How to take great wildlife photos

How to take great wildlife photos

Wildlife photographer Jan Latta gives her top tips for snapping inspiring animal pics

How to take great wildlife photos -- inline 1Love them, hug them, photograph them.A safari anecdote may impress your friends, but a journey in pictures will blow them away.

So how do you turn a safari into an album filled with vivid wildlife images?

Jan Latta knows.

Latta first came face-to-face with a mountain gorilla in Rwanda in 1994.

Since then, the Australian author and wildlife photographer has strolled with lions in Zambia, faced charges by elephants in Amboseli and played with baby pandas in China.

She's even cuddled a wild cheetah: "The most magic moment of my life," she says.

Latta has since published 12 wildlife books and taken more than 10,000 shots of animals around the world.

Here are her five golden rules for taking awe-inspiring wildlife images.


1. Learn about your prey

How to take great wildlife photos -- inline 2One of Latta's biggest thrills in Kenya was watching gerenuk (a type of antelope) standing up to eat.

Sounds simple, but many neglect the basic concept of research before setting out.

Research gives you a basic idea on what to expect from an animal's behavior, making better pictures more likely.

Latta uses two examples to explain.

“When a lion walks past the jeep, [even of it’s] just a meter away, don't be frightened, because the lion only identifies with the ‘smell’ of the jeep, not the humans sitting inside,” she explains.

“Never try to get a close-up of a hippo -- they are the most dangerous animals in Africa,” she adds. “More people are killed and injured by this animal than any other.”

Find where animals live, what and where they eat and drink, how they hunt, which animals are their natuarl predators and when and where they migrate.

“Safari travelers will have a guide, some better than others, so to have a little knowledge might help them,” says Latta. “This knowledge might also keep them safe.”

2. Dig into the dung

How to take great wildlife photos -- inline 3By following circling vultures, Latta was able to shoot this scene.

Droppings are important because they alert guides and travelers to animals in the area.

“If [the dung] is huge, wet and steamy, a big elephant is close by and you can get ready for a photograph,” says Latta. “The tiny dik-dik always poo in a neat circle and they all use the same 'toilet.’”

According to Latta, pugmarks in the earth, hoof prints and other markings of animals can indicate when the animals have been in the area.

“Travelers should be aware of this, but the good guides will explain as they travel,” notes Latta.

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3. Know the sounds

How to take great wildlife photos -- inline 6Elephants are generally calm but they always present a threat.

Noises alert shutterbugs to action.

Animals often react with calls when a predator is close -- impalas point in one direction and make a barking sound, monkeys give a warning screech and many birds give warning calls.

“These sounds help you locate the animal you want to photograph,” says Latta.

4. Don't get too close

How to take great wildlife photos -- inline 5Keep your distance -- you don't want to be on the receiving end of a grumpy giraffe.

Latta advises photographers to keep a good distance from a nervous animal and wait until it has calmed down before approaching.

And it’s always dangerous to get close to a mother and baby -- the mother might attack to protect her young.

Never use flash in the wild.

“One, you will surprise the animal and it will run away,” says Latta. “Two, it might attack you.”

Either way, you won’t be able to keep shooting.

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5. Be patient

How to take great wildlife photos -- inline 5Cheetahs in the golden glow of early morning in the Masi Mara.

A good wildlife photo takes time. Lots of time.

Latta says she has waited hours for animals to be in the right place at the right time in the right light.

“I searched three weeks before I saw my first tiger in the wild in India,” she says.

Latta spent 15 years to complete "Lennie the Leopard," her 36-page book on leopards with 46 photos.

Latta also points out that morning and afternoon is the best time to shoot in Africa due to the light.

The golden glow of the sunset is stunning, she adds, especially if it’s reflected in an animal’s eyes.

Learn more about Jan Latta and her published books on wild animal on

First published October 2012, updated March 2013