South Africa


4. Pay attention to composition and framing

We all have seen the annoying grid on our cameras or phones. Although it might not be great when we are not used to it, because we can only see the grid’s lines, it is best to keep it on to always see how our shot is going to look. There are a number of rules for a good composition. Each of them has something to offer, but the most generally accepted is the rule of thirds.

This rule states that everything you want the eye to pay attention to should be in the intersection of the four lines.

Rule of thirds: wildlife photography tips

Being at the right place for the right picture makes a big difference. Framing your animal in the right area of your picture changes the story dramatically. A shot can change a lot if taken one step to the left or crouched slightly down. Explore the different angles and frame your subject with the elements around it (trees, other animals, flowers, etc)

5. Check where the light is coming from

I have heard all my life that you must shoot with the sun behind you, so it lights up your subject. But this would also mean you miss tones and shapes as the object is perfectly lit, giving it a “real estate advertisement” look. If you have the chance to position yourself so that the light comes from one side of the sighting, do it.

where's the light coming from: wildlife photography tips

Another good option is to move halfway between the subject, the sun and your position. Imagine the sun is at 12 on a clock. Your subject is at 6. Shoot from 1:30 and 10:30 to accomplish a bit of both worlds, light from the front and shadows. It allows for flattering light in the background and landscape and focuses your subject.

Another difficult option is to use the first light or last rays of sun, to cover your subject. It creates a dreamy look of the animal and the background. The sun must be covered by the animal/s you are photographing.

6. Respect your subject

It is very important than while you take your photos that no harm or distress comes to the animal. Be careful when trying to accomplosh great shots – never put your life or the animal’s life at risk for a great/better shot.

wildlife photography tips

Another good option is to move halfway between the subject, the sun and your position. Imagine the sun is at 12 on a clock. Your subject is at 6. Shoot from 1:30 and 10:30 to accomplish a bit of both worlds, light from the front and shadows. It allows for flattering light in the background and landscape and focuses your subject.

Another difficult option is to use the first light or last rays of sun, to cover your subject. It creates a dreamy look of the animal and the background. The sun must be covered by the animal/s you are photographing.

Have you taken notes of these wildlife photography tips for amateurs? What other easy tips helped you take great pictures of animals?

6 wildlife photography tips for amateurs
6 wildlife photography tips for amateurs
Namibia on a budget: Sandboarding in Swakopmund

Namibia on a budget: Sandboarding in Swakopmund

Day 4: Sightseeing Windhoek

One of the friends I made during the tour to Etosha decided to join me for my next part of the trip. We spent the rest of the week travelling together. He had already been in Windhoek before, so after waking up we started the day with a tour around the city. We walked to see the church, the zoo park and the parliament park as well. Went to the craft markets in the street where I bought my first and only souvenir (a necklace that can also be used as a belt) then went to the Namibia art craft building. After returning to the hostel for lunch we spent the rest of the day in the pool getting a tan and swimming. Windhoek is a city that can be visited with about 2 to 3 hours.

Windhoek

Day 5: transfer from Windhoek to Swakopmund

Thank god I had someone to talk to for the 5 hours journey, it would have been so boring without him!

On arrival to Swakopmund we went down to the beach and spent the evening having deep meaningful conversations about different topics. Among them if we could beat a cheetah fighting with only our body or which was the weight difference between a full-grown male cheetah and lion. We obviously had to look it up later. The waves crashing on the sand, the promenade with the stars and the moon, all accompanied by friends and beer. Couldn’t get better.

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Picture credit: @ridingdownadream

Day 6: Sandboarding and desert horse riding

What an exhausting day. We woke up to go sandboarding. They picked us up and we drove to the dunes. After trying different boots and helmets to make sure they fit us perfectly we started climbing up the dunes. Yes, no lift or anything, just our legs carrying the board and us. Sandboarding is an eco-friendly activity because the dunes are part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park and no one is allowed to build anything permanent – hence why we had to climb up. After a well deserved break and waxing the tables, we started the lesson.

Considering I’ve been skiing since I was 3, I thought my balance would be better on top of the board. I guess I didn’t have confidence and ended up on my knees an awful lot of times. Anyway, I didn’t see it, but the instructor kept saying I was getting better. Well, I guess if we consider from falling 20 times to falling 8 an improvement then yes, I improved.

After every time going down we had to climb the dune again. It got easy compared to the first one, but it was still quite hard. Walking in the sand is trickier that I thought. We need to consider that the sun was hot even with the breeze. After a bit we changed and did the Dazzie, that is the name they give to thelie down sandboarding. They never do stand up sandboarding so it’s as smooth as possible for the lie down.

The first 3 seconds when they push you from the top and you see yourself racing on the sand the adrenaline rush is quite big, but after trying to put your feet down in the sand and realising that stops you or redirects you, I just let myself go! Markus, the friend I met in Etosha, and I were racing each other to see who got the fastest speed. We were tires in 64km/h and he beat me on the last one arriving to 69km/h. To end up the activity we stand up sandboarded to the bottom of the dunes. We had a lot of soft drinks (in need of sugar) and lunch.

  Sandboarding in SwakopmundSandboarding in Swakopmund Sandboarding in Swakopmund Sandboarding in SwakopmundSandboarding in Swakopmund Sandboarding in Swakopmund Sandboarding in Swakopmund Sandboarding in Swakopmund Sandboarding in Swakopmund Sandboarding in SwakopmundArriving at the hostel and realising how tired we were, we had to take the longest shower ever – I had sand everywhere!

And after getting ready I was picked up to go horse riding while Markus went skydiving. I did it in the Okakambe stables and Noah, the guide, explained the name of my horse to me: Rooisand. I don’t speak Afrikaans [yet] so rooi wasn’t a word to me before. It means red sand, which I think it convenient.

We went on an amazing ride through the riverbed of the Swakop dunes. We were on the called “moonland” and galloping whilst enjoying the sundowner. It was on the top of the bucket list, so beautiful to be racing with Rooisand and watching that stunning scenery. It was truly breath taking. Although we never saw any springbok I could see the trails on the sand. By the time I got to the hostel it was 8pm and we went straight to bed – that’s how tired we were!!

horse riding in the dunes horse riding in the dunes horse riding in the dunes

Day 7: Drive back to Windhoek

A good 6am breakfast before they picked me up and a “see you later” that was hard to say to my travel buddy. I’m on my way to Windhoek again, my time in Namibia is ending. The good thing was, the staff at the Chameleon Backpackers already knew me (I stayed there every night while in Windhoek) and they made me feel at home again joking with me. I spent my last night playing the quiz they organize at the bar, playing pool and drinking Smirnoff Storms. The good hostel life! I definitely recommend them while in Windhoek!

Namibia on a budget: Etosha National Park

Namibia on a budget: Etosha National Park

Day 1: Windhoek to Etosha National Park

The adventure begins in Windhoek. With a long drive ahead – about 7h – until we reach Etosha National Park. We did a couple of stops on the way, one of them being Okahandja, the woodcarving market. We had lunch near the B1, the highway that goes from Cape Town to Angola going through Namibia. On arrival to the park, we started our first game drive from the gates to Okaukuejo, our first night campsite.

Gabriel, our guide, made us bet which animal we would see first. Choosing the wise one (not the one we wanted to see) I said springbok and won! We were also lucky enough to see 4 male elephants only 5m away from the road. One of them even walked inside a small waterhole and played around the water with its trunk. First one of the big 4 that we can find in the park spotted!

The big 5 is the reference to rhino, buffalo, elephant, lion and leopard but in Etosha we cannot find buffalo.

In the middle of the B1Etosha National Park Etosha National Park Etosha National Park

After an 1h30 game drive, we arrived at our camp. We saw elephants, zebras, blue wildebeest (which are considered inside the top 5 most ugly animals inside the park) and a of springboks. Forget camping the way you know it, this is luxury camping! You get assigned a campsite, which has a barbecue facility, some light and a kitchen. Yes, with sinks and water. Oh and don’t forget the toilets with proper showers and bathrooms. We all needed a deserved shower after so many hours on the road and we enjoyed rice with stir-fry chicken for dinner. I thought it would only be sandwiches but it kept getting better with every meal.

After dinner we spent about 3h in the cinema. Not literally obviously, but that’s what it looked like. All the camps inside the park have a waterhole illuminated so you can have a sit and wait for the animals to come at night and drink water. We were waiting for any animal to come, but apparently its quite common to see lions and rhinos, so we were hoping big. We could hear the lions roaring really close to us, but we didn’t get to see them that night, only 3 zebras.

Did you know lions only have a 40% success rate when hunting in groups? If they do it alone it’s even lower.

Etosha National Park Etosha National Park

Day 2: Game drives around Etosha National Park

We woked up at 5:30 (before our guides) because we wanted to go to the waterhole and try to see an early animal. We weren’t lucky but we got cool pictures of the sunrise from the camp. After breakfast and dismantling the camp we started the morning game drive. From Okaukuejo to Halali, 75km.

Right after exiting the camp we approached a waterhole with a giraffe and some zebras going to drink water and there was a lion lying close. Until the lion left they didn’t come close to the water. We continued our day and found a group of 6 lions lying quite close to the car and the road, maybe 10m away. We were there for about an hour cause they are so beautiful and look like cats sleeping. After a while they came to the shade of the car in front of us, 4 lions not even 3 meters away.

Lions in Etosha National Park Lions in Etosha National Park Lions in Etosha National Park

When we were about to leave we saw an elephant coming from the other direction so we stayed with the elephant for maybe another hour while he drank water. We got to also see him 8m away from the truck. After more hundreds of springboks and zebras we arrived at Halali camp for lunch. While the tour guides were preparing lunch we got a free hour to go to the pool and chill, and it was so refreshing after a morning from 6am to noon in a car watching animals, it felt like paradise. To top it up we had burgers with all the toppings for lunch, and I had a Smirnoff Storm as well.

Elephant in Etosha National Park Etosha National Park

We started the afternoon game drive and we saw a group of black face impala working out around a waterhole: they were literally racing and jumping for at least 5 laps around it. Even our guide said it was the first time he got to see such an event! And afterwards we saw a group of 25 elephants, with a lot of kids.

Did you know elephants that go almost underneath the mums legs are less than a year old and the ones that go separately are still kids but they at least have 1 year. We got to see them really really close.

Zebras in Etosha National Park Elephants in Etosha National Park Elephants in Etosha National Park Elephants in Etosha National ParkElephants in Etosha National Park Elephants in Etosha National Park Elephants in Etosha National Park Elephants in Etosha National Park Elephants in Etosha National Park

Our day was all about highlights. After the afternoon game drive we got to Namutoni camp, our next campsite.  After setting up the tents we went up the German fort to see the sunset and had a beer with the views, and on top of an amazing subset overlooking the Namutoni camp and the Etosha National Park we saw a rhino. The only shame was that we were quite far away but it was the first rhino se we were all quite excited about it.

Sunset in Namutoni

Another amazing dinner by the campfire eating mashed potatoes, sausages and Greek salad. We had a jackal that was literally in between our tents and not more than 3 m away from us. It’s usual to see jackals around the campsites and that’s why the rules of not feeding the animals are so important.

Day 3: End of our trip in Etosha National Park and drive back to Windhoek

We got up really early to be ready to leave the camp at 6am for a 2 h game drive. We saw three cheetahs quite close and one of them even chased a jackal for a bit. It is true that you can catch the cool animals right by sunrise and sunset. After more giraffes and zebras and springboks we returned to the camp to pack everything and started our long journey back to Windhoek.

 Cheetah in Etosha National Park

We did the safari with Wild Dogs, they offer a quality product with good service, and I’ve already spoken about the food, right? The guides were explaining facts and details whilst watching the animals, and we had the best time thanks to them.