DOC’s top five wildlife photography tips

Department of Conservation —  09/02/2022

If you want to take a good photo, you don’t need a fancy camera with a lens that can zoom so far you can basically see into the future. Our smart phones are getting smarter, and with a few basic techniques, you can capture a stunning image.

Here are our top five wildlife photography tips.

1.Vantage point

It becomes a habit to take photos at eye-level, so make sure to mix it up! If you have a wide-angle lens, use it to full advantage and lower or raise your perspective for a more interesting photo opportunity. Kneeling will also give you a different perspective.


Looking at Sirocco from below makes for an interesting photo. 📷: Jake Osborne


Caption: Doing something as simple as kneeling can make your photo more appealing. 📷: S Bernert

2. Follow the rule of thirds

You may have heard of the ‘rule of thirds’ before? It’s something that all beginner photographers are taught – and for good reason. If you follow the rule, it can make your images look more balanced.

Below is a photo with a rule of thirds grid overlay. The idea is you should be placing points of interest in the intersections of the grid or along the lines.


Rule of thirds grid over photo of a harlequin gecko. 📷: S Bernert

A lot of smartphones allow you to put a rule of thirds grid onto the screen which means you don’t have to try and imagine the grid.

3. Keep your distance

It’s important to remember to keep ourselves and our wildlife safe, even if you’re trying to snap a perfect shot. If you come across seals and sea lions, you should stay 20m away – the length of about two buses. This is where the zoom function on your camera comes in handy!

If you’re in a boat or kayak, keep 50m away from whales (or 200 m if it’s a mother whale with a calf). If marine mammals approach you, try not to circle them or obstruct their path.


Dolphins often travel alongside boats, so get your camera ready if you see them. 📷: DOC


An example how far away you should stand when taking photos of marine mammals. 📷: S Bernert.


Remember to stay 20m away from marine mammals on shore and use your zoom function to capture images. 📷: Shellie Evans

4. Lighting

A lot of professional wildlife photographers stick to the hours of ‘golden light’ – early in the morning just before sunrise, or in the afternoon just as the sun goes down.

Dull days are your friend in terms of getting balanced images with lower contrast in light.

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Slightly duller day makes for great lighting. 📷: Tahu Taylor-Koolen

5. Fill the frame

Make sure your subject fills the frame. The best way to do this is to use your camera’s zoom function if it’s a marine mammal, or quietly move a bit closer if it’s a bird or reptile.


Caption: This striped gecko nicely fills up the frame. 📷: S Bernert


Caption: Filling the frame can make an image more powerful. 📷:

We share the responsibility to look after the species that make this place unique. Visit the Kiwi way by taking stunning photos of our wildlife while respecting their space and habitat.

6 responses to DOC’s top five wildlife photography tips

    Stewart Hydes 11/02/2022 at 12:02 pm

    Who dreamed up the need for New Zealand citizens to need a permit to take photo’s on our own, public land?
    Really, one wonders whose side some of our paid public servants think they are on?
    They are meant to serve the public .. not be an end unto themselves.
    It’s a good idea to promote taking photos of our wildlife though (before you wipe it all out, with your misguided PF2050, and your wretched Aerial 1080) …


    You gotta be joking about getting a permit to take photos on public land???? It’s not DoC land but the public’s land!
    Appreciate the article – thanks DoC!

    Thomas Stephens 09/02/2022 at 8:52 pm

    Don’t to forget to get a photography permit, if you wish to put any photo taken on doc land, doc walks, including doc land based ski field in a competition, news paper, art gallery, A&P show, or sale, before you take the photo.


      Is that true?


      It’s public land managed by the department for the citizens of New Zealand. As an owner you are allowed to take photographs. Approval needed for commercial recording of images and video movies eg Lord of the Rings needed approvals. Doubt they paid much. !!!!


    Great hints, and easy to remember – even for an 80 year-old photographer like me! Keep up the good work DOC. Our wild life needs you more than ever before.