Wildlife photography is an incredibly rewarding genre, due to the time and dedication it takes to become proficient at it. Luckily, there is a wealth of tips and tricks freely available on the web that will benefit novices and professionals alike (sometimes it’s nice to have your memory refreshed). In this article, we have compiled some top tips for wildlife photographers. Read on to learn more…

Top Tips and Tricks of the Wildlife Photography Trade

Thousands of wildlife photography enthusiasts, both professional and amateur, come to stay at Shamwari Private Game Reserve throughout the year. They all stream to the reserve in the hopes of capturing and immortalising some of their favourite South African animal subjects on film. Whether these prints end up being circulated on a grand scale or are simply for the enjoyment of the photographer’s family and friends, a high-quality photo remains desirable.

We have searched the net and compiled some of the best wildlife photography tips and tricks around, to either remind you of aspects of the craft you may have forgotten or teach you some new tricks, depending on your skill level. We sincerely hope you get something out of this and continue to hone your craft every chance you get.

Tip #1: Patience in the Wildlife Photography Game Is Crucial

Veteran National geographic photographers, Bob Caputo and Cary Wolinsky, are of one mind when it comes to one of the most important elements to master when photographing wildlife: patience. No matter the animal subjects you are to photograph, whether it’s a herd of wildebeest grazing in the Masai Mara or your cats frolicking in the back yard, you need to practice patience to get the shot you want.

Wild (and even tame) animals do what they want, when they want. You can’t direct them to move into a spot with better lighting or request they tilt their head just so. They have no regard for the artistic composition of the photograph you are trying to capture. You need to be patient enough to be there and be ready to shoot the moment when all of the elements do align (e.g. the leopard you know is hiding in that tree finally makes its appearance by leaping out at a gazelle wandering by).

In their wildlife photography advice article for National Geographic, the aforementioned duo are quoted as saying: “Be prepared to wait, and wait, and wait – it takes a long time to get good wildlife shots, even longer to make great ones.”

All this time spent closely studying your subject, patiently waiting for the right moment, is not wasted time. Remember, the more time you spend studying your animal subject(s), the more you get to know their ins and outs. All of their little habits will be revealed to you over time, along with their distinct personalities. Eventually, you will reach a point where you are able to anticipate wildlife photography opportunities (i.e. the animals’ next move).

It’s also a fact that the more time you dedicate to getting to know your subject, the more telling and intimate your photographs are likely to be. It’s quite apparent from a photographer’s work when they went to the trouble of getting to know their subject.


Tip #2: You Need to Know Your Camera Thoroughly

Now, this may seem to be a given but more often than not it isn’t. No matter if you are a seasoned vet or a complete amateur – when you get a new camera, go through the trouble of learning all its features. Wildlife photographer, Leonardo Papèra, mentions in his article that he has witnessed people missing out on capturing breathtaking wildlife photographs time and time again, simply because they didn’t bother to get to know their camera thoroughly before the action started.

As a wildlife photographer, your camera needs to be an extension of yourself – of your arm. You need to be able to know your way around it, even with your eyes closed. Due to the nature of wildlife photography, a skilled photographer should be able to change between their camera’s settings multiple times within a matter of seconds. You need to capture that shot before your animal subject scatters or stops posing desirably.

When you can’t make camera changes rapidly, you will lose the perfect shot. It’s as simple as that. The only way around it is to practise, practise and practise until you’ve got a hang of your new camera. Don’t set off on a wildlife photography trip without familiarising (or re-familiarising) yourself with your equipment.

Tip #3: Zooming in Closer Isn’t Always Better

This is a lesson especially a beginner wildlife photographer needs to learn. But it’s understandable – in the beginning, it’s easy to grow frustrated because you feel like you just can’t seem to get up close enough to your subject.

The sooner you come to understand this, the better: you don’t always need to zoom up really close when trying to capture an animal on camera. Yes, it’s nice to fill the frame with your desired subject and being able to see all of their finer details up close but have you considered that shooting from a wider angle may have its own merits?

Will Nicholls, a professional wildlife photographer and filmmaker, writes in his wildlife photography tips and tricks article that, if you’re unable to get up close to your animal subject, you should make the best of an ‘unfortunate’ situation. Go for a shot which incorporates some of your subject’s surroundings. Why this minimalistic photography style of keeping your subject smaller in the frame than initially expected might even end up becoming your signature style. This desire to start experimenting with a new style might even see you start reaching for some wider lenses than you had in the past. The resulting wildlife photos may be something far more unique than anything you’ve captured before.

If you still desire close-up shots, consider investing in a quality telephoto lens.


Tip #4: Always Keep Lighting in Mind

Another crucial element of any good photograph, be the subject wildlife or something else entirely, is the use of light. For example, it can be tricky to photograph directly into the light but it’s not impossible and may even result in some eye-catching effects, such as sun flares and beautiful silhouettes. Clare James, who specialises in wildlife, adventure and underwater photography, writes in her blog article for Africa Media that you should “[m]ake the most of the ‘golden hours’ of light.”

Early in the morning and late in the afternoon, the light will be much softer as the sun is further away. In comparison, midday sunlight tends to be much harsher and will make capturing a good photograph more difficult.

Overcast days are another excellent opportunity for wildlife photography, as clouds can end up acting like an expansive softbox that absorbs glare, which can result in gorgeous photographs.

Thus, you need to carefully consider the time of day you go out in the wild to shoot your subjects. This will not only end up affecting the lighting in your photographs but your subjects’ behaviour too.

Tip #5: Don’t Just Focus on the ‘Popular’ Animals

One of the greatest tips for wildlife photography is to not end up focusing solely on the great, imposing animals, such as members of the Big Five. Yes, they are indeed majestic but the wild offers so much more fascinating creatures that are worthy of our attention. All you have to do is start looking around and begin studying your surroundings more closely. You might be surprised by what you spot: a dung beetle rolling its bounty home, a meerkat family basking in the early morning sunlight or even a butterfly flitting about your garden.

There are many weird, wonderful and interesting animals out there to photograph. Sometimes it’s the little ones that prove to have the most character and the biggest presence.


Looking to Improve or Refresh your Photography Skills? You Can Book a Photographic Safari at Shamwari

In wildlife photography, there is much to learn. You can easily become rusty if you haven’t practised in a while to keep those skills sharp. Or perhaps you are a novice who wants to fast track their learning curve by getting instruction from a pro.

At Shamwari Private Game Reserve we offer both our seasoned and hobbyist photographer guests the opportunity to sign up for a comprehensive Photographic Safari Package. This two-day long photo safari experience can be enjoyed from R7 200 per person (excluding accommodation) during May through to October.

We want to make your photography adventure at Shamwari an effortless and memorable one, so we provide you with all the essentials.

Shamwari Provides You With the Following:

  • Photographic tuition, which ranges from tips for equipment selection, photo composure, as well as how to shoot a striking photograph and go about the post-editing process.
  • Access to a game viewing vehicle that is specifically set up for photographic equipment use
  • The use of select editing software packages and other editing equipment

Our guests will be accompanied by father-son professional photography team, Iky and Ryan Plakonouris, who have a combined 50 years’ experience between them, as well as a coveted Agfa Wildlife Photography Award. Their skill sets complement each other perfectly. Iky’s extensive knowledge of photography, repairs and his technical skills, combined with Ryan’s many years of wildlife guiding experience and additional skill sets in both photography and hospitality, make them a dream team. With their guidance and tutelage, you are sure to leave the reserve with more than a few striking wildlife photographs to show off back home.

For guests who don’t want to travel with a lot of their personal photography kit, we also offer the hire of professional equipment. We have both Nikon and Canon equipment at our disposal and pricing is available upon request.


Extraordinary Wildlife Encounters and Luxury Lodgings

If you are looking into wildlife photography destinations without compare, then Shamwari should rank amongst them. Our reserve is home to five of the country’s seven biomes, already setting it apart from so many others.

The reserve features one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife found in both the Eastern and Southern Cape. Not only that, but Shamwari also forms part of a natural extension of the widely-known Garden Route. There’s an abundance of diverse wildlife, great and small, to be encountered on the reserve, ranging from the Big Five to smaller creatures like the red-billed oxpecker and flightless dung beetle. There is much more to be seen than what our two-day Photography Package can do justice, so you might wish to extend your stay.

Reserve Your Spot on a Shamwari Photography Adventure Today

Signing up for our Photography Package will allow you to stay at one of seven luxurious lodgings on the reserve. Bayethe, Eagles Crag, Long Lee Manor, Sindile, Riverdene, Explorer Camp and Sarili Private Lodge all have their own distinct characteristics and air about them. Learn more about each of our lodges, to identify the one that appeals to you and book your stay today.

For more information or to make any enquiries, please contact the Shamwari Reservations Department, who will gladly assist you.