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The Life of a Wildlife Photographer

Requirements of a Wildlife Photographer

Much like the predators they so often observe, wildlife photographers move stealthily through the wild, patiently stalking their prey.  They are hunters – not of food, but of the perfect moment; the kind that only nature can provide.

Those pursuing this profession are required to possess numerous skill-sets, dabbling in more than one craft if they hope to succeed. Knowledge of photography and its subtleties are obviously essential in creating the perfect image. But the subjects of these images are unlikely to pose, and their behavior is difficult to predict. A wildlife photographer needs to be a zoologist, botanist or marine biologist depending on the subject in question, possessing a familiarity with its mannerisms in order to predict where and when the right moment might present itself. Survival skills are also helpful, since the idea of wildlife photography is to capture flora and fauna in their natural habitat, not ours.

Wildlife photographers need to be tough, able to both endure and remain mobile within the extreme and unpredictable conditions of the wild. They need to be willing to get their hands dirty, doing whatever it takes to get the perfect shot; like Morkel Erasmus from,  who lay flat on his stomach in the dirt 20 meters from a pack of African Painted Dogs to find just the right angle.

Appreciation for nature is required to recognize the great moments it has to offer, but also detachment; since these moments, whether beautiful or brutal, need to be allowed to unfold without interference. Above all else, wildlife photographers require patience. The right moment could take hours or even days to present itself; hours and days of moving and observing, waiting for something  that could occur suddenly and be over just as quickly.

Advice from Successful Wildlife Photographers

Pursuing the craft is certainly challenging, but established wildlife photographers have plenty of suggestions for those aspiring to enter the field. Here are a few from

1.   Choose your equipment wisely. The right camera is needed for the right shot, but those planning to travel the wild in search of such a shot need to take mobility into account and choose equipment that won’t weigh them down.

2.  Know your equipment. The perfect moment could arise suddenly and pass quickly, and you wouldn’t want to miss it because you were still trying to figure out your camera’s settings. Know exactly what to do before you need to do it.

3.  Don’t prioritize one subject over another; be prepared to find worthy images in any part of nature. A pride of lions may seem more likely to entertain then a herd of impala, yet who knows what could happen? The lions could easily spend 20 hours sleeping, as they often do.

4.  The manner of presentation can be more effective than the content being presented: An impala simply bounding through the grass, if framed in a certain way, could produce a more majestic image then that of a lion hunting.

5. Sunrise and sunset are considered the best times of day for taking wildlife photographs. The ‘golden light’ grants more atmosphere, while the glaring light of midday can interfere with the image.

6.  Be willing to use any kind of light to your advantage. Low-light may not seem optimal in photography, but in wildlife photography it can grant a unique atmosphere to the image if utilized correctly

7.  Close-angle or wide-angle: Take into account which would suit the photograph better. Making the environment part of the image is key in wildlife photography; emphasizing the freedom of the wild and the creatures in it. Wide shots are necessary to capture that, but close shots may be more appropriate if the creature’s expression, the direction of its gaze or the nature of its activity would enhance the image.

Pursuing a Career in Wildlife Photography

Education: A course in photography is highly recommended. also suggests majoring in a science that grants greater understanding of the intended subjects, such as zoology, botany or marine biology.

Making a living: The majority of wildlife photographers are freelance and the internet presents great opportunities for freelancers. has a list of websites where wildlife photographers can display their work and attempt to attract buyers, or they could start their own website and generate revenue that way. If their work draws enough attention and praise, they may receive offers to work for prestigious publications like National Geographic.

The earnings of wildlife photographers vary greatly depending on reputation, but according to the US Bureau of Nature Statistics, the average salary was $35,980 per year as of 2010. Some may earn a lot more than that, others a lot less, but in general it’s not one of the highest paying jobs considering the amount of work and risk involved.

For that reason, those pursuing it require a passion for the profession, which has much to offer aside from the chance of monetary gain. A wildlife photographer is an explorer, scientist and artist all in one; granted the freedom to travel the world on a quest to capture the power of nature in the form of an image.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.