Photographing wildlife can be challenging, frustrating, and extremely rewarding. Here are 5 tips I try to employ any time I am out capturing wildlife images.
Get close, but not too close
I live near Yellowstone National Park and every summer, there are usually a handful of tourists who get, charged, thrown, or stomped by wildlife, mostly bison. These accidents usually occur because the "photographer" wants to get close enough for a selfie with Mr. Buffalo. Yellowstone warns photographers and viewers to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards away from everything else. This distance is plenty close for anyone using a decent camera and lens set up. If you don't want to carry a DSLR because you really love your phone, consider a spotting scope with a Phone Skope mounted on a tripod.
Play the wind
Whether I am looking for wildlife with my camera or rifle, I like to hike with the wind in my face. Hunters are familiar with a method called "still hunting," where the hunter walks a few steps and then pauses for a few seconds to look around, scanning the area for game. Photographers can easily adopt the same practice. Typically, I like to hike to a predetermined spot before I transition into still hunting. The bottom line is, if an animal smells you, they will most likely run away. The best way to ensure they cannot smell you is to always keep the wind more or less in your face.
Photos taken from a standing position are not as interesting and photos taken from other vantage points. Low angle shots can be very interesting, especially if there is some grass or other foliage in the foreground. It gives the viewer the perspective a predator might see. Drones can also provide some very interesting shots, though you must be aware of the local laws regarding wildlife and drones. In some states, for example, it is illegal to use a drone for the purposes of locating game during hunting seasons. ALWAYS check your state's laws as it relates to drones and wildlife. Tight close ups or skyline shots are also very interesting.
Take advantage of the background
The background can really add to the image or really distract. Sometimes the animal is only an accent in what would mostly be considered a landscape photo. Other times the backdrop can provide a sense of place. This is also a good opportunity to decide what your depth of field should be as you work the shutter. While there are no hard and fast rules here, the decisions you make will ultimately determine whether your photo is memorable or just like every one else's.
When given a hard time about the number of photos my father took with his digital camera in the early days of digital photography, he was always fond of saying "it doesn't cost a thing!" And he was right. The only limitation is the number of images your memory card can hold, which can be substantial these days. Wildlife, like children, will never sit still. Sometime you need to shoot in bursts. To get the image right, you may need to change positions, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and so forth. There is no harm in experimenting. So get shutter happy.