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Settings for wildlife in low light

edited April 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
What are good settings for taking wildlife photos in low light?
I am using a Nikon D3200 with a Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens.


  • edited April 2016
    I would suggest that for wildlife in low light you use the lens wide open (smallest F number), and choose a shutter speed that can stop motion. Just what shutter speed may depend on whether the wildlife is moving, whether you're good at panning, and how well the lens's vibration control works.

    A good start might be to use Manual exposure mode, with Auto ISO on, set the aperture to 5 at the shortest end, and then zoom as needed, and set the shutter speed at at around 1/500. You may be able to go slower if you have a steady hand and a relatively still subject, but the faster the better. If the vibration control is really good, and your quarry is standing still, you might be able to go much slower, but the slower you go, the more likely you are to get blurry images. Experiment a little if you have time, to see how slow you can go. The slower you go, the lower your ISO can go, and you'll gain a bit in sharpness and dynamic range as well as noise.

    You will always have a challenge getting a relatively slow lens to perform without having either to run too slow a shutter speed, or crank the ISO past what is ideal for sharpness.

    Auto focus, if your subject has a tendency to move, should be Continuous servo, and probably Dynamic Area. 3D can work too, and it's worth experimenting which does better. It will depend a little on how your subject moves, and how it contrasts with its background.

    It's very easy to accidentally move the focus point on this camera, especially with a big lens. I find with the 200-500mm that it goes off constantly, and I have to recenter it with the [OK] button. Keep track of that little red dot.

    If your subject is wildlife, it's often better to spot meter than to matrix meter, but make sure with a big lens like that that you keep track of the focus point, because the spot metering point follows the focus point. Spot metering will expose the small central point of the image, and ignore the rest completely. It's best for such things as a bird in flight, or an animal on snow. Let the background blow out.

    This operation takes a lot of practice, especially if you are panning moving animals and birds in flight, but I have seen some stunning images taken with that lens and similar cameras. It can be done. Get used to taking lots and lots of pictures, and erasing lots and lots of misses as you practice.

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