Wildlife Photography Tips

On a recent photo tour we discussed some options for photographing wild horses vs birds vs landscapes. So we thought we would some some of those tips with everyone.

Shutter Priority

We often hear people comments that their subjects are blurry. Or they have such a high ISO to get a fast shutter speed. Chances are they are not using shutter priority or they just don’t know what shutter speeds they really need to freeze (or blur) the subject. Here is a basic guide:

Subject Examples Little / No Movement Walking / Moderate Speed Running / In Flight
Small Game
Coyote, Bobcat
1/500-1500
1/1500-1/2000
1/2000+
Large Game
Elk, Deer, Horses
1/250 -1/500
1/500-1500
1/1500+
Large Birds
Heron, Eagles
1/500-1/1000
1/1000-1/1500
1/1500+
Small Brids
Cardinals, Nuthatch, Robin
1/500-1/1500
1/1500-1/2000
1/2000+

Even though those are a good starting point, you should always start with a shutter speed that is equal to or greater than  your focal length. shooting at 400mm then you should have 1/400 or faster, 200mm then 1/200 or faster, 100mm  then 1/100, etc. Round up to the nearest setting your camera offers.

Adjustable focal point

You definitely want a selectable focal point and be able to move it. That joystick or the touch screen is the best way. The joysticks usually need to be set in the custom options to do this. Birds in flight or other fast moving subjects, you also want to try expanded focal points. The Sony A7/A9 has some pretty good detection software, but the small focal point or expanded is a better option in most cases.

Continuous Focusing

Some cameras offer a few varieties but the continuous focusing/tracking is a must for moving subjects. Canon calls it AI Servo, Nikon & Sony call is AF-C. In either case wherever you have a selected focal point your camera will track that point.

AF-ON or OFF

Most people know this as “Back button focus” Canon, Nikon, Sony call all have a button configured to be a back button focus but you can also configure it to be a focus stop button which work great with continuous focus. For example, your subject stops moving and you want to compose your shot in camera, you press the button and locus is locked while you have the button pressed.

Learn to read the histogram

The goal would be to have a curve that is kind of centered (from the left and right). If the curve touches the right then you have pure white (or stuff is over exposed to pure white). If the curve touches the left then pure black (or stuff is under exposed so much it’s just black). In either extreme no data is available. 

The histogram is also used in editing and if you have white or black in your image then they should actually be really close or even touching the left and right.

Safety Shift

If you shoot in shutter priority but want to force increased depth of field then enable Safety Shift and use ISO. You can shot using Auto ISO and you camera will select the lowest ISO and widest aperture like usual. But, if you set your ISO to 400 with safety shift enabled your camera will increase the base aperture, now if your light goes away your camera will increase the ISO. Without safety enabled with ISO 400 set your camera will stay there and begin to underexpose as light fades.