What Are Some Action Considerations for Wildlife Photography?

Elvis Elvis

When photographing action (in wildlife photography), there are certain considerations to be taken into account. To freeze the action, you want a fast shutter speed, but available light might be failing. You also want to get your subject to stand out from its background.

As I said in my earlier “ISACA” articles, you cannot separate the components in the “ISACA” acronym completely. They move together and affect each other. This is also true for action wildlife photography, and here we just take a separate slightly different view of each of the “ISACA” components.

In the field you will not always have time to think these points over, so I suggest you try and remember them. Ahhh no, more hard work! Yes, but with decent rewards…

Fast shutter speed

Normally when the action happens fast in wildlife photography you need to be ready and will not have too much time to focus on camera settings etc. first. You want a fast shutter speed to catch the action.

That is your main aim. Speed! And lots of it…

I suggest that you always leave your camera settings on the recommended action settings. This ensures success when you have to pick up your camera in a hurry and start firing…

The main digital advantage for obtaining a fast shutter speed is that you can select your ISO speed without having to change film. A good setting will be 400 for action photography (depending on the light quality). However, with the older digital camera bodies such as the Canon 10D or 300D you will get some digital noise at this level. It is not such a big problem on the 20D (and presumably the 350D?).

Wide-open lens

Another important way to get your subject sharp through a faster shutter speed is having your lens wide open, or in other words your lowest possible aperture (2.8, 4 or 5.6 depending on your lens). This ensures a faster shutter speed by allowing more light through the lens. However, this will have the added benefit that your depth of field will be very narrow and therefore your subject will stand out nicely from its background.

I have found this to be very useful in the African bush. See the picture on this page, where I got the action sharp, but the two young baboons almost blends in with the background instead of standing out.

The problem with this photograph was that I took it with a 100-400mm zoom lens with a 2x extender yielding an aperture of 11. That is the same aperture I sometimes use for landscape photography to ensure everything is in focus! I wanted the exact opposite here, but didn’t have the luxury of a long prime lens with a very low maximum aperture…

There you go! Another excuse to mention to your spouse for getting that very expensive lens you have been eyeing…


Composition is not something you will be spending lots of time contemplating when the action is happening thick and fast. However, when you are patiently anticipating action, you can think it over a bit.

What Are Some Action Considerations for Wildlife Photography?

It is actually very important to think of where your subject will end up in anticipating action. Not too long ago, I was watching a fish eagle perched high in a tree fairly close to me. I was waiting patiently (as is required for wildlife photography) for it to fly. However, I made the mistake of composing the photograph too tightly, and when my patience paid off, and the fish eagle departed in my anticipated direction, its wingspan increased so drastically that I got a shot with the edges of both wings off the photograph! What a waste… All my patience for nothing.


I know you won’t have much time to think about the discussions on this page when the action is happening fast, but rather think these points over carefully now, and be ready. Nothing makes a wildlife photographer more miserable than a missed opportunity. And remember, with action wildlife photography, patience is king…