How to become a wildlife photographer

Patrick Lemmer PHOTOGRAPHY, WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

I recently wrote an article for a german website on how to become a wildlife photographer. It is a question that I think about quite often and I have written a similar blog post in the past already. As I have a lot of English speaking followers, I took the time to translate it for you. Here it is:


Some of you might think that this might be a shortsighted question to ask.

The spontaneous reply to this would be “it’s easy to become a wildlife photographer, you simply take pictures of wild animals”.

It might be an obvious answer to a trivial question. However, it is also a question I come across often on social media.

Maybe, there is a reason that this is so frequently asked. This got me thinking more about this topic. In this article I would like to share my thoughts with you because I really believe that it all has to do with a preconceived idea that wildlife photography is for well trained professionals only which has many people throwing in the towel before they have even started.

This article is primarily supposed to be a motivational push for those, thinking about starting (wildlife) photography as a hobby. I hope the following will give you the confidence to dive right in and to go ahead with no worries about what others may think of your photography work. Take all criticism, good and bad; and make the best of it.

I myself, am also just a hobby photographer. I try as often as I can to explore my surrounding areas in the search for eye-catching motives.

In my opinion, this hobby is more than taking pictures of wild animals. Don´t get me wrong, I always get excited if I am able to take a great picture, but I am also always striving to never stop having fun doing what I am doing. Right, after this short explanation on why I decided to write this article, let´s tackle this subject and see what the question really is all about.

What is a wildlife photographer?

Let´s first have a closer look at what exactly a wildlife photographer is.

Many people will instantly think of someone wearing camouflage clothes, wading through difficult terrain in some of the most remote places on this planet, trying to get some images of wildlife. The picture is taken with a massive and very expensive lens and after hours of post processing the image it will then be sold for a lot of money.

Yes, that is a wildlife photographer.

Only few will think of the neighbour next door, taking some pictures of butterflies with a point-and-shoot in their own backyard.

But hey, that is also what you can call a wildlife photographer.

Different wildlife photographers
Left: Wildlife photographers with entry-level cameras, Right: A well-equipped wildlife photographer.

I then did some research to find a definition of “wildlife photographer”:

“Wildlife photography is a broad term for a profession that requires passion for art and nature. Wildlife photographers travel to remote areas and take pictures of exotic animals in their natural habitat.”

In my opinion, this definition is both, true and outdated. The number of photographers earning a living, simply by selling their images is extremely small. Camera equipment such as camera bodies, lenses, etc. were more expensive a couple of years ago. Unlike today, most people just couldn´t afford to buy expensive gear back then. There is a big rivalry and competition in the photography business these days, which makes it much harder to stick out as an individual.

If you are able to offer courses, workshops or photographic tours in addition to your image sales, the chances of being able to make a living as a photographer are much higher. The profession “wildlife photographer” as such still exists, but there is more to it than taking pictures and selling these.

Getting to the crux of it, the answer to that question should therefore rather be:

“I become a wildlife photographer by taking pictures of wild animals in their natural habitat.”

Can anyone do that?

Absolutely!

As mentioned before, you don´t need expensive gear to start. A squirrel is a wild animal just like a lion or an elephant.

Additional questions

Next to the original question of how to become a wildlife photographer, I have already answered some more questions that are also very popular.

“Do I need an expensive DSLR with expensive lenses?”

No.

Sure, you will have to decide for yourself how serious you are about this hobby and on which level you are planing to carry it out.

However, in order to call yourself a wildlife photographer you can even start by using a smartphone.

Gear for a wildlife photographer

“Do I have to travel to exotic places like the African bush or the South American jungle to take pictures?”

No.

 I am based in Europe and even here we have lots of wildlife. In some areas you only have to travel as far as your backyard to see some pretty cool birds, foxes and more.

Wildlife photographers can go to the African bush or find wildlife in their domestic garde.

“Can you earn a living as wildlife photographer?”

Yes.

However, there is more to it than simply selling your images. While this was possible many years ago, images sales will only be a portion of your income these days. Almost everyone nowadays calls themselves a professional wildlife photographer offers workshops, tours, courses, etc. in order to accumulate as much income as possible from different sources.

Conclusion

This article resulted from coming across the question “How to become a wildlife photographer” many times.

If only a few readers will finally pick up a camera and start becoming wildlife photographers, regardless of what others might say or being intimidated by the skills of “professionals”, I would be really happy.

This hobby is definitely not about having the most expensive gear or travelling to the most exotic places. It all comes down to having fun while being out in nature. You can always upgrade your camera after a while, if you find that this is something you want to invest a lot of time and money in.

If you have any questions regarding this article or anything else, please get in touch via Facebook, Instagram or my website.