Ready, Set…Action! | How to Begin Action Photography with Wildlife and Animals

First, let me say that I am certainly a work in progress when it comes to photography! I only became interested in photography a little over three years ago. This was mainly to appease my daughter who thought it would be fun for us to do a CY365 project…long distance…together. Suffice it to say, I am now thoroughly hooked.

The excellent hints, instruction, and classes through CY365 have given me an unbelievable amount of information since I purchased my first DSLR camera in late 2013. Following the daily prompts has prompted me to look at the world in a way I had never before done. However, having always been interested in nature, wildlife, and animals, I find many of my photos centering around these things.

When photographing nature, birds probably top my list! Having been an avid birdwatcher for many years, learning to photograph them is an on-going project.

Of course, birds also fly. Capturing one, or more, in flight is not so simple!

Two of the most important things things I have learned about capturing bird/animal actions are to know your camera and focus on the eye. With action, adjusting aperture, exposure, and ISO must be done quickly…all while looking through your viewfinder. It is also very helpful to set your camera in burst mode when capturing action.

Lighting, exposure settings, composition, and storytelling all play important roles in action photography.

While I love bird/animal “portraits”, I also love an action photo that tells a story. Although capturing this story behavior is very rewarding to me, it is also the most difficult. I have found it amazing to see the bird/animal expressions my camera has captured that my eye alone would never see.

Good light is extremely important because you will be shooting at high shutter speeds. For birds, I aim for a shutter speed of 1/1000 to 1/1200. With that speed, you either must have very good light or a high ISO. The best light for birds, as with most photography,  is found either early in the day or later in the day. You will also find birds to be more active at these times.

For larger animals, I usually begin with a shutter speed of 1/500.

As the action increases, my shutter speed can increase to 1/800, or more.

When I am capturing bird/animal action, I have found it best to set my aperture 1/3 to 2/3 above the widest aperture of my lens.  For example, if my lens has an aperture of f/4, then I would set my camera aperture to f/4.5 or f/5. Anything to let in more light!

Of course you cannot always have wonderful light to go with that high shutter speed, so a higher ISO comes into play. You will have to experiment with your particular camera to see just how high your ISO can be set without excessive graininess.

A camera good for action helps tremendously, as well as a longer lens, especially if doing bird photography. But, it is not so much the gear that captures great images, it is practice, planning, and proper execution. Beware…action photography can be very rewarding, highly addictive, and loads of fun!


  1. Julie Bush

    What a great post ! Thank you for sharing your tips and settings. You are the queen of those fabulous bird feeder shots. Just the encouragement I need to get out there and practice, practice, practice 🙂

    • Sherry Billings

      Thanks so much, Julie, for your sweet words! You are too kind!

  2. Amy Jordan

    Sherry this is fantastic – loved the way to explained the different settings for the different scenarios. Makes me want to get out and stalk the birds!! I have always looked forward to your amazing wildlife and horse photos you have really found your niche!!

    • Sharon Billings

      Amy, you are really too sweet!! I do so appreciate your kind words!!

  3. Thank you for sharing what you have learned with us. I love photographing animals and especially birds. Hopefully I can apply some of your tips this summer. I look forward to seeing more of your wonderful bird shots.

  4. Garnett Hutchinson

    This is great Sherry! I can’t believe you capture these wildlife shots with just a 140mm lens! That is truly amazing!

    • Sherry Billings

      Thank you, Garnett! It also helps that I use a crop sensor camera, rather than full-frame, so I do get a little extra reach. 😉

  5. Lee Glasby

    Your animal photos always amaze me, especially when I try to have a go myself! I have brought a 200mm zoom lens for helping out, but it is very heavy! Thanks for the great techniques that you deploy to get your fabulous photos!

  6. Rhadonda

    What a great post Sherry!!!! Love the tips and settings that you shared and your photos are so beautiful! Totally makes me want spend more time outside!! Thanks for sharing!

    • Sherry Billings

      Thanks, Rhadonda!! I appreciate your kind words! As far as getting outside more, your photos make me want to do more “inside”. 😉

  7. Nikki Bradbery

    Great post Sherry!
    I always love seeing your animal photos.
    Thanks for sharing your techniques.

    • Sherry Billings

      Thanks for the sweet words, Nikki!! I so appreciate them! 🙂

  8. love these Sherry! My wildlife photography is so lacking– i wish i had a longer lens to be able to capture them better– these were awesome examples and great advice!

    • Sherry Billings

      Thank you, Emily! Yes, I wish I had a long lens, too. I just use my 18mm-140mm kit lens for wildlife. So… lots of cropping! Cannot handle the weight of the nice long lenses!

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