by Jennifer Southwell
on June 13, 2017
6 min read

It’s always good to learn from the pros. So sit down and read these insightful photography tips. No wait, stay there, now turn to the left and hold that position… beautiful. Now that might work for humans, but apparently photographing wild animals is a little more tricky. They don’t quite listen to what you’re telling them to do or wait until you’re ready either. Shannon Wild, a judge for Africa’s Photographer of the Year, knows a thing or two about this. She’s an expert in capturing wild animals by adapting herself to their environment.

Her passion for photography has inspired her to write a 70-page e-book to share her tips with the world. She was kind enough to give a sneak-peek for our readers, giving those passionate novices out there the ability to develop their skills. So we wanted to find out what she thought goes into creating that perfectly ‘Wild’ shot. We hope you enjoy her top 10 tips:

  1.            EYE CONTACT
Cheetah eye contact smile

When it comes to wildlife photography eye contact can transform a good image into a great image by connecting with the viewer on a deeper level.

Verreaux's sifaka photographed in the Berenty Reserve of Madagascar.

Capturing wildlife behaviour can be some of the most rewarding and challenging images you’ll ever take.  The higher your shutter speed, the better you’ll be able to capture movement sharply, such as this Verreaux’s Sifaka running in Madagascar.

The middle focus point on your camera is the most accurate, especially in low contrast or low-light situations.  Use single-point focus, press the shutter halfway and then recompose your shot to frame it how you want.  If your subject is moving, switch to AF-C, which is continuous Autofocus on Nikon (known as AI-Servo AF on Canon) and the camera will do it’s best to track the moving subject as you follow it.  And don’t be afraid of Manual Focus, sometimes it’s best if your camera is struggling to find focus for you.

Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus). Namibia, Africa.

Composition is so important to a strong image.

When getting used to shooting with composition in mind it can help to shoot slightly wider and experiment with cropping options after you’ve downloaded your shots.  You will soon learn what is pleasing to the eye while looking through the viewfinder.  Don’t forget to really ‘look’ at your whole shot when framing through the viewfinder.

Utilizing ‘negative space’ can really add impact to an image, such as this Ostrich in the distance.  I made sure to consider the ‘rule of thirds’ when composing this shot so that the Ostrich is ‘looking into’ the frame and if you put a grid (two vertical and two horizontal lines) over the image you will see how I’ve placed the Ostrich in the bottom right third of the image.  Most cameras will let you set these lines to be visible in your viewfinder as you shoot to help you compose, a very handy tool when starting out.

  1.  LIGHT:
A Springbok looks into the camera backlit by golden afternoon light.

When it comes down to it photography is all about how to capture light.  Early morning and late afternoon provides some of the most gorgeous light to shoot in and as you become more confident with your gear and understand how Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO all work together in harmony you’ll learn which settings are best for any given situation in low light such as dawn or dusk like this Springbok that I photographed after 7pm in South Africa in April, which is the middle of Autumn.  When working in low light stability is also really important, I used a beanbag on an open car window to stabilize my long lens (Tamron 150-600mm) for this shot.

Malagasy giant chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti) also known as Oustalet’s Chameleon, photographed in Madagascar

Perspective is so important and I give more examples of why in my next tip, but one point I am constantly making is to ‘get lower’!  If it’s safe to get down to the subjects perspective it will open up a whole new world to your wildlife photography.  By laying down on the dirt to capture images of this Leopard Tortoise in Namibia I was able to get a tortoise’s perspective, as well as give a sense of its environment and nice separation of subject to background.  If I had of shot this image from standing, or even crouching height the image would have been full of just a dirt background and nowhere near as visually engaging.

The Flap-necked chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis), is native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is a large chameleon, reaching 35 cm (14 in). Colouring ranges through various shades of green, yellow, and brown. There is usually a pale stripe on the lower flanks and one to three pale patches higher on the flanks. These chameleons lay 25 to 50 eggs in a hole dug in soil, which is covered over again by the female.

Don’t forget to mix up your perspective, move around if you’re safely able to. These four shots are the same Flap-necked Chameleon on the same branch; I simply changed my position to capture a variety of scenes.

  1.            THE DETAILS
zebra nose, stripes

Not every wildlife image has to be a full body or even portrait.  Remember to capture the details!  I shot several different ‘close-up’ detail shots of this zebra, including the mane, the ears, a tight if it’s beautiful striped pattern and this one of its muzzle.  This stands out as a favourite to me because of that one little piece of dry grass in the lips, which gives the image another point of interest.

  1.            ENVIRONMENTAL
A Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) crosses a dirt road in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa.

Variety is key and that includes capturing wildlife within its environment using wide-angle lenses such as this Giant Malagasy Chameleon crossing a road in the iconic Baobab Alley in Madagascar.  You can probably tell I also laid down on the dirt for this low perspective and note the eye contact of the chameleon.  Be sure to combine several of the tips I’ve outlined here to create really strong images.

  1.            BLACK AND WHITE
African bush elephants are the largest living terrestrial animals, being up to 3.96 m (13.0 ft) tall at the shoulders (a male shot in 1974). On average, males are 3.3 metres (10.8 ft) tall at the shoulders and 5.5 tonnes (12,130 lb) in weight, while females are much smaller at 2.8 metres (9.2 ft) tall and 3.7 tonnes (8,160 lb) in weight. The most characteristic features of African elephants are their very large ears, which they use to radiate excess heat, and their trunk, an extension of the upper lip and nose with two opposing extensions at its end, different from the Asian elephant, which only has one. The trunk is used for communication and handling objects and food. African elephants also have bigger tusks, large modified incisors that grow throughout an elephant's lifetime. They occur in both males and females and are used in fights and for marking, feeding, and digging.

There’s nothing quite like the classic beauty of black and white.  I absolutely adore the simplicity and detail you can bring out by converting an image to monochrome. I always shoot RAW so I start with a colour version and will do a black and white conversion later to taste.  I especially love bringing out skin detail or atmospheric skies with this technique.

  1.         SLOW SHUTTER
wildebeest slow shutter running


Photography is supposed to be fun and creative.  Using a slow shutter speed on a moving subject can give you some really interesting results.  Not only that, if your light has faded to where you can no longer take a sharp, steady shot then switch to purposely shooting with a slow shutter and get creative!  What have you got to lose?  Not only are these Wildebeest in Kenya moving but I also moved the camera to ‘track’ with them as I shot to emphasis the motion blur on the background.

I’ve used a shutter of 1/8 second here and tried to keep the viewfinder on the front Wildebeest as I pressed the shutter.  It will likely take several shots to get one that aesthetically works so be patient and keep trying … and remember … it’s supposed to be FUN!

For more incredible tips, buy her 70-page Wildlife Photography How-To eBook.

To channel Shannon’s photography powers, visit her jewelry line to for that fashionista edge or visit her website here.