10 tips to prepare your camera for wildlife photography

A professional DSLR gives you more frames per second than you need and almost no noise at insanely high ISO values. If you can afford a professional DSLR that’s great but if not, don’t worry as you can get iconic images out of entry level DLSRs when used properly.

1. Batteries and memory cards

Make sure that your batteries are fully charged to get top performance out of your camera. A battery grip enhances the performance further. Needless to say your memory cards have to be formatted, empty and ready to go.

2. Burst mode

This is maybe the single most important tip. It helps when your camera continuously takes pictures as long as the shutter button is pressed. Having more frames per second increases your chances of capturing the decisive moment. The time for how long you can do that depends on the buffer capacity of your camera and the speed of your memory cards. Shooting small series repeatedly will give your camera time to write on the memory card. That prevents you from being stuck with a full buffer.

3. Image quality and size

I personally like to shoot both RAWs and the highest quality JPEGs at the same time. The JPEGs are immediately available for social media and email. The best RAWs can be perfected in Lightroom. However, shooting RAW + JPG takes up buffer capacity, so if you wish to increase your buffer capacity, you can reduce to only shooting JPEGs.

4.   Aperture priority mode

Shooting aperture priority enables me to quickly adjust to changing light situations. Additionally I can creatively adjust my depth of field. In low light I need to open up the aperture to let more light in. This is also good for portraits because the shallow depth of field isolates your subject from the background. If there is more light available you can have a deeper depth of field.

5. Shutter speed

Shutter speed is king. To freeze the action your shutter speed needs to be high enough. That depends on how fast your object is moving. With slow animals you get away with 1/1000 sec but with flying birds you might need 1/2000 sec and faster. As a rule of thumb your shutter speed should be 1/focal length or faster. That is why in low light I decrease my focal length because at 400mm you need at least 1/400 sec. At 80mm you’ll most likely find that 1/80sec is enough.

6. ISO

I increase the ISO as much as needed to achieve a fast enough shutter speed for a sharp picture. Better a sharp picture with a little digital noise than a blurry picture.

7. Autofocus

The autofocus is the most important feature of your camera for action photography, as you are not able to fix a photo in Photoshop that is out of focus.

Back button focus: Professional cameras have an AF-ON button. Use it. If you don’t have one, you can customise the AE/AF button at the back of the camera for focusing. I always use the so-called ‘back button focusing’ method. The shutter-release button is for taking pictures only.

8. Composition

I compose generously and give my main subject room to breathe when it comes to action. Nothing is worse than having a leopard at the edge of the picture with the tail cut off.

9. Customised user settings

I have saved all of the below as my action user settings. From there I start to adjust to the actual situation.

Action user settings:

·      Aperture priority

·      AE/AF button for back button focus

·      AF-C continuous autofocus

·      Single-point AF (central)

·      Matrix metering

·      f5,6

·      ISO: 400

·      RAW + JPG fine

·      Burst mode: CH Continuous high speed

10. Back to basics

After using extreme settings, it is important to go back to standard settings again. This way you avoid switching your camera on and having to start to adjust back to normal settings.

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