An introduction to wildlife photography

Barn owl in flight by Simon Wantling

The winner of our 2018 and 2019 photography competitions, Simon Wantling, gives us some top tips on wildlife photography

If you enjoy being outside and watching the wonderful wildlife we have in this country, then nothing will give you more satisfaction than capturing those special moments with a camera. I have always enjoyed watching wildlife in and around my local area and since the recent technological advancements in digital photography anyone can now access the tools required to fulfil this hobby. Gone are the days when the majority of cameras and lenses cost a fortune. There are many entry level cameras that can capture the most wonderful images.

I started my photography journey using consumer level equipment. Only when I decided that this pastime was something I wanted to take seriousIy did I progress to the professional level equipment which now forms part of my daily work, but, of course, comes with a huge price tag! I now use large focal length prime lenses which are extremely heavy and generally require a sturdy tripod. Carrying a big 600mm prime lens, a pro level camera body and tripod is not easy, and consequently, the type of wildlife photography I undertake is very much project based with an end image clearly in mind. This type of photography isn’t for everyone, but the most important thing is that you enjoy it, spend time outside and you’ll find it so rewarding.

At the end of the day it's not the equipment that makes the photo, but the person behind the camera.

A word of warning

Wildlife photography can be extremely addictive! But it will also provide lasting memories which will stay with you forever. Some of my most memorable moments - photographing barn owls flying in the English countryside, or an otter family on the Isle of Mull - are things that I always take myself back to when the going gets tough. Photographing wildlife and generally being out in the fresh air can bring a tremendous sense of wellbeing and calm, and coming away with a photo record from your adventure is just the icing on the cake.

An adult otter and her cub - Isle of Mull.

An adult otter and her cub - Isle of Mull. By Simon Wantling
(Canon 7D MKII, Canon 600mm F4 IS MKII)

A few tips and rules to help you on your way

Respect Wildlife

The number 1 rule when it comes to wildlife photography is to respect the wildlife and your fellow wildlife watchers! Nothing should jeopardise the welfare of wildlife and the photo should always come second. Keep your distance and let the wildlife come to you.

Study your subject

Wildlife photography is difficult. Getting to know your subjects habits, flight times, favourite perches, to name a few, can greatly increase your chances of capturing that special moment in time.

Get the best light

Photography is all about light and capturing the best light will add to your images. The best time of day is the golden hour at dawn and dusk. This often corresponds to the most wildlife activity so it’s the best of both worlds. Photographing when the sun is high in the sky causes harsh shadows which doesn’t make for a pleasing image. Be prepared for some very early mornings or late evenings. It helps to have an understanding partner!

Get down low

Getting down on a low level to your subject makes the resulting image much more personal. A low camera angle allows more distance between your subject and the background and produces that out of focus separation for your subject  that will take your images to a whole new level.

A Little Owl running along the ground

Little owl on a mission by Simon Wantling. 
(Canon 1DX MKII, Canon 600mm F4 IS MKII)

Invest the time

It's a waiting game. Animals and birds can be unpredictable and you can never guarantee when to see them. Be prepared to put in the hours, weeks and months sitting or standing waiting for that often very short moment in time. You will often come home with no images at all, but it's worth it in the end.

Enjoy it

Just enjoy it, take in the fresh air and the wonderful sights around you….

Simon Wantling won our 2018 Photography Competition with his photograph of a little owl in flight, and our 2019 competition with his photograph of great crested grebes. He was on the judges panel for our 2020 competition and will judge in 2021, too.

For more information about Simon and his photography, and to see and sign up to his YouTube vlogs all about photography, visit


Photography Competition

Send your photos of local wildlife and wild places on the theme of 'celebrate the seasons' for a chance to win some brilliant prizes from supporters Opticron and corporate members Campkins Cameras.

Enter the competition

'Hare and Seek' by Janice Elliott
2nd Prize - Photography Competition 2020