Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Part 2

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.

Next up, aperture!

Common Raven

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Aperture


The aperture is a mechanism in your lens which controls how much light is let in and out. The aperture can be opened and closed and is measured by f-stops. The larger the f-stop, the smaller the aperture (e.g., f22), and the less light that is let in. The smaller the f-stop, the larger the aperture (e.g., f2.8), and the more light that is let in.

With beginner telephoto lenses that are affordable to the hobbyist photographer, the lowest f-stop available will typically be f5.6, at around 300-500mm depending on the lens. Anything with an extended focal length (500-600mm), that has an aperture at f4 or even f2.8, would be considered pro-level equipment and comes with quite the price tag ($10,000-30,000). The Nikon 500mm f4 is an example.

In combination with your shutter speed, the aperture can be adjusted to accommodate various lighting situations. More often than not when photographing wildlife with the average gear, the lower the aperture (e.g., f 5.6) the better. Especially at long focal lengths to let in as much light as possible.

Pine Marten – 1/500s, f 5.6, ISO 400, 500mm

Common Loon – 1/1000s, f 6.3, ISO 100, 600mm

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Aperture

Depth of Field

The aperture not only determines how much light is let through the lens, but it also determines the depth of field. Depth of field is the amount of the picture that appears sharp. The larger the aperture (f4), the more shallow the depth of field will be, giving you more of a blurred look around the subject you are focusing on. The smaller the aperture (f11), the larger depth of field.

In most cases, shooting at between f5.6-f11 will be most appropriate when photographing wildlife with beginner to mid-level gear.

I know, this can be confusing to remember. Just like I mentioned previously, in wildlife photography you often want to shoot at the smallest aperture you can. So, this isn’t something to stress about. Focus on light, and the right composition to get that blurred look and make the wildlife in your images pop.

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Part 1

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Part 3

Barred Owl – 1/640s, f 5.6, ISO 1600, 500mm

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!