Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Part 1

Oftentimes, beginner photographers take a look at their brand new camera and get very overwhelmed by the number of camera settings, buttons, modes, blah…blah…blah. I was once in that very position and even contemplated quitting at one point. After countless google searches, articles read, videos watched, and time in the field, I started to realize that it wasn’t so difficult after all. Anyone can do this!

The concepts of Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO are considered the basics of all types of photography. Often referred to as the exposure triangle. In a series of blog posts, our goal is to make these terms make sense in a simplistic way. Understanding how the exposure triangle works will help you decide what settings to use in varying weather and lighting conditions. First up, shutter speed!

Eastern Coyote – 1/500s, f 5.6, ISO 1600, 500mm
Moose – 1/250s, f 5.6, ISO 3200, 400mm

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Shutter Speed


The shutter on your camera refers to a mechanism that is opened and closed at fractions of a second to let certain amounts of light hit the sensor. The longer the shutter is open, the more light hits the sensor. This will determine how bright your images will be, in combination with the type of lighting you are working with. The best way to figure this out is to set your camera to a random shutter speed (e.g., 1/250s), and take a picture of something like a stick or leaf in the area you are hoping to find wildlife. Take a look at the picture you just took on your camera, and adjust accordingly. If you notice that the photo is a bit overexposed (too bright), try increasing your shutter speed (e.g., 1/500s). If it is too dark, try lowering it (e.g., 1/100s). Before you know it, you will start to get very familiar with certain lighting and weather conditions and know approximately where your shutter speed should be.

Canada Jay – 1/640s, f 6.3, ISO 400, 600mm

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Shutter Speed

Motion and Blur

Shutter speed also influences the amount of blur your photos will have. When photographing wildlife, I would say in most situations you will want little to no blur at all. This will give your photos a crisp and sharp look.

Birds and wildlife don’t often stay still and pose for you to take their photos. Yes, once in a while you will come across an animal that is very cooperative and seems to be enjoying putting on a show for the camera. But, most times we have to work quickly and accurately.

As a general rule, the faster your subject is moving – the quicker your shutter speed should be. For example, this could be a bird in flight like the Bald Eagle on this page. A shutter speed above 1/500s would be ideal to limit motion blur if the conditions allow. When photographing an animal such as a Moose which is very slow-moving, slower speeds such as 1/100s, or 1/250s may be more appropriate and allow more light into the camera in conditions with less light such as the early morning or late evening.

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Part 2

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Part 3

Bald Eagle – 1/1600s, f 6.3, ISO 100, 600mm

Camera Gear Recommendations

Need help picking out some new gear? From camera bodies, lenses, and complimentary equipment, we have you covered. Check out our Camera Gear Recommendations post! You can always reach out to us on the Contact page if you would like to chat more about anything gear related. We’d love to help!