It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, odds are you’ll come face to face with some pretty awesome animals during your travels. While watching a lion hunt is an incredible and raw experience, being able to share that story with stunning images can be just as powerful.

1

Get the right lens.

If you’re serious about getting sharp close-ups, investing in a DSLR and a telephoto zoom is the first order of business. If you’re shooting on a crop sensor, you can buy something like a 55-250mm for $300 or less, and if you’re shooting on a full frame camera and it’s in your budget, most manufacturers have 70-200mm and 70-300mm models that retail for anywhere from $600 to $2000 new. A 600mm telephoto lens is ideal for the pros, but that kind of glass costs over $10,000 -- and weighs as much as a cheetah cub, so it’s not ideal for the rest of us. Extenders, or teleconverters, are another option, but keep in mind these reduce the maximum aperture of the lens, making it harder to shoot in low light settings.

2

Look for the best light

This is one variable you can’t always control. If you’re deep in the jungle in Costa Rica and there’s a monkey hopping around in the trees above you, you better hope for good light, because you’re probably not going to get a great shot. (Been there, done that, and felt very defeated when I edited later.) Diffused daylight or golden hour light is best for shooting wildlife, but don’t think every image has to be a glamor shot. You’re not always going to get perfect conditions, and that’s part of the whole challenge when it comes to documenting wild animals. If the last light of the day is making the fur on an animal glow, snap that. Silhouettes can be a pretty cool thing too, you know.

3

Get your settings right.

Think of animals like people. If you want to shoot a tight portrait of someone (or a leopard), you’d want to set your aperture as wide as it’ll go, so you can focus on certain facial features and soften the background. FYI: A wide or maximum aperture means a lower f-stop number, like f/2.8, while a minimum aperture is a higher number, like f/22. Likewise, if you’re shooting a galloping zebra, you’ll want to use a fast shutter speed (probably at least 1/800s, depending on available light) to capture as much motion as possible. I generally don’t bump up my ISO unless it’s absolutely necessary, because that tends to add grain to images, and that’s not really something you can get away with on tight shots, especially if you want to crop in.

4

Shoot as many photos as possible.

It’s kinda like taking risqué selfies for your significant other. Shoot more than you think you’ll need so you have plenty of options later.

5

Be patient.

Some of the best in the biz wait weeks and even months for a chance at getting a single shot, so if you have the time, why not hang out for a bit? You’d be amazed at what happens when you simply observe animals in their element.

6

Do your research.

Where are the animals spotted? What do they eat? What season are they most active? When you know where and when to go, odds are you’ll have a better chance spotting what you’re trying to shoot. There are a plethora of bison in Yellowstone, so getting to the park is really all you need to do in that case. However, if you’re keen on shooting bald eagles, drive around to scout for nests, and consider reaching out to local wildlife photographers on social media to ask where they’ve snapped them recently.

7

Be respectful.

This is probably the most important thing on this list. And yet I routinely scold (and sometimes yell) at people who get out of their vehicles and approach animals, because it happens every time I’m in a national park. Maybe I shouldn’t do that, but come on. You absolutely should NOT walk up to a grizzly bear to try and take a selfie with it (I saw this happen in Banff over the summer), and feeding critters to get shots is a huge no-no as well -- even if they’re “only” squirrels. Wild animals are just that: Wild. They’re not pets. Don’t treat them as such, no matter how adorable they are. Your photo is not more important than the welfare of the animal, so remember that. Making wild animals feel more comfortable around humans (or associating them with food) is what causes them to get killed every year, whether it’s by vehicles or by animal control. If you want to truly get hands on with animals, consider visiting a wildlife sanctuary. Or a taxidermist.

8

Put your camera down.

Enjoy the experience and be present. Life isn’t just about photos, it’s about...living. Er, right? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve passed up more and more shots and opted to sit and watch things unfold before me. Sometimes it’s impossible to get a shot that accurately depicts what you’re seeing anyway, so don’t waste a precious moment because you had your face smushed up against the viewfinder.

Featured image: Joe Ridley

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