Wildlife Photographer

By TACP Staff on February 6, 2022

Wildlife Photograher

Wildlife photography is a creative art form concerned with documenting various forms of wildlife and the aesthetic qualities of the rapidly changing environment they live in. Wildlife photographers are usually professionals who travel the world to photograph wildlife in their natural settings, but they can also be amateurs who capture the beauty and diversity of nature through their lenses.

What Is a Wildlife Photographer?

A wildlife photographer is a person who photographs wildlife in their natural habitat. This includes all forms of wild mammals, birds, insects, plants, reptiles, sea life, and other creatures. Wildlife photography extends to different environments, from rain forests to deserts, mountain peaks, grasslands, and underwater.

The goal of their work is to capture the natural beauty of wildlife as well as their behavior in their natural environment. This may include both static poses and dynamic action shots to illustrate behaviors and document changes to animal habitats.

What Does a Wildlife Photographer Do?

Wildlife photographers use various techniques to photograph wildlife in their natural habitat. The images they produce are often used to promote wildlife conservation, raise awareness of the environment, and document the beauty of the natural world.

Wildlife photographers often specialize in a particular type of photography. For example, they may focus on specific endangered animal species such as gorillas, birds, elephants, or tigers. Some focus on sensitive biological areas or habitats while others may specialize in documenting the behaviors of animals that are rarely seen by humans.

Examples of Wildlife Photography

Types of Wildlife Photography

Wildlife photographers often specialize in a particular type of photography. An area of specialization may be defined by the subject matter, the environment in which the photographer works, the types of equipment used, or the purpose of the photo (educational, documentary, commercial, etc).

Each area of specialization requires specific techniques, equipment, and skills. For example, underwater photographers must know how to work with different types of lighting in an aquatic environment while those who work in the wild must know how to deal with unpredictable weather conditions. Some of the most common types of wildlife photography include:

Behavior Photography

Behavior photography focuses on capturing the active behavior of an animal in a way that adds to our understanding of the nature of a species. Photographers working in this category attempt to document memorable, unusual, or dramatic behavior, ranging from physical confrontations and mating rituals to playful and nurturing moments. They capture impactful images that illustrate vivid motion and dynamic compositions, such as birds in flight or a leopard mid-pounce.

Conservation Photography

Conservation photography often aims to promote wildlife conservation by capturing the natural beauty of wildlife in their environment. This type of photography also documents animal behavior to illustrate the importance of protecting endangered species and rare ecosystems. Conservation photographers might work alongside environmentalists or government officials, photographing animals that are threatened by environmental damage or human activity.

Commercial Photography

In the context of wildlife photography, a commercial photographer works to create attractive, marketable images. This may be for commercial purposes such as producing stock imagery for sale or creating postcards and other print media based on their photos. The primary goal of a commercial photographer is to provide image content that appeals to customers rather than promote conservation or raise awareness.

Documentary Photography

Documentary photographers aim to capture authentic images to document a particular event, environmental issue, or location. For example, documentary wildlife photographers may focus on the impact of commercial hunting or poaching on endangered animal populations. They might also capture images of animals that are being rehabilitated or studied in nature preserves or research facilities.

Environmental Photography

Environmental photography focuses on the relationship between humans and their environment, often depicting the impact humans have on our ecosystems. Environmental photographers might highlight global climate change or demonstrate the interactions between humans and wildlife. They often work with scientific experts to document research related to environmental issues.

Landscape Photography

Landscape photography typically focuses on capturing the beauty of landscapes and natural terrain which can include natural vistas or human-built structures. A landscape photographer might photograph a mountain range to promote adventure travel or an industrial oil refinery to illustrate environmental degradation. This genre can often include animals, but they are not essential to the composition.

Macro Photography

Macro photographers typically use specialized equipment to capture images of very small objects and organisms. The subject matter can vary significantly, but macro photographers are typically focused on capturing the beauty of nature through detailed, sharp photos that emphasize intricate patterns and textures rather than content or narrative. This type of photography is often used for scientific purposes because it allows researchers to study fine details in nature.

Nature Photography

Nature photography focuses on depicting wildlife in their natural environment while avoiding any form of human intervention. Nature photographers are typically on-the-ground observers who capture images of animals in remote locations without the assistance of traps, captive animals, or human assistance. While nature photography can include macro images of very small organisms, it is generally focused on larger animals like birds and mammals.


Photojournalists who primarily cover wildlife might focus on capturing provocative, revelatory, or newsworthy images that examine the relationship between humans and the natural world. Images often illustrate how humans impact the environment and the consequences of these actions, such as how animals have been affected by environmental damage or human conflict, or species at risk because of poaching or habitat loss.

Underwater Photography

Underwater photography focuses on the beauty and wonder of the underwater environment, including aquatic plants and animals. A professional underwater photographer might capture images while exploring reefs and other marine life to promote awareness about conservation issues or advocate for responsible tourism. Professionals in this field use specialized equipment like waterproof cameras to capture unique images of different habitats and ecosystems.

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Challenges of Wildlife Photography

Wildlife photographers must be prepared to venture into remote and isolated locations, often in extreme weather conditions. They may find themselves working solo or in small teams and must also be prepared to capture quick action shots of elusive wild animals. Animal behavior can be erratic and unpredictable, meaning that professionals might only get a few seconds to observe or photograph their subjects.

Wildlife photographers must also master the use of specialized photographic equipment. They might use telephoto lenses to capture images of wild animals from a distance or waterproof housings for underwater photography. Other common challenges of wildlife photography include:

Environmental Factors

One of the biggest challenges facing wildlife photographers is working within the natural habitat of their subjects. Poor weather conditions, inclement weather, and extreme environmental elements can threaten photographers’ safety by making it difficult or impossible to capture images.

Trekking deep into the rainforest, braving heat, rain, and other harsh conditions to find animals that live in remote habitats can be dangerous and challenging. Extreme weather conditions can also interfere with visibility and block access to potential subjects.

Finding Wildlife to Photograph

Wildlife is difficult to predict, particularly when photographers are trying to capture behavior or specific actions. Wildlife may be hiding, sleeping, inactive, or camouflaged, making it difficult to locate and photograph them. Even if you have the skills and equipment necessary to capture images in the wild, you will need to be able to find wildlife first.

Getting Close to Wildlife

Photographing wildlife can be difficult because animals are usually highly sensitive to disturbances or changes in their environment. Photographers must plan their shots carefully to avoid spooking or scaring their subjects. It is a misconception that specialized equipment like telephoto lenses can completely make up for the physical distance between photographers and their subjects. In order to capture beautiful photos of wildlife, you may have to be very close to your subjects.

Physical Risks

Wildlife photographers often work in remote locations where they are at risk of animal attacks. Wild animals can be unpredictable and dangerous, particularly when their natural habitat is threatened. Predators are often quick to react when humans get too close, meaning that some kinds of photography—such as landscape shots with large predators like bears, wolves, and tigers—are nearly impossible to capture safely.

They also must be aware of their impact on animals and ecosystems when photographing sensitive and endangered populations. Wildlife photographers may pose a danger to their subjects by disrupting animal behavior. It is important that they always maintain a professional, ethical stance that is respectful of the environment and its inhabitants.

Working With Available Light

Wildlife photography happens in all kinds of lighting conditions. While photographers can bring their own artificial light sources to supplement natural light, they can’t make use of off-camera flashes and their on-camera flashes are often too weak to provide the range of lighting needed to capture images from a distance.

Additionally, many photo opportunities occur when it is either too dark or the weather is cloudy. This means that wildlife photographers often work in low light conditions or with poor visibility, which can be challenging for capturing images at fast speeds. They must adjust to the available light and work quickly to select their compositions, determine exposure times, and focus the camera.

Wildlife Photographer Salary

According to ZipRecruiter, Wildlife Photographers make an average annual salary of $40,676, which is approximately $19.56 per hour. This is very similar to the average annual salary of general photographers, which is $41,280 or $19.85. Annual salaries for top earning Wildlife Photographers were as high as $81,000 per year. 

The job market for photographers specializing in wildlife photography varies greatly depending on location, experience and skill level, which suggests that there may be opportunities for increased pay in the right circumstances. Professionals living in areas where few companies are hiring for this role may see limited wages and may have to change locations to see better economic opportunities. 

Professional Organizations for Wildlife Photographers

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