Choosing your equipment

From experience, do not invest most of your budget in the camera. It is better to choose an old model or a mid-range camera to favor good lenses.

A camera with an APS-C sensor can be a better choice than a full format in the case of wildlife photography because you get a longer focal length on the same telephoto lens (x1.5).

Also think about the type of animals you want to capture. A 600mm will be useful mainly for small birds or to observe wild animals without scaring them. But also ask yourself the question of the type of wildlife photos you want to take. Do you simply want to show the animal up close or prefer a larger composition to show it in its environment ? In this last case, there is no point in choosing the most powerful zoom possible. Choosing higher quality optics with a larger aperture but a shorter focal length will bring you more interesting photos than just showing the animal in the center of the image up close.

Another essential point for me : the weight of your kit. Wildlife photography requires endurance, a lot of walking, etc… and if you also want more dexterity and flexibility in your movements, you will take photos freehand without a tripod or monopod. This is where the weight can be decisive.

camera and lens for wildlife photography
young woman making photos of birds

Examples of kits :

Beginners
Nikon D3500 + Nikon 100-300mm : 775g (lightest configuration possible)
Canon 200d + Canon EF 100-300mm : 950g

Expert
Nikon D7500 + Tamron 100-400mm : 1,8kg (easy handheld photo to follow birds in flight and the lens becomes a 150-600mm because mounted on an APS-C body)

Pro
Nikon D850 + Sigma 200-600mm : 2,8kg (configuration that requires a tripod or monopod)
Nikon D6 + Nikkor 500m F/4 : 4,5kg

Also you should choose a camera with a fast and precise autofocus. The Nikon D500 has long been considered as the best for this. But the new hybrids like the Nikon Z7II or Sony a7iv are now equipped with very good autofocus, which was far from the case on the first versions.

Also check if the case and the lens are “tropicalised”, i.e. resistant to humidity, dust, etc.

It is often wiser to choose an old “pro” and tropicalized body that has fallen in value than the model that has just been released and for which you will pay a high price because digital cameras are subject to a very rapid discount. And don’t forget that the more megapixels your camera’s sensor has, the more you’ll need to invest in high-quality lenses…

The stealth and the hide

Before approaching an animal you must know its behavior, its reaction when it spots you and its hearing, visual abilities…

The birds are generally more active at the beginning and end of the day, which is good because the light is more interesting at these times (golden hour, backlight, etc.). They will also be more easily watched after a period of rain because they will feed on earthworms that come to the surface.

Your approach will also have to adapt according to the seasons of migration, reproduction, hibernation…

Mammals have a less developed view than birds but will be more sensitive to your smell and noises (especially for felines).

So learn to walk slowly and discreetly with clothes that blend into the landscape. And above all, be very patient!

To observe rare and exceptional moments, using a hide is ideal. It allows you to completely blend into the landscape without disturbing animal life. A simple camouflage net can be enough to improvise a hide or place you wisely lying in the vegetation. Your car can also be used for animals living near roads. For birds, nature reserves often offer observatories that serve as camouflage.

Also scout and use bait in strategic locations. Accustom the animal to always find food in the same place. Then place yourself according to light and wind (to avoid being detected by your smell).

For the composition, try to be as often as possible at eye level with the animal, play with the rule of thirds and take care of your background to make your subject stand out.

Jacques Julien

French photographer based in Paris specialised in black and white photographs, animal photos, architecture, portraits.