Necessary Gear for Wildlife Photography

Sheena Koontz by Sheena Koontz on

Wildlife photography is a game of chance. A good shot depends on being at the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment. Strap a leprechaun to your camera bag, wear your lucky socks, and find a couple of crickets.

That might bring you enough luck to capture something worthwhile, but without the right equipment you might as well be shooting in the dark with a disposable camera.

Wildlife Photography
photo by Linda Tanner

1. Choosing The Camera

When deciding on a camera for wildlife photography you need to take into consideration what you’re going to be photographing.

If your interest is in photographing insects then your camera is going to need some serious zoom power. Most insects are not going to hang around while you sneak up close enough to get a shot in. The solution is a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens, or a good macro lens. There are several great DSLR cameras out there to choose from. Nikon and Canon are the two most common name brands.

2. Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens allows you to capture wildlife events from a respectable distance. Most animals will run away if you get too close, and if they don’t run they are probably big enough to eat you.

In these cases you need to be a nice safe distance away from your intended target. A telephoto lens that allows you to shoot up to 200mm or 300mm and a zoom range between 70 and 200 is a good starter lens. Different cameras support different types of lenses so you will need to do a little research here to find out what your options are.

3. Wide Angle Lens

A wide angle lens is also a nice piece to have for those occasions when you want a bit of landscape with your subject matter.

The option of wide angle lens will depend on the brand of camera. This typically falls under the 14mm – 35mm lens range. Another cheaper option is the screw on wide angle extension lens. These are more of a gimmick, but can still be quite fun.

4. Vibration Reduction

A lens with a built in vibration reduction (VR) is a wonderful thing when photographing wildlife. These lenses are usually more expensive, but are well worth the price if you plan to do this long term. A camera with a telephoto lens attached can get awkward and heavy very quickly. A sturdy tripod is a cheaper option if you can’t afford a VR lens (though you should still get yourself a sturdy tripod).

5. Filters

Filters are not used on a regular basis with wildlife photography. A polarizing filter is sometimes used with a telephoto lens when photographing birds or wildlife on water. This is more a personal preference. It can be just as easy to add filter effects with an image editing software like Adobe Photoshop later on.

6. Tripod

A tripod comes in very handy in the world of wildlife photography.

This job often requires waiting for long periods of time for an animal to do something of interest. Having all your gear set up on a tripod can be the difference between getting an amazing photo or the back end of a deer.

Another aspect to consider when purchasing a tripod is the weight. The camera and tripod together can get cumbersome after hiking around all day. The trick is to find a tripod that is lightweight but able to support your camera with a telephoto lens attached.

7. Camera Bag

After acquiring a few lenses it’s a good idea to invest in a camera bag with compartments. Traditional backpacks are not made to store lenses and can cause them to crash together – especially if you’re going to be hiking and walking around all day. Investing in a well made camera bag keeps equipment operational longer. It also ensures that when you’re not using a lens it can be safely tucked away.

8. Memory Cards

Memory cards are the next essential items on the list. It’s a good idea to keep two memory cards on hand that are at least 8GB. As a wildlife photographer capturing an action packed moment can require taking continuous shots.

This will fill up a memory card very quickly (since you’re shooting in RAW, right?). Card errors are also a common problem. If a card has been improperly removed from a device it will sometimes require formatting before you can use it again. When this problem occurs out in the field it can be faster to just switch cards. If you can go with a class 10 card.

9. While You Wait For A Great Shot

It’s also not a bad idea to bring along some snacks and maybe a book. Some shots will require waiting quietly for long periods of time.

I would advise reading the camera manual. There is always something new to pick up about DSLR camera. These cameras can have a lot of bells and whistles so it never hurts to study up on what your camera can do. Don’t be afraid to play around with settings before your subject arrives. Photographing the area early can notify you of any glares or obstructions that might become a problem.

10. Knowledge

One of the most necessary pieces to have in a wildlife kit is knowledge. Knowing your equipment inside and out can come in handy when you are fighting the elements to photograph an animal.

Sometimes you may just have seconds to adjust your settings before the moment has passed. The camera manual is one of the best sources of information available. Attending seminars, reading articles, and classes can provide a wealth of knowledge about techniques. It never hurts to learn from someone else, but don’t be afraid to try out new ideas too.

11. Wildlife Habits

Conducting a bit of research on the subject can also come in handy. Look into the animals sleeping and eating habits will give you a better understanding of where to set up and wait. Animals are creatures of habit, so take a look around for signs that the area has heavy animal traffic.

It’s not a good idea to feed the wildlife. Animals will come back to areas where they have found food and this could cause all sorts of problems. A wildlife photographer should take to heart the motto “Take only pictures, leave only footprints“.


Don’t forget that our ebook, Cameras in the Wild: A Guide for the Adventuring Photomaker, is out now! If you’re into adventure photography, this is the ebook to get! In it you will learn not only how to capture a strong photograph, but also how to develop your images so that they become polished manifestations of your unique vision.

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