Autumn Wildlife Photography Tips

By Geoff Harris

5 Great Wildlife Photography Tips

Blue Tit, Parus caeruleus, among autumn leaves, UK, November

This time of year is a very photogenic time to take great images of wildlife. The reds and browns of autumn/fall obviously create a lovely backdrop for fox and deer, and the large numbers of migrating birds can also yield some dramatic images.

Here's a quick reminder of some essential wildlife photography skills as we go into the winter...

1) Get a decent telephoto lens Or Converter


For photographing shy wildlife, a decent 'long tom' will really make a difference. It doesn't need to look like something used at a Premier League match, even a relatively modest focal length of 70-300m with a 1.4 or 2x teleconverter will help you get nice shots of wildlife without you being so far away that the image deteriorates.

Zoomed-out telephoto lenses will tend to blur the background on wildlife portraits anyway, but if you can, get one with a fixed wide aperture (say f/2.8).

2) Staying sharp

Eye of hyacinth macaw

It doesn't matter if it's an animal or human portrait, the principles are the same. You need to keep the face, particularly the eyes, as sharp as possible. Do this by setting a fast enough shutter speed (or higher ISO) and placing the autofocus point carefully over the eyes.

Rather than activating all the AF points and possibly confusing your camera, select single point AF, or continuous/AI Servo if the creature is moving. If you shoot in Manual you can set a wide aperture (depending on your lens) and a higher shutter speed yourself, otherwise stick to Aperture Priority mode.

Don't be afraid to set a higher ISO to get faster shutter speeds; better a slightly noisy shot than a soft one.

3) Watching the background and foreground

Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria Shetland springComposition is also crucial. A sharp shot is no good if the animal is shot against an ugly, distracting background (unless it's an urban fox, say, and you deliberately want to show it scavenging in bins!) Think very carefully BEFORE you take the picture, and scan all four corners of the frame for annoyances and distractions.

If you can't avoid this, using a longer lens or wider aperture will help to blur them out. Or simply move to a better position. Patience is key in this game.

4) Watch the light and try and capture interesting behaviour

Pere David's deer stags at Dafeng Milu NNR China

Good light is crucial too, so be prepared to get up early, or shoot around dusk, for the nicest results. Then, try and capture something unique about the creature – fox cubs playing are probably more interesting than ANOTHER straight-on static shot of an adult fox.

Anybody could have taken it. The same goes for deer, birds and other seasonal creatures. Do some study to find out the kind of behaviours to photograph, and when. If you live near mountainous areas, wildlife may often migrate from the hills into the more sheltered lowland valleys to over winter.

This is a great time to photograph, them before the first snows arrive as they are more highly concentrated and therefore easier to find.

5) How to photograph birds

Barn Owl tyto alba hunting North Norfolk January
Birds are notoriously hard to photograph well, but to capture a bird in flight you need a longer lens and a fast shutter speed. Use continuous/AI Servo autofocus and try and keep the AF point on the bird's head as it flies.

Alternatively you can slow the shutter speed down to use motion blur to convey birds in flight, but try and keep some element of the shot sharp (preferably the head) to stop it becoming a blurred mess. Birds landing on water, or feeding, again make for more interesting shots than generic birds in flight.

Don't try to crop right in if the image is not high-enough resolution either. Signs of over-sharpening, or image degradation as a result of being too far away, are painfully obvious on cropped images!

Further Study

Bird Photography: An Expert’s Guide  a 4 week online photography course with David Tipling

Introduction to Wildlife Photography a 4 week online photography course with Heather Angel

Safari & Big Game Photography a 4 week online photography class with David Tipling

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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