Camera Settings For Wildlife Photography

Thomas's langur (Presbytis thomasi), or leaf monkey, mother breastfeeding her infant in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia.

Thomas's langur (Presbytis thomasi), or leaf monkey, mother breastfeeding her infant in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia.

The following are the settings I use on my Canon 6D Mark II for wildlife photography. I have these settings saved into Custom Shooting Mode 1 (C1) on my camera. That way, all I have to do is turn the Shooting Mode dial on top of the camera to C1 and all of my settings are loaded and ready to go, including the starting aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

This article will start from Menu 1 (the red menu) on a Canon camera and go through each setting I have altered and consider important for the purpose of this article. If you do not have a Canon camera you should still be able to follow along, but you will need to find the corresponding setting name as it may be different on your camera.

The Settings

Image quality - RAW

Image review - Off

Release Shutter without card - Off

Lens aberration correction - All Off

ISO speed settings:

  • ISO speed - Auto

  • ISO speed range - L-12800

  • Auto range - 100-1600

    • *This is important because I don’t want any photo to be above 1600 as it gets too “noisy”.

White balance - Auto White Balance

Color space - sRGB

  • This is up for discussion. I choose to shoot in sRGB despite it being a smaller color spectrum because I found that when I edited in AdobeRGB my images would be converted to sRGB anywhere that I shared them (Instagram, etc.) anyway and then they would look different from what I intended. By starting in sRGB my images always look as I intended, no matter where they are shared.

Format card

  • Always check the box for Low Level Format when formatting your SD card as it provides the best and most reliable format

Exposure C.Fn I menu

Meter mode - Select only Evaluative Metering and Spot Metering

Autofocus C.Fn II menu

Tracking sensitivity - 0

Accel./decel. tracking - 0

AF pt auto switching - 0

AI Servo 1st image priority - Release

AI Servo 2nd image priority - Balanced

Lens drive when AF impossible - Continue focus search

Select AF area selec. mode - Select only 1 pt. and Zone AF

Initial AFpt - Manual AF pt

AF point selection movement - Stops at AF area edges

AF point display during focus - Selected (constant)

VF display illumination - Enable

AF Microadjustment - See my adjustments for the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8

Warnings in viewfinder - When monocrhome is set, When NR is set, When HDR is set

Custom controls:

  • Shutter button - AF

  • AF-ON - ISO

  • * - AF-OFF

  • SET - Exposure compensation

  • Top dial - Av (Aperture)

  • Back dial - Tv (Shutter speed)

What I keep in my favorites

Page 1:

  • Long exp. noise reduction

  • Interval timer

  • Info button display options

  • Image review

  • Highlight alert

Page 2:

  • ISO speed settings

  • Time-lapse movie

  • Movie digital IS

  • Remote control

  • Wireless communication settings

Page 3:

  • C.Fn I: Exposure

  • Mirror lockup

In addition to these menu settings I have the following settings set as a starting point:

  • Shutter speed: 320 (this is because I use a 300mm lens with IS)

  • Aperture: 1.8 (the lowest on any lens I own. This makes every lens start at its lowest aperture)

  • ISO: Auto

  • Other: AI Servo AF, Manual selection: 1 pt AF, Evaluative metering, High speed continuous shutter drive

Las but not least, I use a Battery Grip. The extended battery life is nice (it holds two batteries), but what I really love about it is the comfortable placement of secondary shutter and AF buttons while shooting in portrait orientation.

There you have it. Those are the camera settings I use when I’m out in the wild taking photos of animals. You can plug all these settings in your camera to try them out, but keep in mind, everyone is different. If you don’t like something, if you prefer back-button autofocus, or if you ate Auto ISO, don’t hesitate to change them to your liking. I won’t get too offended.

What kind of camera do you use? Which of my settings would you change? Let me know in the comments.