As wildlife photographers we need to be prepared for every situation and more often than not, half the battle is understanding our cameras and being able to adapt and change our settings at the blink of an eye. Faced with so many external elements we cannot control, we need to ensure that we are equipped with the right knowledge and understanding of those aspects that we do have control over so that we can best prepare ourselves for any challenges that comes our way.
So what exactly do I mean by the ABC’s of photography?

There are three key settings that are worth grasping a full understanding of. Once we understand this triangle, which consists of  ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed and the influence they have on one another, we can then experiment and manipulate each of these variables in order to achieve our optimal outcome.

The balance between them will depend on amount of available light, how fast your subject is moving, what the terrain looks like and what effect you’re aiming to achieve amongst many others. My suggestion is to play with shutter speed to blur or freeze movement and see what result different speeds will give you depending on your subject. Experiment with your aperture to test what depth of field does and how your lenses, angle and subjects change the outcome. Experiment at night or with bright sunshine to see what ISO’s your camera is capable of reaching without becoming grainy and how they change the amount of light you get in an image. If you’ve done this and understand how this triangle of elements influences each other, then you’re well on your way mastering the ABC’s.

As a photographer my worst moments are those when I think I’ve captured my perfect image only to realise that my camera was still on the settings from the night before and have now completely missed my opportunity. Now before heading out on drive I take a few moments to pre-set my camera to a standard ”go to” setting that I feel best fits the current conditions. What this allows me to do is have my camera ready and set before any form of action takes place. It is not to say that my settings will always be correct and in most cases I will have to make adjustments but working from this standard baseline means that these adjustments are always just minor and take me no time at all to perform. A fairly basic suggestion but one that I believe can make the world of difference for you.

Lastly, make sure you get really familiar with your gear. Each photographer has different styles, preferences and artistic talents but you can really only start to explore these once you have a good grasp on the technical aspects. Take time to test out your equipment and get to know the ins and outs of its capabilities. Camera gear is all very different and so every photographer’s standard ”go to” settings will be different.

Photographers are no different to sportsmen in that they can only play their best game when they’ve mastered the basics. Don’t undermine the ABC’s- it is a key in your photographic growth.

Matimba male

Understanding our camera capabilities allows us to test the boundaries of lighting conditions in order to get the image we are after. This image was taken early one morning before the sun had risen. Iso 1600 F2.8 1/640 @300mm Sigma 120 – 300mm


Small windows of opportunity briefly expose themselves. This may be regarding light or the angle of the subject and we need to be prepared to capture anything at anytime and have the confidence to manipulate the triangle. Iso 800 F6.3 1\800 @600mm Sigma 150 – 600mm


Taken late one afternoon as light starts to fade into darkness. A dead rest is essential as very often the best photographic opportunities come as the light begins to fade. Holding steady and achieving a sharp photograph are essential to the basics. Iso 1250 F2.8 1/320 Sigma 120 – 300mm

Camp dam

Having a good understanding for light and our camera’s capabilities means we can actually create images that aren’t achieved with the naked eye. Iso 1000 F1.4 25” Sigma 20mm F1.4

skops owl

One always has to expect the unexpected and moments like this one are a rarity. The scops owl was perched a couple of feet away from us and having my camera set and ready allowed me to capture the image before the owl flew off. Iso 1000 F2.8 1/400 Sigma 120 – 300mm


I remember this day so clearly, as it was quite literally a dream come true for me. This opportunity didn’t allow me to change settings and sort out what my triangle should be because it all happened so fast. Fortunately for me my preparation payed off and I managed to capture this very brief but magical moment. Iso 400 F2.8 1/8000 @300mm Sigma 120 – 300mm

Star trail

To capture an image that is taken over a period of time can be difficult but shows us that if we understand our equipment and have the vision of an image in our minds, it is possible to achieve it. Iso 100 F2.8 I left the shutter open for 35 minutes Sigma 20mm 1.4

matshipiri male

Shooting at night can be very difficult, especially when the subject is moving because you have to work at very slow shutter speeds. Here though, I manipulated each aspect of the triangle in such a way that I could capture a sharp image, without any grain and yet let in enough light to illuminate my subject. Iso 1250 F2.8 1/400 Sigma 120 – 300mm

Filed under Photography Wildlife

About the Author

Trevor McCall-Peat

Photographic Guide

Trevor joined Londolozi from Balule Game Reserve, and with this head start in guiding, he was up and running in no time as a Londolozi Ranger. Trevor has a unique style in photography, capturing images from fresh angles that most wouldn’t see. This ...

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on How to Improve Your Photography Using the ABC’s

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Ian Hall

I am glad to know that I am not the only one to have shot a wonderful picture on the settings I was using yesterday.
The comments though are very sound, think of your camera like a piece of algebra, you know how you want it to perform by setting one aspect (say shutter speed) then to a certain extent you can let the camera work out the other bits and pieces.
I think the important feature of wildlife photography is to set the metering using spot on centre evaluative so that it is concentrating on the animal in question and not the background.

Jill Larone

Absolutely stunning pictures Trevor, and great tips to follow as well! Thank you!

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