The 10 Commandments of Wildlife Photography

There are some rules within every discipline of photography that are meant to be broken in the name of exploration and experimentation—but not these ones.

These are the 10 commandments every photographer should follow religiously when they go ‘wild’.

1. Thou shalt be ethical

When you step into the wild, you are stepping into someone’s home.

Showing your subject and its surrounds the respect they deserve lies at the core of wildlife photography. That means not baiting or feeding animals, leaving the natural order of things unmanipulated and undisturbed and always putting the welfare of your environment before the shot. 

2. Thou shalt shoot in ‘golden light’

Midday is not your friend.

The ‘golden hours’ are the two hours after sunrise and the two hours before sunset. This is when light is soft, warm and perfect for your shots. Not only is your camera better able to capture and render ‘golden  light’, but your photos will possess a quality that simply cannot be replicated.  

3. Thou shalt know thy subject

Behind every great photo is a photographer who did their homework.

Read up on everything you can about your subject. For example, if capturing animals, read up on their surrounding environment and behaviours, or for plants, when they are in full bloom and if they’re

The more you know about your subject, not only do you increase your chances of getting some great shots, but you can avoid putting both you and your subject in a compromising position.

4. Thou shalt know thy gear

It’s not about the gear you’ve got, it’s how you use it.

Whatever your kit looks like, make sure you know your gear inside out and intimately. Firstly, because there’s no point having a top-end telephoto lens if you don’t know how to work your DSLR settings, and
secondly, you never know what is going to pop up in your viewfinder, so you’re going to want to be ready with every trick at your fingertips.

But it’s not all ISO this and aperture that.

Make sure you have gear that protects your gear. If you’re hitting the outdoors, be sure to invest in clothing and accessories that provide you and your equipment with protection, safety and comfort.

5. Thou shalt go incognito

Camouflage is key.

If you want to capture animals in their natural state, you have to do everything you can to not alarm them or bring attention to yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to go into full commando stalker mode, but unless you’re just shooting trees, it does call for some efforts to blend in to the best of your ability.


6. Thou shalt not use flash

Most pros avoid using flash.

Not only is a sudden burst of white light a great way to scare off or even provoke your subject, but the flash also produces a harsh, unnatural lighting that cheapens your shot. Remember to disable it before your next outdoor shoot!

7. Thou shalt focus on the eye

It’s all in the eyes.

Just as we feel connected with each other through eye contact, the same goes for photos of wildlife. The eyes capture emotion and character and if they aren’t in focus, the image doesn’t quite have the same effect or connection.

8. Thou shalt consider the background

The background is just as important as the subject.

Avoid cluttered or distracting backgrounds so that your subject remains the focal point and doesn’t get ‘lost’. Also be aware of ‘ugly’ backgrounds. You might have pulled off a great shot, but if the background hasn’t been considered, you will often be forced to either crop or scrap your photo.

9. Thou shalt be patient

Patience isn’t a virtue. It’s a necessity.

The wild is exactly that. Wild. It’s unpredictable and doesn’t play to your timing. If you want that photo that few are willing to wait for, then get comfy because waiting will always be the name of this game.

10. Thou shalt practice

Practice makes perfect.

The more practice you put in, the more you’ll get an eye for what looks good, and when that happens, the magic happens.

To gain more practical knowledge into the wide world of travel photography, join our online course ‘Travel Photography with Richard I’Anson’ here.

2 thoughts on “The 10 Commandments of Wildlife Photography

  1. I agree with 9 of your 10 commandments. The one I disagree with is the use of flash. If you learn to use it correctly you will hardly notice the use of flash. Also there are many instances which could not be suitably recorded if flash was not used and I know of many well known pro photographers who use flash. Personally if I can I avoid the use of flash but have used it to get some outstanding images and the birds have not even reacted to the flash. Like with all my nature photography I would immediately stop doing anything which showed even the slightest indication of disturbing the animal.

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