Comprehensive Guide to Wildlife Photography
Wildlife photography, or the genre of photography that seeks to photograph wild animals in their natural environment, allows viewers to experience (albeit only visually) the often stunning and sometimes surprising activities and appearances of untamed animals in their habitats.
When done with an eye to proper ethics, a well-coordinated balance between technical abilities and artistry, and perhaps with a timely and universal message (such as environmentalism, the saving of endangered animals, or so forth), wildlife photographs have power and impact that are uniquely their own.
What is wildlife photography?
Wildlife photography refers to a popular genre involving the photography of animals in their natural habitat. Some wildlife photographers may specialize in photographing specific types of animals, while others prefer photographing whatever animals they encounter in their immediate environment.
Depending on the intended subject, wildlife photographers may need to travel extensively; while some subjects, such as songbirds and small rodents, can be found in the photographer’s backyard. This genre is popular primarily because of how photographers bring stunning aspects of the wilderness to their viewers, letting them see animal activity they may never be fortunate enough to see in the flesh.
Wildlife photography: A definition.
Wildlife photography records the life of animals in their natural setting, such as in the heart of an African rainforest or among the coral in the Great Barrier Reef. Subjects within wildlife photography include mammals, insects, some plants, reptiles, rodents, and other invertebrates; often, these creatures are shot in action, such as when they’re fighting, eating, or in flight. Some wildlife photography may focus on bringing out the details of an animal’s appearance, such as a close-up shot of a baby eagle.
For a stunning display of some of the best wildlife photography that’s been done over the past several decades, visit Forbes’ list of 25 Outstanding Wildlife Photos.
Types of wildlife photography.
Wildlife photography is a broad niche; some photographers showcase more than one of the following sub-niches on their wildlife photography portfolios, while others specialize in one specific type, committing to a high level of artistry and excellence in capturing images of a certain kind of animal, or animals in particular environments.
Wildlife bird photography.
Some of the most jaw-dropping and majestic shots in modern wildlife photography are of birds in flight against a backdrop of mountaintops, vibrant clouds, and towering trees. With the seemingly endless list of bird species to find, photograph, and capture, bird photography is easily one of the most popular wildlife photography sub-niches; in fact, many photographers commit themselves to this field, investing in quality equipment to capture these small, fast, and often unpredictable animals.
Urban wildlife photography.
This unique and rather interesting niche brings wildlife photographers into the city, instead of out into the wilderness or forests. Wild animals often roam in urban areas, especially at night; foxes lurk in the back alleys, peregrine falcons soar overhead, mice fight in a deserted station, and skunks hide in piles of junk. While this sub-niche may not sound particularly attractive, urban wildlife photography comes with its own rewards and benefits (cars make great hiding places from which to capture surprising photos).
Underwater wildlife photography.
As the name implies, this sub-niche of wildlife photography requires photographers to shoot images of aquatic animals while underwater. Shooting these wildlife shots is often done while scuba diving, though some photographers may prefer to take their shots while free diving, snorkeling, swimming, or operating underwater vehicles remotely. Specialized equipment is necessary for this kind of photography such as underwater housings for you gear, which makes underwater wildlife photography a highly satisfying field, but with a steep price point.
Wildlife portrait photography.
Wildlife photography is exactly what it sounds like—taking portraits of animals in the wild. By bringing the focus of an image entirely onto the animals, the wildlife photographer is able to highlight the details of the animal’s appearance, making the animal come alive for the viewer in a direct, almost intimate way. Getting in close to animals, making eye contact with powerful beasts or tiny creatures, and capturing their thoughts or even emotions in time (as in this collection of powerful wildlife portraits) make this sub-niche a powerful and memorable one.
Wildlife landscape photography.
A blend of landscape and animal photography, this niche involves taking broad sweeping shots of natural environments, showing the viewers not only a stunning photo of the animal subject, but also the environment in which these animals make their home. Making the focus of an image less about the animals themselves and including more of the landscape around the wildlife can help viewers understand where the image was taken.
Best places for wildlife photography.
1. Yellowstone National Park, USA.
Famous for its abundance of black bears, moose, elk, and bison, Yellowstone National Park offers wildlife photographers a diverse array of wildlife to capture against an incredible, rugged backdrop of untamed wilderness. With some luck and patience, shy black bears can be glimpsed here and there; elk may be seen at dawn and dusk around the Madison River.
2. Queensland, Australia.
Australia is rich with amazing locations that afford a wide variety of wildlife, but Queensland is a must-visit for its unique blend of flora and fauna that appeal to almost all wildlife photographers. Toothy creatures like the Estuarine crocodile, aquatic animals like the humpback whales and duck-billed platypus, and cute mammals like the tree-climbing kangaroos and dingoes make this area of Australia a year-round destination for wildlife lovers.
3. Lake Clark National Park, Alaska.
With as much as 95% of the world’s brown bears living in Alaska, Lake Clark National Park is another rewarding destination for wildlife photographers who enjoy a challenge. This national park is so remote that it can only be reached by boat or small plane. The volcanic backdrop, abundant number of bears and salmon-filled waterways allow for many stunning photographs.
4. Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo.
As with several of the locations listed here, Borneo’s Tanjung Puting National Park isn’t friendly to cars, which means you must go in by boat or on foot, and stay overnight in rainforest lodges. Keep a close eye on the trees when you’re there; thousands of orangutans live in this forest, along with countless species of reptiles, birds, and mammals.
This country’s national parks are well known for their biodiversity. Over 33 species of lemur make their home on this island, all of them endangered; as you look for them, you’ll meet butterflies and reptiles, including the crocodile. Since many wild animals emerge from their homes during the twilight and nocturnal hours, hopeful wildlife photographers enjoy many opportunities to practice lowlight shooting.
6. Bwindi Forest National Park, Uganda.
Gorillas abound in the biologically varied rainforests of the Bwindi Forest National Park in Uganda—over 350 of them, in fact, which is approximately half of the total gorilla population in the world. In addition to this, over 346 bird species, more than 200 butterfly species, and about 324 species of trees make this area of Uganda their home, bringing countless opportunities for wildlife photographers to capture memorable images.
7. Ranthambore National Park, India.
In this national park, you’ll meet with the following majestic animals face-to-face: royal Bengal tigers, Sambar deer, langurs, hyenas, and sloth bears. The Ranthambore National Park boasts around 60 Bengal tigers, which are active in the early morning. As a bonus, the Ranthambore Fort makes for an intriguing backdrop to wildlife photographs.
8. Your own backyard.
Despite the fantastic landscapes, thrilling adventures, and mind-blowing images the above locations may offer when it comes to wildlife photography, don’t overlook the plentiful wildlife close to home. Songbirds, small rodents, and other animals may be found in your backyard or in a local park. Take your camera, go outdoors, and observe the wildlife around you until you figure out the best ways and time of day to capture them on camera.