Exposure Setting Tips for Wildlife Photography using a Nikon D7000 series, D500 or D850.

To get sharp wildlife images you sometimes have to make compromises and prioritise your Exposure Settings accordingly.  Below is a good starting point for achieving this.

First, tell the camera how to measure the light to get a good exposure and I generally choose Centre Weighted metering.

To get sharp images it is important to have a fairly fast  Shutter Speed.  How fast depends on how fast your subject is moving, how far away it is and what lens you are using.  My preferred shutter speed that will cover most situations is 1/1250 sec.

The correct  Aperture is dependent on many factors.  The first of these is the amount of light available but the size and distance of your subject is also important.  I would always choose f/8 for birds and f/11 for butterflies but this is not always possible and is the reason that I would recommend shooting in Aperture Priority Mode.  This will allow you to make a choice based on your current circumstances.

I consider the ISO to be the least important and although a low ISO is preferable, if the shutter speed is too low and the aperture too wide the results will be very disappointing, and nothing can be done to improve your image.  For this reason, I use Auto ISO and I know from experience that most modern Nikon Cameras handle noise well and good results can be achieved at an ISO of 4000 and even higher especially with a bit of noise reduction in Lightroom.  I use 1% noise reduction for every 100 ISO.

Once you have selected Aperture Priority Mode, go to the “PHOTOSHOOTING MENU” and select “ISO sensitivity settings”.  Here make the following choices.

  • Set the ISO sensitivity to ISO 400 (because the noise at this level is not noticeable).

  • Set Auto ISO sensitivity control to ON.

  • Set Maximum sensitivity to 4000.

  • Set Minimum shutter speed to 1/1250

Now you can concentrate on taking photographs and let your camera sort out the best exposure for the job regardless of light conditions.

This is how the cameras logic works.

  • First your camera will check to see if the aperture you set will expose correctly at 1/1250sec with an ISO of 400.

  • If it finds it needs more light it will raise the ISO to give the correct exposure.

  • If the ISO reaches 4000 and more light is needed it will lower the shutter speed.  Because you have set the preferred ISO to 400 this happens infrequently but it is always worth getting used to watching what settings the camera has chosen in the view finder.

  • If your camera finds it needs less light it will raise the shutter speed until it achieves a good exposure.  With wildlife photography I have never found having too high a shutter speed to be a problem but if you have selected a wide aperture you might wish to reduce it for greater depth of field.  Learn to do this without taking the camera from your eye.

When you get more experianced, are used to watching the settings in the view finder and are able to make adjustments on the fly you might then like to try Auto ISO with Manual Exposure mode and set both Aperture and Shutter Speed yourself.