Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography
In this article, we will discuss ideal DSLR camera settings, especially for wildlife photography. These settings are common to all the different brands of Digital SLR cameras out there in the market and not specific to any camera brand. The settings mentioned below can be applied to any DSLR camera, right from the basic one to the top end camera bodies.
This post is intended as a quick reference guide for beginner and advanced amateurs alike. In order to keep this post short and relevant, I can not explain the logic/reason behind choosing the setting. We recommend our DSLR beginners and Wildlife Photo Safaris to learn in depth about using your camera to its full potential.
Check and Format your memory card, before going in to the field. Please use Picture Style: “Standard” and Colour Scheme: sRGB.
File Format: Always capture your images in RAW file format. It is much easier to edit/post process your RAW photo at a later stage. There is one more reason to shoot RAW images. Most Wildlife photography competitions require RAW images as a proof of authenticity.
White Balance: Cloudy white balance is usually recommended. You may shoot in Auto white balance as well, because for RAW files, white balance can be changed during post processing.
Metering Mode: For most (but not all) situations, Matrix / Evaluative metering mode works fine.
ISO: ISO Should be used to achieve correct exposure for your the desired aperture and shutter speed.Some camera bodies can set ISO values for you, which is called Auto-ISO.We DO NOT recommend Auto-ISO, as the camera body will decide ISO values, which may not be what you were expecting.
Continuous Shooting : Wild animals and birds may make sudden movements. We would like you to observe and anticipate animal behaviour, which only comes with spending time in the wild. When we anticipate some action, like a hunt or stalking or jump, we want to capture every move of the animal, because NOT all the shots will be as desired, some might be out of focus, some might not have eye contact and so on .We recommend shooting in continuous mode.
Autofocus: Wildlife photography can be a bit challenging because your subject(s) may not behave in a certain way you want them to. It is much easier to control your (human or landscape) subject in a controlled studio environment We recommend shooting with autofocus on. Please ensure that autofocus has been switched “ON” on your camera body as well as lens. Mastering autofocus is a different skill all together and cant be discussed here. I would highly recommend our workshops and guided safaris, designed specifically to enhance and master your wildlife photography skills, in a small group.
Back Button Focus : Normally, when you half press the shutter button , focus is acquired on the subject and when the shutter button is fully pressed, the image is recorded. However, there is a better way of capturing images where the focus stays locked on the subject and you get the creative control of focus and recompose. Your lens does NOT need to hunt for focus each time before taking picture. Back button focus takes practice and may seem a bit complicated, but its a very useful setting to use. Your wildlife photography is incomplete without back-button focus.
Clean Camera sensor at startup and shutdown: Some camera bodies allow the sensor to be cleaned automatically during EACH startup and shutdown. Personally, I have set this feature “ON” on all my camera bodies on the very first day of use. Although I have been shooting professionally and in very dusty conditions, however the sensor is perfectly clean, even after years of use in Masai Mara, Serengeti, Ranthambore National Park, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Kabini, Tadoba, Kaziranga, Umred Karhandla (very dusty). I would highly recommend you to set this feature on to keep your camera sensor clean and dust free.
Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode: If you are an absolute beginner, I would recommend to spend some time to understand the creative aspects of photography and how aperture mode can help you do that. Please take your camera out of the “AUTO” mode and take control in your hands.
Try to photography same subject with F/2.8 (or the widest possible aperture), then at F/4, then again at F/8 and notice the difference in the background. At aperture F/2.8, your background will be much more blurred and less distracting from the subject. At F/8, the background will become more pronounced and visible. Aperture priority mode is a semi automatic mode, where you control the aperture and camera decides a suitable shutter speed (depending on the availability of light and ISO)
Shooting in Shutter speed Priority Mode: If you are an absolute beginner, I would recommend to spend some time to understand the creative aspects of photography and how shutter Priority (TV on canon/S on Nikon) mode can help you do that. Please take your camera out of the “AUTO” mode and take control in your hands.
Try to photography same moving subject with 1/3rd of sec shutter speed , then at 1/400th of a second and notice the difference. At 1/3rd of a second, your subject in motion will be blurred, giving a sense of motion. At 1/400th of a second, the moving subject will appear frozen and still. Shutter priority mode is a semi automatic mode, where you control the shutter speed and camera decides a suitable aperture (depending on the availability of light and ISO)
Shooting in fully Manual Mode: If you understand the creative control aperture and shutter speed mode provides, may be you should move to manual mode and take control of aperture as well as shutter speed at the same time. . Please take your camera out of the “AUTO” mode and take control in your hands in Manual Mode.
Try 4 different scenarios mentioned below, one by one. and send us your images, We would be glad to see your practice shots and display them on our website as well as on the Facebook page “Wall of Fame” for instant recognition!
a) Aperture F/2.8 at Shutter speed 1/3rd of a second.
b) Aperture F/8 at Shutter speed 1/3rd of a second.
a) Aperture F/2.8 at Shutter speed 1/400th of a second.
b) Aperture F/8 at Shutter speed 1/400th of a second.