When out shooting wildlife, I have a general looping thought process for taking images, so that I am always ready for a surprise appearance, and can then make the most of each chance!

1) The beginning. I start with “standard” shooting settings, that is a kind of ” jack-of-all-trades default that fits immediate action if it should arise. Note, this is constantly changing as lighting conditions change, but this is my general starting point:

  • AF set to continuous and center point only, back button AF
  • Aperture priority with the lowest F-value my lens can do and the ISO set to give a shutter speed around ~1/500
  • I set the WB to the most appropriate for the lighting situation, but since I shoot RAW, I will optimize it after the fact
  • I put IS on “number 2” mode (panning)

2) Record Shot. Shooting wildlife is unpredictable, so when a subject appears/is spotted the first shot I take is a “record shot”. I don’t compose, I try and get the full subject in the frame. This is my safety shot, which, if I can't take another shot, I can edit in post.

The first shot, edited via cropping for a more pleasing frame

3) Get creative. The better the image in the camera is, the less processing is needed and the better the ultimate photograph will be. So my next step is to recompose and try to create a compelling image as fast as I can, I never know how long the subject will remain available.

4) Optimise settings. I have my safety shots in the first few seconds, so this stage is dedicated to nailing down the best possible parameters. I have an idea of the situation and can re-asses my settings to optimize them. If the subject is sitting still then I can slow the shutter speed, if it is moving frequently, I will increase the shutter speed. This is where i get my best shots.

Now that I nailed the record shot, I focused, composed and waiting for the leopard to yawn... :)

5) Move my perspective…  changing your angle will change the background, mood and composition options, this will involve re-assessing my settings again to make sure they are optimal.

After taking several images from the original position, I moved behind the leopard, for a different perspective.

6) Reset. When finished, I change my settings BACK to my “standard” jack-of-all-trades default, ready for the next surprise encounter! :) (Go back to point 1).

This thought process allows me to make the most of any encounter I get...  it is generalised, and I do manipulate it slightly for specific shoots (e.g. birds in flight).

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