7 Tips for Sharp Focus in Wildlife Photography
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Use the right equipment
  2. Practice manual focus
  3. Optimize your camera settings
  4. Anticipate animal behavior
  5. Stay steady
  6. Use continuous focus mode
  7. Try different perspectives

Photographing wildlife can be a thrilling adventure, capturing the beauty of animals in their natural habitats. One of the biggest challenges, though, is achieving sharp focus in wildlife photography. It's all about getting that crisp, detailed shot that truly brings the subject to life. But how do you do that? Here are seven tips that will help you nail that perfect shot.

1. Use the right equipment

The first step to achieving sharp focus in wildlife photography is ensuring you have the right equipment. Your camera and lenses play a key role in the quality of your photos. Here's what you need:

  • A DSLR or mirrorless camera: These types of cameras offer more control over your settings, allowing you to adjust for different lighting conditions, distances, and movements. They also typically have higher image quality than point-and-shoot cameras.
  • A telephoto lens: This type of lens lets you zoom in close to the action without physically getting too close and disturbing the animals. A lens with a focal length of at least 200mm is a good start, but for more distant subjects, you might want to consider a 400mm, 500mm, or even 600mm lens.
  • A tripod: Keeping your camera steady is vital for sharp images, especially when shooting with a heavy telephoto lens or in low light conditions. A sturdy tripod can help eliminate camera shake and keep your images crisp.

Remember, investing in quality equipment is a smart move when it comes to wildlife photography. But it's not just about the gear itself—it's also about knowing how to use it effectively. So take the time to learn about your camera's functions and features, and practice using your equipment in a variety of settings. This will greatly enhance your ability to achieve sharp focus in wildlife photography.

2. Practice manual focus

While autofocus can be a great tool, sometimes, the best way to ensure sharp focus is to switch your lens to manual and do it yourself. This can be especially true in wildlife photography, where the autofocus might get distracted by branches, leaves, or other objects and lose focus on the animal. By practicing manual focus, you take full control of your image's sharpness.

How do you do that? Here's a step-by-step guide:

  1. First, switch your lens from AF (autofocus) to MF (manual focus).
  2. Look through the viewfinder or at your camera's LCD screen and turn the focus ring on your lens until your subject is sharp.
  3. Take a few test shots and review them on the camera's screen to check the focus. Zoom in on the details to make sure they're sharp.
  4. Adjust the focus as needed and keep practicing until you're comfortable with manual focusing.

Remember, manual focusing is a skill and it takes time to master it. But once you do, you'll have a powerful tool in your arsenal for achieving sharp focus in wildlife photography. Practice makes perfect, so don't be discouraged if you don't get it right away. Keep at it and you'll see your focus get sharper and sharper with time.

3. Optimize your camera settings

Here's a secret: achieving sharp focus in wildlife photography isn't just about the focus ring on your lens. You also need to dive into your camera's settings and tweak them to perfection. It's like turning the knobs and pushing the buttons on a spaceship control panel. You're the captain here, and the mission is to capture stunning, sharp images of wildlife.

So, which settings should you pay attention to? Here are the big three:

  1. Shutter Speed: Fast-moving animals require a fast shutter speed. This helps freeze the motion and reduces the chance of blurry images. Try starting with a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second and adjust as necessary based on the animal's speed.
  2. Aperture: A smaller aperture (represented by a larger f/number, like f/8 or f/11) will give you a larger depth of field, meaning more of your image will be in sharp focus. This can be very useful when photographing animals in their natural habitats.
  3. ISO: Increasing your ISO allows you to use faster shutter speeds and smaller apertures in low light. However, a higher ISO can also lead to more noise or grain in your images, so it's a balancing act.

Experiment with these settings and see how they affect your images. Remember, the goal is achieving sharp focus in wildlife photography, but there's no one-size-fits-all approach. You'll need to adjust your settings based on the conditions and the subject you're photographing. It's all part of the adventure!

4. Anticipate Animal Behavior

Imagine you're on a safari, and there's a lion on the horizon. Before you even start thinking about reaching for your camera, you need to observe. What's the lion doing? Is it on the move, or is it lounging around? By understanding the animal's behavior, you'll be able to anticipate their next move and be ready to capture that perfect, sharply focused shot.

Animals, wild or not, are creatures of habit. They're predictable in many ways. They have routines - times when they hunt, rest, play, and go about their daily lives. To achieve sharp focus in wildlife photography, you need to blend your technical know-how with a keen sense of observation. This is where your patience comes into play!

Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Research Beforehand: Before you head out with your camera, spend some time learning about the animal you want to photograph. Understanding their habits, behaviors, and routines will help you predict where they might be and what they might do, allowing you to set up your shot well in advance.
  2. Watch and Wait: Once you're in the right spot, take some time to just observe. Look for patterns in the animal's behavior that might give you clues about what it's going to do next. That way, you'll be ready when the perfect photo opportunity arises.
  3. Be Patient: Wildlife photography is a game of waiting. It can take hours, even days, for the perfect shot to present itself. But when it does, and you're there with your camera ready to capture it in sharp focus, all that waiting will be worth it!

Remember, the more you know about your subject, the better your chances of capturing a stunning, sharply focused photo. So, don your detective hat and start studying those behaviors!

5. Stay Steady

Remember playing "Statue" as a kid? It's time to bring back those skills! Staying steady is a vital part of achieving sharp focus in wildlife photography. Any little movement can throw off your focus and result in a blurry image. And let's face it, wildlife isn't going to hold a pose while you stabilize your camera. It's all on you.

Here's how to make sure you stay as steady as a rock:

  1. Invest in a Good Tripod: A sturdy tripod can be your best friend when it comes to wildlife photography. It can hold your camera steady, helping you achieve the sharp focus you're after. Plus, it saves your arms from getting tired during those long waiting periods!
  2. Use Your Body Wisely: If you find yourself without a tripod, don't panic. You can use your own body to stabilize your camera. Keep your elbows close to your body to create a human tripod. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, and use your breath to help steady your shot. Take the shot as you exhale slowly—this little trick can make a big difference in the sharpness of your photo.
  3. Consider a Monopod: For a lighter, more mobile alternative to a tripod, consider a monopod. It gives you some of the stability of a tripod but with greater flexibility. This can be especially handy when photographing animals on the move.

Remember, the key to getting that perfect, sharply focused wildlife shot is to stay as steady as possible. So, channel your inner 'Statue' and let's get those crystal-clear shots!

6. Use Continuous Focus Mode

Have you ever tried to capture a bird in flight or a deer bounding through the forest, only to end up with a blurry mess? It's not just about your timing. It's about your camera's focus too. This is where the continuous focus mode comes into play in achieving sharp focus in wildlife photography.

  1. Understand Continuous Focus Mode: In continuous focus mode, also known as AI Servo in Canon or AF-C in Nikon, your camera will continuously adjust its focus as long as the shutter button is half-pressed. This is ideal for moving subjects, allowing you to maintain focus on your subject even as it moves.
  2. Master the Technique: Using continuous focus mode effectively requires a bit of practice. Start by half-pressing the shutter button to lock focus on your subject. Keep the button half-pressed as you follow your subject with your camera. When the moment is right, fully press the shutter button to take the shot. Remember, the key is to keep the shutter button half-pressed until you're ready to shoot.
  3. Know When to Use It: Continuous focus mode isn't always the best choice. If your subject is stationary, switch to single focus mode. But if your subject is in motion—like most wildlife often is—continuous focus mode can help you achieve sharp, in-focus photos.

So, next time you're out in the wild, give continuous focus mode a try. It might just be the tool you need to capture that perfect sharp image of wildlife in action.

7. Try Different Perspectives

Stepping outside your comfort zone and experimenting with different perspectives can play a big role in achieving sharp focus in wildlife photography. It's not just about capturing a photo; it's about creating a story. And sometimes, that story is told best from an unconventional angle.

  1. Get on Their Level: Instead of photographing wildlife from your standing height, try getting down to their level. This can create a more intimate and engaging photo. The lower perspective can also provide a cleaner, less cluttered background, helping your subject stand out more.
  2. Look Up: We often forget to look up, but this can present some great photo opportunities. Birds in flight, monkeys in trees, or even a giraffe stretching its neck for leaves; these are all instances where an upward perspective can make your photo stand out.
  3. Go Wide: While close-ups can be impressive, don't forget the power of a wide-angle shot. Showing wildlife in their environment can provide context and create a more compelling image. It can also give you a sharper focus on the bigger picture.

Remember, photography is an art. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to it. So, don't be afraid to try out different perspectives. It might take some time to find what works best for you, but when you do, it will be worth the effort.

If you enjoyed our "7 Tips for Sharp Focus in Wildlife Photography" blog and want to improve your photography skills even further, we recommend checking out Austin James Jackson's workshop, 'Tips To Compose More Compelling Photos.' This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques to take your wildlife photography to the next level, helping you create stunning images that stand out from the crowd.