Baby animals of just about every species make for photogenic subjects. Explore the tricks of wildlife photography with tips from five pro photographers as they share their favorite images of baby animals.

In the last four decades, threats like climate change, deforestation, poaching, and more have literally cut our planet’s wildlife population in half. The numbers are staggering: one in every eight bird species now faces the possibility of extinction, and that number jumps to more than 60% when we look at primates. But, thanks to the efforts of a few dedicated communities and individuals, there is hope for a better future. Amongst all the stories of destruction, there are also tales of species brought back from the brink of disaster.

We can find that hope reflected in the faces of baby animals. The fact that some of these individuals were even born speaks to the resilience of nature and the possibility of positive change. Despite the challenges facing wildlife today, infant animals remind us of the importance of protecting and conserving these species for generations to come. We reached out to five wildlife photographers to gain insight into ethically documenting some of the world’s most extraordinary creatures. Read on to learn more.

1. “Don’t make the animals feel uncomfortable just because you want to have a nice shot.”

Simon Eeman

5 Tips for Capturing Incredible Photos of Baby Animals in the Wild — Give the Animals the Right of Way

Image by Simon Eeman. Gear: Canon EOS 70D camera, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8l IS II USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/320 sec; f2.8; ISO 800.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I was very lucky when taking this picture. I was working for a lodge in the Kruger National Park and had stayed back at camp while the guests had gone on a game drive. While preparing everything for the return of the guests, I noticed something on some rocks fifty meters from camp. I immediately saw it was a leopard, but I first thought it had caught something and was feeding.

So, I grabbed my camera and drove to the leopard, and that’s when I saw she wasn’t feeding on something but that she was feeding her two cubs! I was all by myself for over an hour just watching the two cubs feed and play. They were so relaxed; it was just amazing. When it started to get dark, the mother decided it was time for the cubs to go to sleep, so she picked them up and carried them to a cave in the rock formation. That is when I took this picture.

5 Tips for Capturing Incredible Photos of Baby Animals in the Wild — No Shot is Worth Risking the Animals

Image by Simon Eeman.

Pro Tip

The most important rule or tip I can give anyone when photographing wild animals, and certainly baby animals, is to always give them the right of way. You are in their habitat, and you need to adapt to them! Don’t make the animals feel uncomfortable just because you want to have a nice shot.

This rule gets even more important when photographing baby animals, as their families will be extra protective over them and they can get aggressive. With bigger animals like elephants, buffalo, or rhinos, you will not only put yourself in danger but also the animals themselves, as they will be labeled by the park as problem animals, and they might be taken out for this reason.

Once you have made sure you gave the animal enough space, you have to have patience. If you have enough patience, you can have the most wonderful sightings with baby animals in the wild. As they are new, they are still discovering their surroundings, and they can be so funny to watch. You can watch them play for hours. Baby elephants chasing birds or thinking they are big already and trying to chase the car—that’s just nature at its best. Just don’t forget to put your camera down every now and then and just enjoy the sighting.

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2. “Move slowly as you approach your subject, and keep as quiet as possible.”

Four Oaks

5 Tips for Capturing Incredible Photos of Baby Animals in the Wild — Move Slowly

Image by Four Oaks. Gear: Canon EOS-5D Mark III camera, EF100-400mm Mk II IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 400mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f5.6; ISO 800.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I am a frequent visitor to Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth in South Africa. This photo was taken late one afternoon on a loop not too far from the exit gate. I stopped on the side of the road when I noticed a herd of elephants in the distance slowly moving towards me. It didn’t take long before they were surrounding my car but keeping a safe distance. They were very relaxed, and this little baby come out from beneath the protection of its mother as if to say hello to me!

Pictured: [1] Four Oaks [2] Four Oaks

Pro Tip

Firstly and most importantly, respect the animals’ space. Wild animal mothers are naturally very protective of their young and usually won’t allow a possible threat anywhere near their babies. Trying to invade their space by getting too close will only result in upsetting the mother. She will most likely run away with her baby, and the photo opportunity will be lost. In rare cases, she may attack to protect her offspring. A telephoto or zoom lens is essential equipment, even for photographing large mammals like elephants.

Move slowly as you approach your subject, and keep as quiet as possible. Observe which way the animal may be heading, and don’t cut off its path. Cars make excellent hides, but that doesn’t mean you should chase after mother and baby animals and cause them unnecessary stress. Patience is key, and often the best opportunities happen when we are prepared to sit and wait. Let the animals come to you; this way, they will be far more relaxed. You will have a greater chance of photographing feeding, grooming, and other natural behaviors when the animals are relaxed.

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3. “The biggest key for me as a photographic guide is knowing the animals’ behavior.”

Lance van de Vyver

5 Tips for Capturing Incredible Photos of Baby Animals in the Wild — Know Their Behavior

Image by Lance van de Vyver. Gear: Canon 5DS R camera, Canon 500mm f/4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/640 sec; f4.5; ISO 2500.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Black rhinos are notoriously grumpy, and, having guided for over five years, I have witnessed their short temper first hand. We had been tracking this rhino for an hour or so before coming across it in its typical habitat—super thick bush! We did not really have any visuals at first; however, after discussing with my clients, we decided to back off a few hundred feet, switch off, and sit in silence to see what would happen.

Then, we were eventually rewarded as the mother brought her young calf right out into the open and began to feed in front of us. We spent about an hour with the two individuals in complete silence, which made for a magical and memorable sighting.

5 Tips for Capturing Incredible Photos of Baby Animals in the Wild — Respect Their Comfort Zone

Image by Lance van de Vyver.

Pro Tip

The biggest key for me as a photographic guide is knowing the animals’ behavior. Every animal has a distance at which it feels comfortable with you, even individuals who are considered well habituated. The key with mother animals is that their comfort zone decreases when they have young around, and watching for any signs of nervousness or aggression is a must.

At the end of the day, we are in their space. We must ensure that their safety comes first so that they remain relaxed and allow us to view them for many years to come. When viewing animals with babies, apart from giving them more space, it is also important not to get in between the mother and the young. If a baby animal gets spooked, it’s most likely to go into hiding, which will result in the mother removing it from the situation.

Lastly, one of my biggest pet peeves is people whistling, clicking, or calling animals to get them to look at you. From what I have experienced, this is a great way for you to ruin a sighting and ensure that the animal tries to move away from you. We would hate to have a stranger come into our house and whistle at us whilst we are watching TV, so why would we think it’s okay to do this to wildlife?

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4. “Always keep as much distance as possible, and use camouflaged shelters and large zoom lenses or remote controls.”

Randy van Domselaar

5 Tips for Capturing Incredible Photos of Baby Animals in the Wild — Keep as Much Distance as Possible

Image by Randy van Domselaar. Gear: Canon EOS 70D camera. Settings: Focal length 220mm; exposure 1/500 sec; f6.3; ISO 800.

What’s the story behind this photo?

In the days before the birth of a young boar, the sow was busy building a nest. At a distance, I was able to place a tent from which I could see the nest perfectly. I placed the camera at a closer distance in a camouflaged box operated with a remote control. At birth, wild boar normally stay in the nest for three days, and this gave me the chance to capture some of the most beautiful moments as the young boar crawled out of the nest.

Pictured: [1] Randy van Domselaar [2] Randy van Domselaar

Pro Tip

Photographing animals in the wild is always a big challenge, especially when it comes to young animals. It requires a lot of patience and many hours spent hidden in camouflaged shelters. Knowledge of the animal species is one of the most important things you need to make successful photos where you can show the animals’ natural behavior. Learn and observe. Do not try to take all your photos immediately.

And then there’s the most important thing: the animals shouldn’t notice that you’re there. They shouldn’t see, hear, or smell you. That way, there will be no disturbance in their natural behavior. Always keep as much distance as possible, and use camouflaged shelters and large zoom lenses or remote controls.

Disturbing young animals is not only bad for your photography, but it is also life-threatening for the animal. Under stress, parents can leave the nest or even kill their young to flee. Remember this, and do not try to take any photo at the expense of an animal who could possibly suffer as a result.

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5. “It’s never a good idea to approach directly as most wildlife will move off immediately.”

Debbie Steinhausser

5 Tips for Capturing Incredible Photos of Baby Animals in the Wild — Approach Indirectly

Image by Debbie Steinhausser. Gear: Canon 40D camera, Canon 100-400mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/60 sec; f7.1; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I made this image while I was concentrating on black bears. I was aware that certain areas in Minnesota had a great number of bears, so I traveled to the general location. After a couple of days of scouting, I found a place that showed signs that bears had recently been in the area.

I made many images in the following days, but this one was special to me. I had heard there was a mother bear with two cubs in the area, but I had not seen her in the two previous days. As I was walking along a ridge, I heard a rustling of branches and looked over to see this little family at almost eye level from my elevated position. I especially liked this one because of the apparent eye contact between us.

5 Tips for Capturing Incredible Photos of Baby Animals in the Wild — Do Your Research

Image by Debbie Steinhausser.

Pro Tip

As cliche as it may sound, patience is the key to photographing any kind of wildlife, but it is especially important when photographing babies. My method is to first decide on a species I want to concentrate on, then research habitat, behavior, food preferences, etc.

With that information in mind, I set about finding a place this species usually frequents. For example, when I wanted to photograph grizzly bears, my research showed that Lake Clark National Park AK was an excellent place to do that. They were known to frequent the area, and there was easy accessibility. In the case of white-tailed deer, Shenandoah National Park was a place where they were abundant.

The first rule of ethical wildlife photography is not to do anything that changes the behavior of the animal. I shoot from a distance using a long lens. If I am tolerated at that distance, I will move in closer. If a deer lifts its head and looks at me, I freeze in place until it puts its head back down to graze. Or, if it appears at all uneasy, I know I am close enough, and I do the best I can at whatever distance that might be.

I use the “lost keys” approach as I move in. I zigzag slowly as if I am looking for something I lost in the area. It’s never a good idea to approach directly as most wildlife will move off immediately. It may take an hour or more to get into shooting distance of a wildlife subject. Move slowly and be patient.

Babies are usually not wary of humans, but they quickly learn from adults that people equal danger. I love making images that have an element of interaction between the baby and the mother. They are harder to get than portrait type shots, but it’s well worth spending the extra time to wait until there is some interaction.

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Top Image by Lance van de Vyver.