How to Take Pictures of Wildlife at Night

By Jorina Fontelera

Taking wildlife pictures at night requires proper equipment, including a powerful zoom, since you must stay relatively far away from the animals for your safety and theirs. Additionally, you need to set your camera to take in as much light as possible and have the quickest shutter speed to catch the action.

Select your hiding spot/vantage point. It should be far enough away from the animal you are trying to photograph that you don’t scare it or endanger yourself, but close enough that your camera’s zoom can capture it in detail.

Go to your preselected vantage point when the moon is out so you have some background light. Take a flashlight to help you see the buttons on the camera and, if need be, to spotlight the animal you are trying to photograph. Use a red light source, since it is less visible to animals. If you don’t have a red bulb, you can cover the flashlight with red cellophane paper.

Use a camera with at least a 200 mm lens. Digital SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras such as the Nikon D60 or the Canon Digital Rebel enable you to swap lenses from 200 mm to 500 mm. These cameras will give you greater zoom power.

Stabilize your camera on a tripod or a sturdy surface such as tree stump. Having your camera steady helps keep images from blurring. Low-light situations need long exposure times to capture all available light, and any shake of the camera will blur the image. Longer focal lengths (zoom) also make the images more susceptible to blurring.

Set your camera on “night mode setting.” Usually this is indicated by an icon of a moon or stars. You can also set this from your settings menu.

Turn off your flash, if night mode doesn’t automatically do it. The flash may overexpose your photo or scare the animal away. The flash shoots a burst of light that is most effective for up-close shots, not long-distance shooting.

Set your camera to shoot at the absolute fastest shutter speed. You can do this by setting the camera to aperture priority mode or to the highest aperture setting possible. The aperture controls the amount of light the camera takes in; the higher the speed, the more light goes in.

Increase your ISO—a measurement of the camera's sensitivity to light—to get more shutter speed, allowing you to freeze the action. An ISO of 3200, for example, will get you exposures of around 1/60 second. Be aware that a higher ISO will introduce more digital noise into your photos.

Tip

If your camera can be used remotely, consider doing so rather than shooting photos manually. This enables you to be even farther from the animal while putting the camera closer to it.

Warning

Photographing wildlife at night is a lengthy process. If you can’t shoot remotely, wear soft-soled shoes that allow you to move quietly.

About the Author

Jorina Fontelera has been writing about business since 2003, covering the printing and manufacturing sectors, as well as the global accounting and financial industries. She has contributed to "USA Today," "Milwaukee Business Journal" and several trade publications, also writing about parenting, animals, food and entertainment. Fontelera holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Marquette University.