Wildlife Photography: Essential Camera Settings
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Set your camera to shutter priority mode
  2. Adjust the ISO setting
  3. Use fast shutter speeds
  4. Enable continuous focusing
  5. Choose the right metering mode
  6. Use auto white balance
  7. Opt for RAW format

Step into the captivating world of wildlife photography, where every click of your camera captures a unique moment in the wild. The magic of a perfectly timed shot, however, begins with getting your camera settings right. In this blog, we'll walk you through the essential wildlife photography camera settings to help you capture those stunning, frame-worthy shots.

Set Your Camera to Shutter Priority Mode

Let's kick things off with your camera's shooting mode. If you're aiming to capture animals in motion—be it a bird in flight or a cheetah on the hunt—you'll want to set your camera to shutter priority mode. This setting, often represented by 'S' or 'Tv' on most cameras, allows you to control the shutter speed while the camera handles the aperture. Here's why it's a game-changer in wildlife photography:

  • Freeze the Action: With a fast shutter speed, you can freeze an animal's movement, capturing every detail in sharp focus. It's perfect for those high-speed chases or birds swooping down to catch their prey.
  • Control over Motion Blur: Want to create a sense of motion in your images? Slowing down the shutter speed helps achieve this effect. It's a great way to show the grace of a bird in flight or the flurry of a school of fish.
  • Adapt to Changing Light: Wildlife photography often means working with unpredictable lighting. With shutter priority mode, your camera automatically adjusts the aperture according to the lighting conditions, helping you get well-exposed shots every time.

Remember, mastering shutter priority mode is a vital part of your wildlife photography camera settings toolkit. So, grab your camera, switch to this mode, and start experimenting—you'll be amazed at the difference it can make!

Adjust the ISO Setting

Next on the menu of must-know wildlife photography camera settings is ISO. ISO measures your camera's sensitivity to light. It can be a real lifesaver when you're shooting in low-light conditions, like a cloudy day or at dawn and dusk. But remember, every action has a reaction, and in the world of photography, increasing ISO means increasing the grain or 'noise' in your photos. So, what's the secret sauce to getting it right?

  • Start Low, Go High: Always start with the lowest ISO setting. If you're shooting in bright daylight, a low ISO—say, around 100 or 200—should work just fine. But as the light drops, gradually increase your ISO.
  • Balancing Act: The goal is to find the sweet spot where your ISO is high enough to give you a well-exposed photo, but not so high that your image gets noisy. On most modern cameras, you can go up to 800 without a noticeable increase in noise.
  • Know Your Camera: Each camera handles noise differently. So, spend some time getting to know your equipment. Learn how high you can push your ISO before the noise becomes an issue. It's an important part of your wildlife photography camera settings repertoire.

Don't be afraid to play around with your ISO settings. After all, understanding ISO is key to capturing well-exposed photos, no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.

Use Fast Shutter Speeds

When it comes to wildlife photography, things can move pretty fast—literally. Whether it's a bird in flight or a fox on the run, a fast shutter speed is your best friend. It lets you freeze the action, capturing every detail in pin-sharp clarity. But how fast is fast?

  • The Rule of Thumb: As a general rule, your shutter speed should be at least as fast as the length of your lens. For example, if you're shooting with a 300mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/300th of a second.
  • Go Faster: If you're dealing with fast-moving subjects, it's a good idea to crank up the shutter speed even more. Try 1/1000th of a second or faster. Remember, the faster your shutter speed, the more light you'll need. This is where your ISO setting can come to the rescue.
  • Try Panning: If you're feeling adventurous, try panning. This is a technique where you move your camera to follow the subject, using a slower shutter speed—say, 1/60th of a second. It can give your photos a sense of motion and speed. But it takes practice, so don't be discouraged if your first few attempts are a blur.

Shutter speed is one of those wildlife photography camera settings that can make or break your photos. So, keep practicing and experimenting. You'll soon find the perfect balance that works for you and your subjects.

Enable Continuous Focusing

Now, let's talk about focus. In the world of wildlife photography, your subjects rarely sit still and pose for the camera. They're always on the move, in and out of your frame. So, how do you keep them in sharp focus?

  • Switch to Continuous Focus: Most cameras offer a setting called continuous focus (also known as AI Servo on Canon cameras or AF-C on Nikon). This handy feature allows your camera to keep adjusting its focus as your subject moves. It's like having a co-pilot who's constantly fine-tuning your focus for you.
  • Pre-focus on the Action: If you know where the action is going to happen—like a bird's nest or a watering hole—pre-focus on that spot. Then, when the action unfolds, your camera will have less work to do to find the focus.
  • Stay on the Move: When you're shooting wildlife, you're part of the action too. Don't be afraid to move with your subjects, keeping them in your frame and your focus.

Remember, sharp focus is a key ingredient of great wildlife photos. So take the time to master your camera's focusing settings. Like with shutter speed, the more you practice, the more these wildlife photography camera settings will become second nature to you.

Choose the Right Metering Mode

Choosing the right metering mode can feel like picking the winning lottery numbers. It can be a bit confusing, but fear not, let's break it down in an easy-to-understand way.

  • Understanding Metering Modes: Metering modes in your camera are essentially how your camera decides what parts of the scene should be well lit. There are typically three modes: spot, center-weighted, and matrix or evaluative.
  • Spot Metering: This mode measures the light only in a small spot in the center of your frame. It's perfect for wildlife photography when your subject is well lit, but the background isn't. Your bird or deer will be perfectly exposed, even if the background is a bit too bright or dark.
  • Center-Weighted Metering: This mode considers the whole frame but gives extra weight to the center. It's a flexible choice for wildlife photography when your subject is in the middle of the frame.
  • Matrix or Evaluative Metering: This mode looks at the whole frame and averages the light. It's great for evenly lit scenes, but for wildlife photography, it might not always give you the best results.

Metering correctly helps to ensure that your subject is always well-exposed, even in tricky lighting situations. So, experiment with these modes to see which one best suits your wildlife photography camera settings. And remember, the best metering mode is often the one that helps you capture your vision of the scene.

Use Auto White Balance

Light can be sneaky. It changes throughout the day and can vary based on location. Have you ever noticed how colors can look different under different types of light? That's where white balance comes into play in wildlife photography camera settings.

White balance is all about color accuracy. It adjusts the colors in your image to make sure whites look white, not yellow or blue. Different light sources can cast different colors on your scene, and the white balance setting helps to correct this.

Now, you might be thinking: "But I want to control everything in my photo. Shouldn't I manually adjust my white balance?" Well, let's think about this for a second.

Wildlife photography is unpredictable. Animals move quickly and lighting conditions can change in an instant. If you're fiddling with manual white balance settings, you might miss the perfect shot. That's why auto white balance is a great option.

Using auto white balance, your camera will automatically adjust to the color temperature of the light. It's like having a little helper inside your camera, making sure your colors are accurate so you can focus on capturing that award-winning shot.

So, when setting up your wildlife photography camera settings, feel confident in letting your camera handle the white balance. You focus on the picture, and let your camera worry about the colors.

Opt for RAW Format

Let's talk about image formats. JPEG, PNG, TIFF — you've probably seen these before. But when it comes to wildlife photography camera settings, there's another format that's worth considering: RAW.

Think of RAW files like an unprocessed film negative. They contain all the data your camera sensor captures, without any processing or compression. This means you get more detail and a higher quality image. But it also means larger file sizes, so you'll need a good amount of storage space.

So why choose RAW format? Well, it's all about control. When you shoot in RAW, you retain control over how your image is processed. You can adjust exposure, white balance, and other settings in post-production without losing quality. It's like having a second chance to perfect your shot after you've taken it.

Consider this: You've been tracking a rare bird all day. The light is fading, but you finally get the perfect shot. Only, when you check your camera, you see that the image is slightly underexposed. If you shot in JPEG, there's not much you can do. But if you shot in RAW, you can easily fix the exposure without losing detail or quality.

So, when setting up your wildlife photography camera settings, consider opting for RAW format. It might take up more space, but the extra control and quality can be well worth it. Just remember to pack an extra memory card or two!

If you're looking to improve your wildlife photography skills and want to master your camera settings, don't miss the workshop 'Shooting In Manual Mode On Your DSLR Or Mirrorless Camera' by Austin James Jackson. This workshop will provide you with the knowledge and techniques required to confidently shoot in manual mode, allowing you to capture stunning wildlife images with ease.