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Top 5 wildlife photography camera settings

Wildlife photography is filled with inspiring moments when you find yourself in awe of nature and its wonders. It is one of the most loved and popular photographic genres. You can practice nature photography and wildlife in fascinating places like Alaska, Colorado, Florida but it isn’t necessary to travel very far to practice wildlife photography. Usually a forest, a lake, a river or a meadow will do.

What it take is practice, patience and knowledge of your camera.

Wildlife photography USA

Here above is a picture of a whale taken with a Canon EOS 5d Mark IIi with the following settings:

EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM 210.0mm · ƒ/8.0 · 1/2000s · ISO 200

For most photographers dedicated to this genre, wildlife photography is all about the composition of the image. It’s about conveying the overall atmosphere of the environment and the play of light, rather than just on the animal itself. Any subject can become more powerful when placed in the right context. It communicates more and that’s why composition is key.

Let’s take a look in the next paragraphs of this article at the top 5 wildlife photography camera settings. They will give you a better understanding of how your camera works and hopefully some ideas of how you can set up your equipment to capture more captivating shots.

Note: Most of the following settings should work in most DSLR and Mirrorless cameras.

1.- Image quality – Set it to RAW format.

Think of RAW as a snapshot of all the information that was on the sensor at the time you took the picture. All of that data stored in the memory card will allow you to have more flexibility to edit the image the way you want. Besides, shooting in RAW will give you a more detailed picture which is what every wildlife photographer aims to.

2.- Mode – Manual mode with Auto ISO (Auto ISO sensitivity controls).

Iso setting is kind of the least important one when you are shooting in wildlife photography. When you are out on the field shooting in different areas with different subjects, you just want to be able to change things like aperture and shutter speed and not worry about the ISO and let the camera deal with it. Why? Because of the next two reasons:

a) The aperture and the shutter speed are the physical ways of allowing more light to reach the sensor and influence the exposure of the image.

b) With an auto ISO, your camera takes all the light that the sensor is capturing and boosting it up to the right brightness so there’s not much use of controlling the ISO yourself

3.- Metering – Matrix metering.

Most photographers use the Matrix Metering mode by default in their wildlife photography camera to capture their images because when you point the camera to a scene it reads the entirely and automatically works out the correct exposure of a picture. It is very rare for wildlife photographers to change this mode but occasionally is useful to change it to Highlight weighted Metering especially when you are capturing images of light-colored animals or areas because it will expose the brightest thing in the scene. It is also useful when you are shooting a subject that moves into a contrasting backlight or a bright subject with a dark background.

4. Autofocus – Back button focus

The autofocus mode is one of the most important settings in wildlife photography because it gives you proper control of your wildlife photography camera. Most photographers configure it with the back button autofocus (you will only find this feature in midrange and professional equipment) and here are some of the reasons:

a) As a wildlife photographer, you don’t necessarily want the camera to refocus every time you try to take a picture. With back button focus the camera only focuses when you press the back button and leaving the shutter release button with the only function to capture the pictures.

b) The back button focus is useful for different types of photography but it does have some good applications in wildlife. For example, if you are trying that capture a subject that is hard to focus because its positioned between leaves and branches, the back button focus will let you to carefully focus once and then continue to take shots without the camera possibly hunting and messing up your focus point.

c) It gives you all 3 focus modes in one, saving time in switching through the
different focus modes:

  • AFS (single focus): Press the button, wait till your subject is focused and capture the image. You will see how good is its performance in difficult scenarios, especially with animals that are standing in environments with a lot of elements.
  • AFC (continue focus): Hold down the button and it will track continuously the subject without losing focus. Great for capturing animals in motion.
  • Manual focus: Don’t touch the button and manually focus the lens to the subject.

As you use this feature you will see how other benefits will appear and add up in the performance of your camera and shootings.

nature and wildlife photography

Here above is a bird named Oystercatcher. This image was taken with a Nikon D200 and the following settings: 170.0mm · ƒ/2.8 · 1/5000s · ISO 160

5.- The continuous shooting mode- Burst mode

Last but not least is the Burst mode. This setting is perhaps the most important setting to configure your camera with. With wildlife photography, you never know what’s going to happen or when. Being prepared is half the battle to capturing good images. What the burst mode does is change your camera from a single shot mode to a multi-shot sequence of images. By having this continuous sequence on, your camera will be ready to capture the frames of a scene that suddenly kicks off until the shutter button is released or until the camera´s internal memory buffer fills up. The resulting sequence of images that you get will increase the odds of capturing that perfectly-timed action shot.

Hopefully, these 5 settings have given you a better understanding of how your camera works. As well as a more clear path of how to capture more captivating and high-quality images. Do not forget to share your comments below, we love to read them.

landscape photography, nature photography, wildlife photography


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