10 Tips from a Wildlife Photographer

Dave Christensen

Photos by: David Fettes/Getty Images
Text by: Erin Reilly

Wildlife photographer David Fettes has no problem getting up close and personal with his subjects. The UK-based photographer has spent most of his career traveling around the world capturing award-winning imagery from Tanzania to the forests of India. He has always considered working with wildlife a privilege and is especially passionate about the time he has spent in Africa.

"There is something timeless about Africa and I always have a sense of coming home, a sense that, yes, perhaps mankind did take its first steps there," Fettes said. "The wildlife is outstanding, as are the opportunities to see it and to be close with it - in my case, very, very close!"

With decades or professional experience in the field, Fettes shared the Top 10 tips he relies on when photographing wildlife. Above all, it goes without saying that amateur photographers and hobbyists should not go out into the wild without the accompaniment of a trained guide or experienced photographer. Now that we've got that out of the way... 

Tip #1: Bring the right equipment

Decide whether your shots are going to be of animals with the landscape around them, or close-ups. If you’re planning on shooting close-ups, a lens with a focal length of 300mm or 400mm will be essential.

Tip #2: wear neutral colors

Do not wear bright colors like whites, yellows or reds.  Stick with neutral, bush colors like greens and khakis. Avoid blue and black shades as they attract tetse flies - which bite!

tip #5: Listen carefully

Listen as the animals give alarm calls when they sense danger such as a predator. Baboons barking, impalas snorting - these are often clear signs that danger is near.

tip #6: look up

Check out the sky and the tops of trees as there is a life going on up there. Beautiful birds and sometimes vultures gathering over a kill before descending fast onto it can make for a great photo.

tip #7: about those lions

On coming across lions when walking, move slowly and quietly. Stay calm and low and do not turn your back on them.  Do not run away (unless the lions are wearing a cheap brand of trainers!).

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tip #8: don't get trampled

If walking, avoid female elephants. Take a wide circle around them as they are very dangerous.

tip #9: Patience is key

Be patient and be prepared and happy just to sit for a long time and wait. The bush life will come and go in front of you and something usually turns up, especially if you are by a waterhole.

tip #10: take advantage of golden hour

Use the early morning and late afternoon light for photography, aka the "golden hours." The angle of the low sun produces wonderful colors - reds, golds, warm yellows - rather than the harsh blues and whites of the middle of the day.

Love wildlife? Watch this: Meet the Proboscis monkey

Characterized by a long, fleshy, pendulous nose, this Borneo-based monkey is a real head-turner. The proboscis monkey is an endangered species, and today there are approximately 1,000 left in the wild.