Sanjeev Nanda tips for Great Wildlife Photography

7 Jul

9 Rules For Great Wildlife Photography

Sanjeev Nanda shares his experience and best tips for taking amazing photographs of animals in the wild….or at Zoo.

Many people are curious about secrets for taking excellent wildlife pictures. I don’t know any secrets—but I do have 9 rules that will help you take great photos.

Rule #1: Have Patience

Sanjeev Nanda rules for photography

Patience is Virtue

When you spend a lot of time with an animal, you’ll see amazing things. So when you’re shooting in the wild, in a zoo, or at home with your pets, you’ll need lots of patience to get an amazing photo. I often spend hours watching an animal in the wild or at a zoo exhibit, just waiting for the perfect opportunity.

Rule #2: Take Lots of Pictures

Sanjeev Nanda rules for photography

Sometimes it takes 1000 photographs for that one perfect shot

Give up your old film habits, and shoot a lot of pictures with your digital camera. Like humans, animals have “good” and “bad” expressions and postures, so the more pictures you take, the more likely you are to get a great shot. For example, in a four-hour game drive, I will shoot about 500 images, not worrying about the “bad ones.” Then during the editing process on my computer, I will select the best ones.

Rule #3: Use Standard Settings

Animal photography is motion photography, so being ready is very important. Set your camera to standard settings (see below), and return to these settings after you’ve altered them for a specific situation (if time allows).

Standard Settings

    Shooting Mode: Aperture Control AV; P for flash use
    Image Recording Quality: JPG Best Quality; or RAW
    White Balance: Shade (outdoors); AWB (indoors)
    ISO: 400 (good weather); 1600 (bad weather and indoors)
    Metering Mode: Center Weighted
    Drive Mode: Single Shooting
    Auto Focus Mode: One Shot; AI Servo if object is moving towards you or away from you
    Auto Focus Points: Center Point Only

Rule #4: Keep the Eyes in Focus

Sanjeev Nanda rules for photography

Eyes give photographs character and depth

Remember that an animal is not a cathedral—you’ll only have a few seconds to compose a shot. When using “center point focus,” you are in control of the focus, not your camera, so make sure that the animals’ eyes are sharp and in focus. Compose the shot so that the eyes are in the center of the picture, and leave extra room around your subject so you can crop the image later.

Rule #5: Learn How To Over and Under Expose

Sanjeev Nanda wildlife photography tips

Play with exposure settings to get surprising results

Once you have your standard settings, you can use the exposure compensation feature (+/-) to adjust for a perfect picture. If your subject is much darker than the surroundings, use the over-expose (+) to lighten the image. If your subject is much lighter, use the under-expose (-) to darken the image. I usually adjust in increments of .5, but experiment with the feature to find what works best (and what doesn’t).

Rule #6: A Higher ISO Is Your Friend

With animals, you need short exposure times because they’re always moving. I rarely use use a tripod—though sometimes I’ll use a monopod—so I can adapt to their movements quickly. When I use a full aperture set, I’ll use a higher ISO (800-1600 or even above). Older digital cameras will usually have visible noise over 400 ISO, but results with newer digital SLRs are much better. I think it’s better to have an image with a little more noise than a picture completely out of focus.

Rule #7: Get Down There!

Sanjeev Nanda photography tips

Take photographs anywhere but eye level

If you want tension in your pictures, get on eye level with your subject, or even below eye level. I often find myself laying flat on the floor when shooting in zoos. Many exhibits are below the observer, which is good for watching the animals but bad for photography!

Rule #8: Avoid the Flash—Use a Flashlight Instead!

I don’t like flash pictures because they’re mostly flat and have no depth. In wildlife photography, you seldom have the time for good flash setup (with multiple flashes) anyway. I’d rather use a higher ISO and try my luck without a flash. A standard, hand-held flashlight can help by producing a glint in the eye of an animal and lightening up a dark corner.

Rule #9: Eliminate Fences

Sanjeev Nanda wildlife photography tips

Zoom through the gap in the fences

When there are fences between you and your subject, get as close to the fence as possible without touching it (legal moves only, please). Extend your zoom to the largest telephoto setting, and open the aperture full. Ideally, your subject will be in the middle, between the front and back fences. Shoot through the shaded parts of the fence, and the fence should disappear from your shot.

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