Did you know that engaging in hobbies improves mental wellbeing in older adults? That’s what research published in Nature Medicine determined. If you’re looking for a new hobby that will boost your mental health as well as promote physical health and create opportunities for social engagement, consider taking up wildlife photography.

Keep reading for wildlife photography tips and tricks for seniors.

How Should Seniors Get Started with Wildlife Photography?

Some professional wildlife photographers travel around the world to capture images of tigers, polar bears, elephants, and other impressive animals. However, you don’t have to travel to pick up wildlife photography as a hobby.

Wherever you live, there’s bound to be wildlife all around you. If you go to local parks and nature preserves, you may find wildlife like deer, herons, and otters. You could even snap photographs of common animals, like squirrels, geese, pigeons, and robins.

To get started, all you need is a camera. However, some additional tools and tips will help you achieve the results you want while keeping you safe and ensuring you respect wildlife.

Do You Need to Take a Photography Class?

You don’t need any professional training to get started. However, if you’d like some instruction, you have several options:

  • See if your community college has a photography class. There may be discounts for seniors.
  • Check for classes at your local senior center.
  • Take an online course. If you can’t take a course in person, consider enrolling in one online.
  • Read some wildlife photography books. Check out these options on Amazon.

What Type of Camera Should You Use for Wildlife Photography?

You have a few options for cameras, each of which comes with pros and cons.

  • Use your smartphone. If you have a smartphone, you already have a camera. For many people, this is the most convenient option. It’s also the cheapest because you don’t have to buy additional equipment. Some modern smartphones have sophisticated cameras with special features that make it easy to zoom in, freeze action, and adjust to low-light settings. However, if you find your smartphone limits what you can capture, you may want to upgrade.
  • Add a telephoto lens to your smartphone. Some telephoto lenses are designed for smartphones. They are a great way to capture faraway wildlife. Just make sure the lens you buy is compatible with your smartphone. Check out these telephoto lenses for phones on Amazon.
  • Buy a superzoom bridge camera. This bridges the gap between a simple point-and-shoot camera and a professional camera with interchangeable lenses. You don’t have to worry about changing lenses and can decide whether to use the automatic settings or the manual controls. Compared to professional cameras with interchangeable lenses, bridge cameras tend to be more affordable and lighter weight. One with a superzoom will give you plenty of reach to capture animals in the distance. The image quality won’t be as good as what you’d get with a professional camera with interchangeable lenses, but you probably won’t notice the difference unless you create large prints. One option is the Panasonic LUMIX 60X zoom digital camera.
  • Buy a DSLR or mirrorless camera. These are professional quality cameras with interchangeable lenses. If you want professional-quality images, this is a great way to go, but there are downsides. To photograph wildlife, you often need a long telephoto lens, which tends to be big and heavy. Professional setups may also be expensive. Although some budget options are available, it’s easy to spend several thousand dollars. You also need to make sure your camera body and lenses are compatible. One possible combination is the Canon EOS R7 with the Canon RF 100-400 mm telephoto lens.
  • Add a tripod. A tripod is a great way to reduce camera shake while giving your arms a break. If you’re planning on moving around a lot, a tripod may not be worth the hassle, but if you want to stay in one spot – for example, in front of a lake – a tripod may be practical. Make sure your tripod is compatible with your camera. Check out these tripods on Amazon.

Finding Wildlife

State parks, national parks, and wildlife preserves are great areas to find wildlife. If you’re not sure where to go, do the following:

  • Check eBird. This app allows people to report bird sightings. After creating an account, you can see what other people have spotted in your area.
  • Join local Facebook groups. There are many Facebook groups dedicated to wildlife photography. Search for some in your area and ask about the best places to view wildlife.
  • Say hi to other wildlife photographers. When you go to a wildlife hotspot, you may see other people with long lenses and binoculars. This is a great opportunity to share intel on what you’ve seen recently.

Ethical and Legal Wildlife Photography

When photographing wildlife, it’s important to avoid harming wildlife and to be mindful of relevant laws.

  • Don’t trespass onto private property or venture into off-limits areas. Some parks block off areas to protect sensitive species. Respect these rules.
  • Find out what the photography rules are. Some parks require a permit for commercial photography.
  • Obey laws and rules designed to protect wildlife. Many parks have rules about how close you can get to wildlife. These rules exist to protect the animals and you – wildlife is often dangerous! For example, Yellowstone says you should stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from other animals. Some places also have special rules about sensitive species. For example, the UK requires a license for photography that may disturb protected animals.
  • Try your best not to disturb wildlife. Intentionally flushing birds forces them to waste energy and may expose them to predators. Playing birdsong to attract birds will confuse them, making them think there are potential mates or predators around. Getting too close to a nest may keep the mother away, which could cause the eggs or chicks to freeze or the chicks to starve. Feeding wildlife trains animals to approach people and cars, putting them in danger in the future. For more guidance, see the Audubon’s Guide to Ethical Bird Photography.

Tips for Taking Great Photos

Wildlife photography is often challenging because animals don’t tend to pose for pictures or take directions. Expect a lot of missed shots. Success in wildlife photography requires patience and practice. What matters is that you’re going out, having fun, and enjoying nature. However, the following wildlife photography tips will help you get some great shots:

  • Learn how to use your camera. For example, if you’re using a camera with manual settings, learn how to adjust the aperture for a nice blurred “bokeh” background and how to adjust the shutter speed to capture action.
  • Avoid disturbing the wildlife. By staying quiet and not getting too close, you may be able to observe wildlife engaging in natural behaviors – instead of running or flying away from you! Use bird blinds or bushes and other objects that act as natural bird blinds whenever possible. Some wildlife photographers wear camouflage.
  • Pay attention to the background. You can’t control where wildlife goes, but you may get a better shot if you adjust the angle of your camera to change the background.
  • Try to get level with the wildlife. Photos usually don’t turn out well if you’re looking up or down at the subject. Be level whenever possible. If you can’t get level, you may get a better shot by moving farther away and zooming in.
  • Study the animal’s behavior. By learning an animal’s behavior, you’ll be able to predict its movements, which will help you get great shots. Knowing when animals will be active will also help you spot wildlife – dawn and dusk tend to be the best times.

Books and Apps for Wildlife Photographers

The following books and apps will help you become a better wildlife photographer:

  • In addition to finding birds, you can use eBird to create a list of the birds you’ve seen.
  • Identifying birds is often challenging. With the Merlin app, you upload a photo or recording and the program tells you which species it probably is.
  • Field guides. Field guides provide information on species in a region. This is a great way to learn how to identify wildlife and learn more about the animals you see. There are many field guides available, including some that focus on small regions. Check out Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of North America and Peterson’s Mammals of North America on Amazon.

Stay Safe

Don’t risk your health to get a photo. The following tips will help you stay safe:

  • Don’t approach the wildlife. Every year, there are stories of tourists and photographers being mauled by bears or gored by bison. Keep your distance and remember that animals (even herbivores) may be dangerous. Also watch out for rattlesnakes.
  • Use insect repellant to protect yourself from ticks and mosquitos.
  • Wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Bring plenty of water.
  • Avoid going out in extreme weather. Early mornings tend to be the best time to spot wildlife and stay cool.
  • Consider going with a friend or group.

How to Edit Your Photographs

You don’t need to edit your wildlife photographs. In fact, some people prefer not to edit their photographs because they see this as being more authentic. However, a little editing can make the subject pop while maintaining the photo’s integrity.

For example, you may like to crop your photographs to improve the composition. Keep in mind that cropping a lot will result in a smaller file, which may negatively impact the photo quality. Other common edits include lifting shadows, adjusting vibrancy, increasing or decreasing exposure, and reducing noise. Adobe’s Lightroom is a popular choice for photographers, but there are many alternatives, including Affinity.

What to Do with Your Photographs

Once you have a collection of wildlife photographs, what should you do with them? You have many options:

  • Share them with friends and family.
  • Post them on social media.
  • Create your own website.
  • Monetize by selling prints of your best photos.

Wildlife photography is a fantastic hobby for anyone who wants to enjoy nature and spend time outside. It is also a good way to meet other wildlife enthusiasts. Remember to stay safe, respect wildlife, and have fun!

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