Wildlife photography is one of the most challenging genres of photography. You are photographing animals in their natural habitat respecting and maintaining their space without the ability to direct them as subjects of the shoot. And to capture the best wildlife photos, you have to go the extra mile.
Inspiration for wildlife photography can come from your local area, the garden, urban locations as well as the countryside and coast. You might choose to fill the frame with the head of a majestic lion, capture the abstract shapes of a starling murmuration, or show an urban fox in an inner-city context.
Research, patience, timing, as well as technical excellence, will be the deciding factor between an average shot and an outstanding one. But remember, the priority for wildlife photography is the animal and safety.
Below is a selection of photographs that demonstrate the very best of wildlife photography…
The best wildlife and animal photos
Cities gone wild by Corey Arnold
‘A coyote yips aggressively at an off-leash dog park in San Francisco, California. This park is surrounded by densely placed residential buildings on all sides and is the unlikely territory for a pack of urban coyotes. Coyotes have become a greater presence in San Francisco, but conflicts with dogs and cats, who occasionally become prey are also increasing.
Cities Gone Wild is an exploration of three savvy animals — black bears, coyotes and raccoons — that have uniquely equipped to survive and even thrive in the human-built landscape while other animals are disappearing. I tracked these animals in cities across America to reveal a more intimate view of how wildlife is adapting to increased urbanisation.’
Arnold won 1st place in the Professional competition, Wildlife and Nature, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
Crested Caracaras by Dinorah Graue Obscura
‘While I was shooting Crested Caracaras in flight in South Texas, I noticed these two, which were perched in a very similar way. They were staring in the same direction and not moving, almost as if they were posing for me. I was amazed by their powerful personalities.’
Dinorah Graue Obscura emerged as the 2023 Open Photographer of the Year at the recent Sony World Photography Awards.
The Big Buzz by Karine Aigner
Karine Aigner captured this flurry of activity as a ball of cactus bees spun over the hot sand of a Texas ranch. After a few minutes, the pair at the centre of the ball – a male clinging to the only female bee in the scrum – flew away to mate. The world’s bees are impacted by habitat loss, pesticides and climate change. 70% of bee species nest underground, so it’s increasingly important that natural soil is left undisturbed. The photo took the grand prize of Wildlife Photographer of the Year at an annual competition developed and produced by the Natural History Museum.
Heavenly Flamingos by Junji Takasago
This ethereal and stunning image won the ‘Natural Artistry’ category of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2022, and it’s not hard to see why.
The flamingos seen here are sitting on the world’s largest salt pan in southwest Bolivia. It’s sometimes known as the ‘mirror in the sky’, with the reflection shown in the shot part of its minimalist appeal. But, the salt pan is also home to one of Bolivia’s lithium mines – the very thing inside many of our devices, including smartphones and cameras. The mining of this resource is threatening the future of the area’s flamingos. Reuse and recycling of electronics are vital to preserving natural resources and habitats for many animals and birds such as flamingos.
The photographer, Junji, had to battle through altitude sickness to get the shot – a testament to how far we’ll go for our art.
Sleeping with Dandelions by Lewis Newman
‘After spending a lot of time with this particular vixen, she began to learn I was not a threat. This gave me some great photographic opportunities. I got to know her routine, and as the wildflowers began to grow, I would find her curled up amongst them. As the dandelions began to open there were a couple of days when she would wake up covered in them. Although she got used to my presence, if I were to move too fast or drop anything she would immediately leave. Later on in spring, I was blessed with her bringing her cubs to me and have watched them grow ever since.’
This was the winning image of the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2023 in the category of Animal Portraits.
Hitching a Lift by Jamie Ravie
‘The common toad migration to their spawning grounds can be a spectacular event to watch. As the large females make their way to the water, the smaller males approach them to try and ‘hitch a lift’. It can result in some amusing behaviour, as multiple males will often try to mount the same female. This image was captured just as one of the males tried to push away another. It can be quite a difficult thing to photograph, as this is one situation when toads move surprisingly quickly.’
Jamie Rodie’s photo took the prize for the Animal Behaviour category at the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2023.
The Beauty of Baleen byKatanyou Wuttichaitanakorn
Intrigued by the contrasting colours and textures of a Bryde’s whale, which is surfacing close by, Katanyou captured this fascinating abstract taken at the Upper Gulf of Thailand, Phetchaburi, Thailand.
The tour boat Katanyou was travelling on turned off its engine as the whale appeared close by. This required a steady hand to capture this close-up composition as the boat rocked in the swell. This type of whale has up to 370 pairs of grey-coloured plates of baleen growing inside its upper jaws. The plates, which are made of keratin – the same protein which also forms human hair and nails – are used to filter small prey from the ocean.
Katanyou won the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2022.
Gonzo by Laszlo Potozky
‘This image was taken in Transylvania in Romania, not far from one of my favourite Natura 2000 sites. Only rarely are there days when this highly respected protected area fails to deliver from a bird photography point of view. However, on such days I know I have a fall-back option, namely an abandoned building where Little Owls have nested for more than a decade. Last year, on one of these Plan B days, I arrived at the building following heavy rain and discovered that the Little Owl family had grown: three chicks had hatched a few weeks previously. To my relief, I was ‘welcomed’ by the whole family, and while four of them were drying their feathers on the roof, one of the chicks was under it, posing in an odd way and with what looked like an air of resignation. To my eyes, I could see a resemblance to Gonzo, the famous character from The Muppet Show.’
Potozky received a Silver Award in the category of Urban Birds at the 2022 Bird Photography of the Year awards.
Great White Split by Matty Smith
Matty Smith was crowned the British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 with an impressive image of a Great White shark that he shot at the North Neptune Islands off Australia. The picture was shot in natural lighting with a Nikon Z 6 II (in Aquatica housing) with a Nikkor 14-24mm F2.8 S Series lens. The exposure was 1/1000sec at f/8, ISo 2800.
Smith revealed, ‘I had wanted to shoot a charismatic over/under [water] portrait of a great white shark for a couple of years. Some techniques I had previously tried failed terribly, so this time I designed and constructed my own carbon pole and remote trigger. This enabled me to safely lower my camera and housing into the water with my own 12” split shot dome port attached. Surprisingly the sharks were instantly attracted to the camera with no extra bait needed, in fact it was a battle to stop them biting the dome port! We had wonderfully calm seas and nice evening side lighting for this naturally lit image.’
Revealed! The world’s best underwater photographs
Dancing with the Giants of the Night by Rafael Fernandez Caballero
Rafael Fernandez Caballero’s photograph of five whale sharks feeding together at night, in the waters off the Maldives, won the Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY) 2022 title.
The winning photograph captures a unique ocean event, taken in demanding photographic conditions, and it also won the Wide-Angle category of UPY 2022. It features five whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world, feeding together on nocturnal plankton that have been concentrated in the lights of a boat.
Fernandez explained, ‘It was already incredible when one whale shark came to our boat. But more and more kept arriving. In the ocean magic can always happen. But when magic happens all together, you only can think you’re dreaming. This was the case of that night in Maldives.
At the beginning of the night one whale shark came to the light of our boat BlueForce One, we jumped in the water and then another whale shark came. We were so happy when, a couple of hours later, out of the blue, madness happened and whale sharks started to come in big numbers. I was together with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We counted, at the same time, 11 whale sharks surrounding us. It was a unique moment that no one there had thought it could even be possible. Magic happens in the ocean every day, but if we don’t protect the oceans and sharks, these moments will soon be a thing of the past.’
The image was shot in the Ari Atoll off the Maldives with a Nikon Z 7 II and an 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED Fisheye Nikkor AF-S lens. The exposure was 1/80sec at f/4.2, ISO 5000. Lighting was with a One OrcaTorch D950V and the equipment was in Isotta Z7II/Z6II housing.
After the Storm by Jayne Bond
Jayne Bond won our Natural World round of Amateur Photographer of the Year in 2021.
Guest judge Ross Hoddinott said: ‘This is such a beautifully captured image. The soft, warm light spotlighting the seal pup is gorgeous, while the low viewpoint is intimate and inviting. The subject simply ‘pops’ from its surroundings thanks to the shallow zone of focus, and the seal’s whiskers are so sharp that it seems you could reach out and touch them.
I love the way this image highlights the harsh conditions these young animals have to contend with so early in their lives. The strong wind has partially covered this resting pup with sand and when you look at this shot, you can practically hear the wind whistling past and feel the sand and sea spray on your face.’
Jayne Bond shares how she took her award-winning wildlife shot here.
Reflection by Majed Ali
Majed Ali trekked for four hours to meet Kibande, an almost 40 year-old mountain gorilla. ‘The more we climbed, the hotter and more humid it got,’ Ali recalls. As cooling rain began to fall, Kibande remained in the open, seeming to enjoy the shower. Ali won the Animal Portraits category of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021.
The Embrace by Sergey Gorshkov
Sergey Gorshkov was the overall winner of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 with this impressive photograph of a Siberian tiger. The winning shot was not just hours in the making, but the best part of a year. Determined to capture a picture of the totem symbol of his Siberian homeland, the Siberian tiger (now regarded as the same subspecies as the Bengal tiger), Gorshkov decided to lay a camera trap.
In order to know where to place it, he scoured the forest for signs, focusing on trees along regular routes where tigers might have left ‘messages’ – scent, hairs, urine or scratch marks. The first camera trap was installed in January 2019, but it wasn’t until November that this image of a magnificent tigress was taken.
Interlocking Horns by Jacob Rheams
Jacob Rheams’ photograph of two rhinos interlocking horns in South Africa came fifth place in our Natural World round of Young APOY 2021. There are multiple narratives that can be interpreted within this photograph which are emphasised further by the black-and-white conversion, lending to its success. The first is a sense of intimacy as the rhinos seemingly embrace, and another is of power and intimidation as the two size up.
Anger Management by Scott Wilson
Scott Wilson’s Anger Management is a dramatic black-and-white photograph of a wild Mustang stallion. Bowing its head as it kicks up a dust storm in northwest Colorado, USA. This a fantastic example of capturing mood and aggression within animal behaviour.
Puff perfect by José Juan Hernández Martinez, Spain.
Animal Portraits Winner. Nikon D3S + Sigma 150–600mm f5–6.3 lens at 600mm; 1/1000 sec at f6.3; ISO 800; Manfrotto tripod + Benro head
© José Juan Hernández Martinez/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2022
Need some guidance on how to take better wildlife and animal photos?
Check out our complete guide to wildlife photography as well as our tips on creating black-and-white wildlife photos and how to capture great bird shots in your own garden.
Get hands-on and improve your wildlife photography skills by joining us on one of our wildlife photography holidays!
Want to know what the best equipment for wildlife photography is? See the best cameras and lenses for wildlife photography.
Submit your best wildlife photos to a Wildlife photography competition!
The 2023 Amateur Photographer of the Year competition is now open! Look out for the wildlife category which runs from 22 August to 18 September 2023.