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10 Wildlife Photography Tips

Last Updated: Apr 30, 2012

photography taking pictures
 - Costa Rica

Whether you’re an avid birder, budding naturalist, or just love to take pictures, the opportunities are endless in Costa Rica, where the wildlife literally comes to you. Follow these simple tips to turn an average shot into a spectacular photograph.

1. Get the Right Gear

  • Got the cash? A DSLR (Digital Single-Lens-Reflex) camera provides the best features. The Canon EOS Rebel T2i and Pentax K-5 are the years top-rated.
  • Budget option: a point-and-shoot with at least a 10x optical zoom, like the Canon S100 or Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5.
  • Choose a model that has image-stabilization, also called vibration reduction.
  • Buy a tripod or bean bag, when hand-held steadiness is not an option.

2. Practice Makes Perfect

  • Know your equipment before you travel; always practice with a new camera.
  • Get outside and hone your skills on a variety of settings and subjects.
  • Work on framing and general technical work like manual focus, exposure and learning the functions of your camera’s settings.

3. Choosing Your Lens

  • Most wildlife photography is taken with 200mm to 600mm focal lens. A 300mm (35mm equivalent) telephoto is recommended for beginners.
  • Bring a Macro lens for shooting small animals like frogs, butterflies and other insects. 


4. Protect Your Equipment

  • Be prepared for rain, which is typical in Costa Rica from May through November, especially in the late afternoons.
  • Carry a plastic bag to cover your lens and camera and secure it with a rubber band.
  • Have a quick-dry towel handy and consider investing in a neoprene lens cover.

5. Heed the Light

  • As a rule, the best lighting is normally at dawn and dusk. In Costa Rica, the sun rises at 5:00 a.m. and sets at 6:00 p.m., with little variation throughout the year.
  • Slightly overcast days with high clouds are ideal for photographing animals that have a high contrast.
  • If shooting in midday sun, use a lens hood if possible and consider a reflector or fill-in flash.

6. Go Eye Level

  • Avoid distortion of features by getting down to your subject’s eye level.
  • If you're shooting a close-up of a single animal, always focus on the eyes.
  • Use a wider aperture to stop any distracting backgrounds.

7. Focus Manually

  • Wildlife may blend into its environment, making the camera automatically focus on the wrong object.
  • The noise of your camera’s auto-focus may disturb the animal if you are particularly close.

8. Capture Movement

  • Liven up your image by capturing action such as the fluttering of wingtips.
  • Quick moving animals are best photographed using an auto exposure setting, or shutter-priority.
  • Panning technique: keep a constant focus on the subject and move the camera along with it.

9. Keep Shooting

  • Persistence is the name of the game; continuous shooting will improve your odds of getting your best photo.
  • Be sure to bring extra batteries and fast memory cards as back ups.

10. Consider Composition

  • Rule of thirds: Placing the subject in the dead center of the frame typically yields a boring image.
  • Strike a balance between your subject and background, this usually leads to a more successful and interesting photo.
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