I recently spent a few hours photographing a red fox, a lynx, and three wolves at the Triple “D” Game Farm. It’s not easy taking pictures of wildlife, even when they are partially trained. Whether you are in the wild or at a game farm like the Triple “D,” here are some tips to remember when you are photographing animals:
1. It’s all about the eyes. Make sure you focus on the animal’s sharp gaze. This is especially hard to do with fast moving creatures who constantly change their direction (like this little inquisitive fox pictured above). Know the shot you are going after (portrait or landscape), set the camera focus in the frame (in portrait mode set it high and center), and wait for the shot. Also, be sure to set your camera to autofocus tracking (AI Servo on Canon cameras, AF-C on Nikon cameras).
2. Watch your ISO and shutter speeds. You need a high ISO and a fast shutter speed to freeze the quick-moving action. If your shutter speed dips below 1/500 s, I suggest bumping up the ISO. A shutter speed of at least 1/1000 s will safely freeze the action, which is critical with animals who tend to move around a lot.
3. Wear something you don’t mind getting dirty, and don’t be afraid to lay down so that you are on the animal’s level. A lot of people photograph animals from above (a human’s viewpoint), which has the effect of making the animal appear smaller. The best wildlife images put you on the animal’s plane.
4. If you are working with potentially dangerous animals (like a pack of wolves), be sure to work with professional handlers like the good folks at the Triple “D” Game Farm. It’s important that they know the animals and practice safe handling. That piece of advice is worth more than any of the photos you will take.
Jonathan Irish is a professional photographer and Director of Programs for National Geographic Adventures.