Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Part 3

Oftentimes, beginner photographers take a look at their brand new camera and get very overwhelmed by the number of 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 this 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 the next few pages, 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, ISO!

Moose – 1/100s, f 5.6, ISO 800, 500mm

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: ISO

ISO simply stands for the International Organization for Standardization, which is the main governing body that standardizes sensitivity ratings for camera sensors (among many other things). When you change the ISO on a digital camera, you’re rendering the sensor more or less sensitive to light. A higher ISO will increase the sensor’s sensitivity, and a lower ISO will decrease it.

What does that mean? Again, it has a lot to do with the conditions that you are in. In well-lit and sunny environments, a lower ISO (200 or lower) is the right call. In dark and low-light situations, higher ISO’s (400 and above) are recommended.

So can you just increase your ISO to an exponential number and photograph animals in near darkness? Well, not quite. Increasing your ISO too high comes with its consequences. Often times if you increase your ISO too much in lower light situations, the images tend to get a little ‘noisy‘. A photography term that is used to describe images that are grainy, soft, and very poor quality.

Short Eared Owl – 1/1000s, f 6.3, ISO 1600, 600mm

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography – ISO

So, what is the highest ISO I can use to prevent my images from being too noisy? This is a question that I have been asked time and time again. It really depends on the gear you are using and the lighting conditions. For my personal gear, I tend to set my ISO at a maximum of 1600. Yes, sometimes I end up taking photos at ISO 3200, or even sometimes ISO 6400. However, the lower the better as this will most often create the sharpest and cleanest looking images.

As I mentioned, the gear also has A LOT to do with how high you can increase your ISO. Typically, the higher the quality camera you buy, the higher you will be able to increase your ISO. All this has to do with the sensor capabilities in your new camera. Quality is something you pay for and unfortunately, that is how it works in the world of photography. Does that mean you can’t get high-quality photos with beginner gear? Absolutely not. Some of my best work has come on “entry-level” gear. Having higher quality gear just makes it that much easier to get sharp and clean images in various lighting conditions.

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Part 1

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography: Part 2

Evening Grosbeak – 1/640s, f 5.6, ISO 100, 500mm

Wrap up

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!

Next up on the Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography series, we talk modes. Manual? Shutter Priority? Aperture Priority? What does all this mean? Find out next, on The Wildlife Insider!