Basic Rules of Motion/Wildlife Photography

I get asked a lot my “secrets” for wildlife photography. There are no secrets just some basic rules. If you have an eye to capture a scene and if you adhere to these rules, you will create some great pictures.

Rule Number 1
Have patience!
It does not matter if you shoot in the wild, in a zoo or just your pets. You need
patience. Spend a lot of time with an animal and you will see amazing things. I
often spend hours with an animal in the wild.

Rule Number 2
Shoot a lot – Waste space!
Give up your old “film” habits and shoot a lot. I often take dozens of pictures of
one scene. Like humans animals have “good” and “bad” expressions and postures.
Shooting a lot and selecting the right image later on your computer will get you
there. In a four hour game drive I will sometimes shoot 500 images.
Don’t worry about all the “bad” pictures you take, the good ones will make up for

Rule Number 3
Set your camera to a standard!
Animal photography is motion photography. Being ready is very important. Wild
animals are not posing for you. So set your camera to standard settings (see below)
and return to these settings if you had to alter them for a specific situation.

The settings below work for me.
Shooting mode: Aperture Control AV (P for flash use)
Image recording quality: JPG best quality (or RAW)
White balance: Shade (outdoors/natural light) – AWB (indoors/artificial light)
ISO: 400 (good weather) – 1600 (bad weather) – 3200 (indoors)
Metering mode: Center weighted
Drive mode: Single shooting
AF mode: AI Servo
AF points: Center point only
Shooting mode: Aperture Control A (P for flash use)
Image recording quality: JPG best quality (or RAW)
White balance: Shade (outdoors/natural light) – AWB (indoors/artificial light)
ISO: 400 (good weather) – 1600 (bad weather) – 3200 (indoors)
Metering mode: Center weighted
Drive mode: Single shooting
AF mode: AF-C
AF points: Center point only

Rule Number 4
Keep the eyes in focus!
Make sure the eyes of the animals are sharp and in focus. With using “center point
focus” you are in control of the focus, not your camera. Make sure the eyes are in
the center of your picture (and therefore in focus). Leave a bit of extra room
around your major object. You can crop the image on the computer. An animal is not a
cathedral – the time for composition is mostly measured in seconds, not minutes or

Rule Number 5
Learn how to over- and under-expose with your camera!
Your camera is smart, but not smart enough. Once you have your standard settings
only concentrate on one adjustment while you are shooting. If the object you are
interested in is much darker than the surrounding you have to over-expose. If the
object is much lighter, you will need to under-expose. This takes training; so get
out there, make some exposure mistakes and learn from them.

Rule Number 6
Higher ISO – a friend?
With animals you need short exposure times. I very rarely use a tripod, sometimes a
monopod. Most of the time I shoot without any support with fairly long lenses (300-
500mm) – animals move – so we need to as well!
Short exposure times are crucial. With full aperture set, I am not afraid of using
higher ISO (up to 6400 or even above). Especially in decent light conditions the
results with modern digital SLRs are excellent. Better to have an image with a
little more noise than a picture out of focus.

Rule Number 7
Get down there!
If you want tension in your pictures you need to get on eye level of your subject or
even below. I find myself often sitting or laying flat on the floor (not with the
Big five :-). If you have a choice take the lowest row in a game viewer or the seat
next to the driver.

Rule Number 8
Avoid flash – use a torch!
I do not like flash pictures. They are mostly flat and have no depth. In wildlife
photography you have seldom the time for good flash setup (with multiple flashes).
I’d rather use higher ISO and try my luck without a flash. A standard, handheld
torch can help producing a glint in the eye of an animal and lighten up a dark

I hope these rules will help you to achieve good animal pictures. And remember, shoot a lot and have patience!

Note: As a guest at Thanda Safari you may request a complementary 90 minute photography session (based on availability/between game drives). In these sessions you will learn how to set up your camera for wildlife photography, what do adjust during shooting on game drive (motto:keep it simple) and I will show you what makes a good wildlife image. It does not matter if you stay at the Lodge, the Tented Camp or the Private Villa. For more information got to

At time of booking your stay at Thanda you can also request me as your field guide during your stay at Thanda to spend additional photography time with me in the bush.



3 Responses to “Basic Rules of Motion/Wildlife Photography”

  1. Ghislaine De Nul

    Thanks for the info but I’m surprised to read that you use single shooting instead of continuous as I do for wildlife photography


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