Wildlife Photography Tips

By Marlen Kemmet

My love of wildlife and wildlife photography tends to be a singular pleasure. More times than not I am sitting alone in a blind, driving along some back road, or standing in solitude at the end of a slough waiting for some action. But, as much as I enjoy the seclusion of waiting for a good image, I hope that by sharing my images others come to enjoy the beauty of nature and do more to support our diminishing wild places and wildlife. After spending hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in the field, I want to share my wildlife photography tips with others. I realize some tips and accompanying images may only be used as armchair voyeurism or that a few might actually be put to use. But either way, I hope I can convince you of the importance of conservationism.

Tip #33. Change your perspective

Tip #33. Change your perspective

When diving in Bonaire, we’d walk downtown for lunch each day after our two-tank morning dives. The sidewalk was about 10’ above the shoreline, and we passed this iguana on the rocks below us ...

Tip #32. Follow the leaders

Tip #32. Follow the leaders

To get inspiration for good images look at what professional wildlife photographers are showcasing. Study their images to get a better idea of animal behavior, composition, and lighting. Websites ...

Tip #31. Watch for unusual behaviors

Tip #31. Watch for unusual behaviors

I am fortunate to have a photographer friend outside Minneapolis that lets me use his blind on the edge of a large slough. A few days ago while photographing from the blind, I saw these two Wood ...

Tip #30. What’s your forte?

Tip #30. What’s your forte?

There are no shortage of superb wildlife photographers or great images. To set your wildlife photography apart from all the rest, consider a specialty or focused theme. In addition to my regular ...

Tip #29. Do not disturb

Tip #29. Do not disturb

One of the most frequent mistakes I’ve seen with wildlife photography is photographers who get too close to the subject. Often times their lens is not long enough to get a good image so they try to ...

Tip #28. Sometimes a good photo is literally right at your feet

Tip #28. Sometimes a good photo is literally right at your feet

When diving in Bonaire we would often spend time on a stone peer in front of our lodging between our morning and afternoon dives. I noticed these small crabs working their way through the rocks ...

Tip #27. Learn animal behavior

Tip #27. Learn animal behavior

When not in the field photographing, I love to watch National Geographic specials or view YouTube videos on photography and wildlife. In one video, I watched with fascination as they showed how a ...

Tip #26. Create your own opportunities

Tip #26. Create your own opportunities

No good deed goes unpunished? Well sometimes a good deed pays off handsomely. A few miles from our home in central Iowa is R16, a hard-paved road that gets more and more traffic every day. Last ...

Tip #25. Know your subject

Tip #25. Know your subject

Beemer’s Pond, a borrow pit pond just west of Webster City, Iowa, has the largest concentration of Trumpeter Swans in Iowa in the winter. The rectangular pond is approximately 20 acres in size, and ...

Tip #24. Working with the wind

Tip #24. Working with the wind

Although light is extremely critical for a good image, sometimes the wind can be beneficial as well. When arriving at a wildlife photo location, I often throw some grass or other foliage into the ...

Tip #23. First light

Tip #23. First light

For reference, please see Tip #22 to view an image photographed less than five minutes prior to this one. As direct light from the sun slowly comes across the horizon, you have but a few minutes to ...

Tip #22. Shooting before the morning golden hour

Tip #22. Shooting before the morning golden hour

To maximize the great light of the golden hour, normally the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, you have to be in position ahead of the time to get everything set up. Often times I will ...

Tip #21. Animal portrait shots

Tip #21. Animal portrait shots

As wildlife photographers we normally want to photograph the entire animal or bird with lots of room around the edges of the image to create “breathing room”. A photo where the legs, wings, or other ...

Tip #20. Monitor migrations

Tip #20. Monitor migrations

No matter where you live waterfowl should be passing through in the spring and fall. In the spring birds are heading north to their summer nesting grounds. In the fall they are headed south to avoid ...

Tip #19. Consider your background

Tip #19. Consider your background

This image was actually shot in a residential setting. But by correctly positioning myself I was able to get a natural looking background. There were many angles to photograph these fox kits, but ...

Tip #18. The love of the craft

Tip #18. The love of the craft

This very well may be one of my most important tips. The only reason it‘s a number 18 is that I just took this image a few hours ago. Some people find solace on a church pew, others playing a ...

Tip #17. Targeted photography

Tip #17. Targeted photography

When photographing the newly hatched goslings yesterday, I noticed a lot of aggressive behavior among the adult geese. Since mating pairs are being formed, I suspect a lot of the aggression from one ...

Tip #16. The Benefits of binoculars

Tip #16. The Benefits of binoculars

In addition to my camera equipment and camo clothing and netting, I also carry a good pair of binoculars with me in the car. When I get to an area with lots to look at, I’ll do the initial scan with ...

Tip #15. Shooting reflections

Tip #15. Shooting reflections

When photographing wildlife on water, you’ll often have the opportunity to take reflection shots (think about that for a second…). To get this image I arrived at the San Carlos Bay– ...

Tip #14. Move slowly and quietly

Tip #14. Move slowly and quietly

In my experience, the two things that disturb wildlife the most are motion and sound. A phrase I’ve coined is “the circle of disturbance”. As you move through any wildlife habitat, the sound you ...

Tip #13. Using water to convey motion

Tip #13. Using water to convey motion

When most photographers start taking images of waterfowl, we take a lot of images of birds sitting on the water. But, as we strive for more intriguing images, we lean towards birds in motion. ...

Tip #12. The color of water

Tip #12. The color of water

Water is always blue, right? Nope. I’ve seen water change different colors as the sun sets or rises. The color changes when the sun is hidden behind clouds and then is not. This image was ...

Tip #11. You gotta get up early

Tip #11. You gotta get up early

Before visiting a particular location, I’ll often read as much as possible about the specifics of what can be photographed before going to the spot. Knowing sunrise and sunset is often extremity ...

Tip #10. Continually up your game

Tip #10. Continually up your game

When I first photographed a pelican, it was a ways off, and I almost had to tell people looking at the picture what it was. Then, I started photographing pelicans at a closer range paddling and then ...

Tip #9. Avoid tunnel vision

Tip #9. Avoid tunnel vision

I was photographing at the north end of Bosque Del Apache near Socorro, New Mexico in November, and I was fixated on the thousands of Sandhill Cranes and Ross Geese feeding directly in front of me. ...

Tip #8. The power of closeups

Tip #8. The power of closeups

A few springs ago I was photographing fox at a den underneath an old deer-hunting cabin in Central Iowa. I had my back against another building to hide my silhouette, and 1 was covered with a ...

Tip #7. Location, location, location

Tip #7. Location, location, location

As an aspiring wildlife photographer, I would often drive country roads looking for the occasional pheasant, turkey, duck, deer, or coyote. Most days I came home with few or no good images. Then I ...

Tip #6. Know what to look for

Tip #6. Know what to look for

In researching birding behaviors, I learned that great blue herons create their nests in rookeries. Here in Central Iowa herons prefer sycamore trees for their communal nesting sites. This ...

Tip #5. Look for something out of the ordinary

Tip #5. Look for something out of the ordinary

I’ve been to Yellowstone twice, both times with our oldest son Slade, a professional photographer/videographer. Each time I swore I wouldn’t take another image of a bison. But when I saw this one ...

Tip #4. Capitalize on the unexpected

Tip #4. Capitalize on the unexpected

When we did a scuba diving trip to Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, I knew it was a great opportunity to photograph flamingos. But, when I heard a fellow diver mention the bats outside his room every ...

Tip #3. The eyes have it

Tip #3. The eyes have it

When photographing wildlife, I will whenever possible focus on the eye of the subject. If the eye(s) appear clear in the camera’s eye piece, chances are the rest of the animal or at least the head ...

Tip #2. Lighting

Tip #2. Lighting

Shooting during the golden hour. The first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset is what photographers refer to as the golden hour. The sun is low in the sky during ...

Tip #1. Networking

Tip #1. Networking

This might seem an odd tip for successful wildlife photography, but for me it has been the most valuable. I network (bs) with a lot of other photographers, friends, and even strangers to learn of ...