While we were visiting Yellowstone National Park, we joined a guided photography tour. The weather was overcast so the guide focused on wildlife rather than grand scenic views. The only really good photos from the tour were of the bear we followed on and off for several hours, but I learned a few things about using my camera which were especially helpful for wildlife photos.
Before the trip, I broke down and upgraded my old Nikon D80 camera body to a newer D3200, and I added a 300mm zoom lens to the set. In the past I always relied on the auto settings, but with the new camera I was disappointed in my test pictures I took around the yard. They were frequently too bright with washed out colors. It turned out to be an incredible opportunity, because it forced me to start using the more manual settings. I’ve taken classes in the past, but somehow all the information about apertures and f stops just didn’t stick in my mind or seem worthwhile if the automatic modes usually worked well. But now I had to learn to use those features and I did! So the advice on our photography tour came at the perfect time and taught me how to choose the best settings for wildlife.
These instructions use the aperture priority mode on your camera and assume you know the basics of how to set them. If not, dig out your manual and read some instructions. First, set your camera to aperture priority (usually this will be an A on the top knob of the camera) and adjust the aperture setting to the smallest number available. This means the camera will open the lens to the maximum amount possible for the picture. Now point the camera at the subject and press the shutter button half way. The camera will display the shutter speed it will use for the lighting it will detect. The number is the fraction of a second the lens will be open. If you see 320, it means 1/320 second. This number needs to be 750 or higher to keep the picture in focus if the animal is moving. If the number is too low you will need to adjust the ISO setting. Increase the value of the ISO setting until the shutter speed is higher.
Normally you want the lowest ISO setting possible for the best color and clarity, but having the picture in focus is really the first priority. If an animal is moving and the picture blurs, you won’t care about anything else. These instructions are especially important in the early morning and evening when light is poor and the animals are most active. Before this we just got lucky that the animal stood still long enough to get a good photo, but the bear and elk pictures wouldn’t have been possible without this technique.
Hopefully you find this useful and have a chance to take some great pictures of your own. The photos will be in the gallery shortly if you have a use for them.