Perhaps the fastest growing activity on National Wildlife Refuges in the past ten years has been wildlife photography. That’s not surprising when you consider the popularity of digital cameras and cell phones with ever-improving picture-taking abilities. You don’t need to purchase expensive equipment or have any experience to get started. A small camera or basic cell phone will do just fine for most visitors.
Interested in building your nature photography skills? We offer a number of programs and presentations to help you learn more about how to take photographs in nature. Visit our Events page to find the next program!
Know before you go
- A special use permit is required for all commercial photography and filming, including wedding, family, and graduation photographs. Additional restrictions may apply. Please contact the Deputy Refuge Manager for more information.
- Drone use is not a permitted activity on any Refuge unit. Drone use prohibition includes launching or retrieving drones within Refuge boundaries (50 CFR 27.34)
- Refuge lands and trails are open from sunrise to sunset, 7 days a week. No items, including photography blinds or game cameras, may be left overnight.
Wildlife Photography Tips
- Be patient. Great wildlife shots take time. Find a place to sit and wait quietly and the wildlife may come to you.
- Do some research. If you understand the animal, plant or object you are trying to photograph it will be easier to find and photograph without disturbing its natural behavior.
- Camouflage yourself. If animals can't see or hear you, they will be more relaxed.
- Watch what is in your background. Distracting backgrounds can cause your subject to get lost in the photo.
- Figure out the best lighting. Don’t take photos into the sun unless you are hoping for a silhouette. The hours just after dawn and before dusk tend to offer photographers the best lighting.
- Invest in a telephoto lens.
- Problems focusing? If your automatic focus isn’t working for you switch over to manual focus.
- Take a lot of photos. If you have a continuous shooting option on your camera, use it.
- If an animal is facing a certain way, give them a little room on the head end so it does not look like they are walking or flying off of the photo.
Wildlife and Nature Photography Ethics
- Be sure to give wildlife space. Approaching an animal to closely may stress or threaten them. If you notice the animal becoming uncomfortable, back away.
- Do not put yourself between a parent and its young and don’t encroach on nests or dens.
- Don’t interfere with an animal’s natural behavior. Just observe. This behavior is what makes wildlife photography so much fun!
- Don’t harass, make noises, or pursue an animal. This wastes its energy and interrupts its resting and feeding behaviors.
- Don’t feed or bait wildlife on National Wildlife Refuges.
- Leave what you find. Don’t remove anything from the Refuge. You may think that rock or flower is beautiful, but leave it where you find it so someone else can enjoy it too. It is against the law to remove most natural items from the Refuge.
- Leave no trace. If you bring something into the woods take it out with you as well.
- Clean your shoes and equipment when you leave one site and move to another. Seeds can stick in cracks or in mud that you may have picked up at one site and be transported to another. It is important to remove these seed sources so you don’t accidentally spread exotic or . This will help keep ecosystems pristine.