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WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY CAMERA SETTINGS: Focusing and Exposure



In this video I talk about my thoughts on the best camera settings for wildlife photography.

I concentrate on Focusing and Exposure. These are the two areas that seem to cause the most confusion especially for beginners and when I do 1-2-1 tuition.

PLEASE NOTE: As I say in the video, THERE ARE NO PERFECT SETTINGS so these are my thoughts on what has worked for me over many years in the field and what I think is a good approach for someone new to wildlife photography or anyone struggling with any aspects of focusing or exposure. The key is to start simply and then evolve in to more complicated options as your skills and results improve.

I start with Focusing and suggest some “No Brainer” settings and chat about the issues effecting efficient focus.

Then I move on to Exposure and begin with a sensible “Go To” setting that works in most situations and then move on to more advanced settings such as Manual exposure and finally the setting I l really like to use if it’s an option for me at the time, which is Manual with Auto Iso.

I have added some examples to illustrate the various settings and discuss why they helped for the photos concerned.

I wanted to keep the length of this video to about 15-16 minutes but failed miserably !!! so apologies for it’s length but I thought it better to keep it in one video as a sort of reference guide rather than breaking it to say 3 separate videos.

To make it easier here are the start times for various topics if you just want to skip to the bit relevant for you.

02:16 Three No Brainer settings your camera should be set to.
04:17 Focusing
06:25 Focus Points. How many and why?
07:59 Exposure
09:41 Aperture Priority (with EV compensation)
11:05 Examples of AP
12:09 Why Aperture Priority and not Shutter Priority
13:44 Examples of staying in Aperture Priority but using shutter speeds creatively
14:36 Using Exposure Compensation for Special Situations
16:57 Examples where dialling in Exposure Compensation was vital
18:17 How much EV compensation to dial in
19:44 Manual Exposure mode
21:28 A classic example of when Manual Exposure makes sense
22:31 AUTO ISO (in Manual exposure and Aperture Priority)

Please SUBSCRIBE to this channel if you’d like to and I always appreciate constructive comments and questions as it really helps to know people are watching !! (Click the “bell” to get notification of new stuff as I make it)

I’m proud to be a member of represent NATURE FIRST: The Alliance for Responsible Photography where as photographers we agree to adhere to and educate others on the need to practice sustainable photography that minimises impact on the environment and helps to preserve nature’s beautiful locations. There are 7 guiding principles that mean a lot to me and exactly fit my approach to photography. Find out more at www.naturefirstphotography.org/

My Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/nigelpmorley/

My website: www.nigelmorley.co.uk

MUSIC: All supplied by Epidemic Sound

ABOUT ME: A long time passionate wildlife/landscape photographer and conservationist, I have always shot different genres of photography but now my subjects are largely driven by love of countryside and wildlife/landscapes especially in the UK. I have a long term conservation project ongoing involving restoring land that was previously arable farmland back to wildlife friendly set aside with wildflower meadows and zero spraying etc

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31 comments
  1. i find back button focusing is just another extra button you have to cover. half pressing the trigger does exactly the same . i shoot wilflife all the time and when you get them unexpected shots such as a running hare or startled fox the least thing i wanna do is look for another extra button to press

  2. Thanks Nigel, this was really helpful. I am trying to train myself to think instinctively and quickly, but it is a challenge for sure! I have only been doing this for two months now and have seriously got the bug and seem to be improving well. Please keep doing these videos for people like me. They are invaluable! Thank you.

  3. The medal would be going to you Mr.Morley for explaining all this very clearly and in a very calm way. I will be looking at this a second time with my camera in my hands! Thank you very much!!

  4. Thank you Nigel. Some great tips on settings as I do struggle with the rules of settings to magnification. I have a Canon 90d with a 100-400ii I think I am scared of upping the iso and shutter speed sometimes and getting dark or OOF pics. Keep up the good work kindest regards Vince.

  5. Great video, thank you Nigel. I have noticed that I must control the shutter speed, otherwise my camera is shooting everything with too slow shutter speed and all I get is blur. That is because I don't have an option to choose minimum shutter speed in auto ISO mode.

  6. 3:45 back button focusing has been helping me alot lately with birds in flight photos. Incase anyone new to wildlife photography is reading this comment. I highly recommend it!!! πŸ‘Œ

  7. I’m going to photograph squirrels tomorrow and, this has been a great, great help. Thank you so much for taking the time to educate us so well.

  8. Pleasant mix of speech and explained examples, and of course – brilliant shots of fantastic birds.
    I have no bird lens and will probably never be sufficiently interested ($$$) in tele shooting. So my amateur opinion about some of the bird images (in general) taken with very long focal lengths is, that the totally blurred background can tend to be a bit boring. Of course the narrow dof is focusing the attention upon the bird, but I could dream of the perfect compromise where a hint of the actual background is rendered in the shape of a pleasant bokeh. I realize that this would mean higher aperture, which again means less light for a fast exposure.
    Personally I fake it (somewhat) with the opposite scenario, where the background is too close to be sufficiently blurred. When I can do the cutout of the main subject without any visual traces of the fakery – I do it, to add surface blur for example to the background. It often improve the image a lot. I know I could probably cause a true bird-photographer to drop unconscious by suggesting such a manipulation, but to me it's not a real crime as long as parts of the (remaining) image have not been removed or added. With the long lenses the fakery would take another nature, as we had to go from absolute blur and add structure! What about that?

  9. This was a wonderful tutorial and I really appreciate that you put this out there for me to find. I most always use shutter speed priority and now I will actually attempt to use AP for my birding photography. I must admit it scares me a bit to try it, but your explanations helped me to see how it works and give it go.

  10. You explained everything in a very clear, logical way. I've watched other videos from other wildlife photographers who explain things in a vague, unhelpful way. Thanks man!

  11. Thanks for an informative discussion of shooting options. As an amateur, I mostly shoot in aperture priority, and my older camera doesn't offer "auto ISO" in Manual model. While not quite the same, it does offer auto ISO in both Aperture and Program modes. I recognize that these aren't quite as flexible as Manual with Auto ISO, but they do allow me to use variable ISO as a safety net as long as I pay attention to my shutter/aperture settings, which I find fairly rapid and intuitive. To be honest, I am quite happy with my results using aperture priority, but I'm curious as to what more serious photographers think about the need to upgrade to a camera with M/Auto ISO for just this reason?

  12. I am about to buy this 300mm Nikon lens but on another Nikon 300mm video, the man said that I have to set the aperture at F32 in order for the autofocus to work.

    I was under the impression that with my Nikon F4 body with autofocus that in the P mode, the camera would automatically correct the aperture and shutter speed.

    Is that correct or, do I have to LOCK the aperture on the lens always in F32 as he said when shooting in autofocus which I always want to do?

    Only the newer digital Nikons can readjust the aperture on the camera body.

  13. Great video. I learned a lot about my camera. I've been shooting in all manual. My Canon has Aperture Priority listed as Av. I tried this and OMG, where has this been all my life. I'll be definitely using Aperture Priority starting tomorrow. Thank You

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