To be a wildlife photographer, you first have to be a photographer

This week I’ve talked about the not-so-glamorous life of a wildlife photographer, the rarity of actual adventures, and the cost of the gear. If you’re still interested, you’ll need to know how to capture an image if you get a chance.

Those amazing wildlife photos in the nature magazines show every detail of a bighorn sheep’s horns, or the scars on a lion’s face. They capture the moment right before a cheetah latches its claws on a gazelle’s haunch, or reveal a trout caught firmly in a bald eagle’s talons.

There’s a lot of right place, right time involved in those photos, and the great photographers do everything they can to put themselves in that place at that time. Hours of research and more hours of trial and error are behind every one of those magnificent photos.

But when it all comes together, and the photographer is in that right place, and the time is just right, there’s even more that goes into the image. Even with today’s technology, the camera can’t do it all. The photographer has to know what settings to use to capture the perfect image.

There are three major settings to think about, and a number of other settings that have an impact on the photo. The photographer needs to know the correct ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed settings to use, depending on the light and what he or she wants the photo to look like. Then other settings, like exposure compensation, focus modes, and whether or not to use filters come into play.

There’s a lot to know, and a lot to experiment with. Most successful wildlife photographers will tell you they put in about 10,000 hours of hard work learning how to use their camera before they could reliably get good photos. But every one of those photographers will probably also tell you those hours were well worth it.

So if you’re thinking about becoming a wildlife photographer, start practicing. It’s hard work, but one day, it will hopefully pay off.