How to Shoot Wildlife Photography

Professional Tips and Techniques

by Jim Zuckerman

How to Shoot Wildlife Photography: Close-up vs. Environmental

It's not necessarily desirable to always get full-frame head shots of wildlife - you can always take head shots in a zoo. Including the environment along with an animal gives a sense of place, and if the location happens to be spectacular then it becomes an integral part of the composition. Still, the subject should be significant enough in the frame to make a statement.

Moose, Snake River, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming
Moose, Snake River, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming
© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved

How to Shoot Wildlife Photography From a Vehicle

In many cases, a vehicle can gain a closer approach to a wild animal than a person can on foot. For example, most wildlife in national parks have grown accustomed to vehicles, and they know there's no threat.

Shooting from a vehicle can be done using a stable platform that attaches firmly to the driver's door when the window is rolled down. (These door mounts are available through various sources.) You can also use a burlap or fabric pouch filled with uncooked rice, beans or coarse sand. This actually is my preferred choice for shooting from a vehicle. I travel with it empty, but when I arrive at the shooting destination I'll fill it.

Poison dart frog, Costa Rica
Poison dart frog, Costa Rica
© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved

Finding Wildlife Subjects to Photograph

There are many options for locating wildlife - even if you live in the city. One technique is to try the Internet. For example:

One of my favorite macro subjects is frogs, and specifically poison dart frogs. These are brightly colored frogs that are poisonous in the wild but are not dangerous when they are kept in captivity (because their diet is altered). I especially wanted blue frogs because they are so unique. I did a search on the Internet and found several breeders of these frogs in the U.S., and one of them happened to be only 10 minutes from my home. I called him and made arrangements to photograph many of his creatures in exchange for photos.

How to Shoot Wildlife Photography the Right Way: Keep Things Steady

In addition to doing your wildlife photography in the best light, I strongly suggest using a tripod whenever possible. When photographing with a tripod is not possible, use a bean bag or some other stable support.

Image stabilization lenses, if you can afford them, go a long way to helping wildlife photographers get sharp pictures in low light. They minimize camera movement when you hand hold them, which in turn gives you more flexibility in your shooting. However, I would still recommend a tripod when it's feasible.

Virtually all the images on my Deluxe Web site, with perhaps five exceptions, were shot using a tripod.

More on How to Shoot Wildlife Photos

This article is adapted from Jim Zuckerman's Wildlife Photography online photography course. Check this 4-week course if you'd like to truly master the art of photographing wildlife.

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Jim Zuckerman
Photography Instructor: Jim ZuckermanFew people are able to spend most of their time pursuing their passion in life. I'm one of them, and I feel blessed to have had a love affair with photography since I began taking pictures.

In 1970, I decided to abort my intended career as a doctor in favor of photography and have never regretted it. Photography has enriched my life more than I can tell you. My career has taken me to over 60 countries, and I've seen and photographed wondrous things.

I specialize in wildlife and nature, international travel, and digital effects. In addition, I also shoot nudes, photo- and electron microscopy, children, and other subjects that stimulate my visual or emotional sensibilities.

For 25 years, I shot a medium format camera, specifically the Mamiya RZ 67, for its superior quality. When I would lecture, Id project the large, glass mounted transparencies, and it was really an incredible experience to see the brilliant color saturation and resolution of these slides. However, I went digital in 2004 because the technology finally equaled or surpassed medium format. I now shoot the Canon 1Ds Mark II digital camera with a variety of lenses.

I am the author of 12 books on photography. My work is sold in 30 countries around the world, and my images have appeared on scores of magazine and book covers, calendars, posters, national ads, trade ads, brochures, and corporate promotions.

For many years I've led photography tours to exotic places. These include Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Burma, Greece, The Czech Republic and Slovakia, Spain, Morocco, and Peru.