How to photograph wildlife with your smartphone


You’ve just stumbled across a deer. She’s staring at you. Her ears are perked up and she knows something’s there, but she can’t quite see you. The sun is descending upon the horizon, and this is a Kodak moment if ever there was one. But the only camera you have on you is your phone. Well, as influential photographer Chase Jarvis always says, the best camera is the one that’s with you. So how do you take amazing wildlife photos with your phone? Here are some tips.

Stand very still

Not only is movement going to scare that bull moose that’s right in front of you, but it’ll also lead to an unfocused image. One of the challenges with phone photography is holding it still enough to capture a focused picture. Use two hands to hold the phone and if you can, place your elbows on something solid. Crouching down so you can place your elbows on your knees is a good option.


Getting close is the trickiest part of this. Although most phones have a zooming option, once you start zooming in the quality of your image is going to degrade. The reason wildlife photographers use giant 800mm lenses that cost upwards of $10,000 is that they can zoom in from hundreds of meters away. And they cost so much because of the complex pieces of glass inside of them. Your iPhone doesn’t have this. Phones zoom digitally, meaning if you zoom in too far, the image you end up with will start to pixelate. A good rule of thumb is don’t zoom. Get closer. Get as close as humanly possible And therein lies the challenge. There are a number of aftermarket zoom lenses for phones, including the Phone Skope. It’s probably safe to assume that the more you pay for one of these add-ons, the better the results will be.


Another limitation of smartphone photography is light. The tiny sensors in these cameras need plenty of light to create a decent image. That means shooting bats, or anything during the early day or night will be difficult. You preferably want full sun, and the hour or two after or before sunrise and sunset will give you the most dramatic lighting. It’s also the best time to see animals.

Feeding the animals

While baiting a black bear with a jar of honey would be pretty effective at getting you close enough to take a decent shot, it’s a bad idea. It’s also ethically controversial. No one ever seems to complain, however, when you put out some seeds for a cardinal or sugar water for a humming bird. And this might be your best chance at getting a decent shot of wildlife with your phone. You’ll be able to plan out the time of day, get to know an animal’s habits and draw them in.


The number of after-effect apps for photography must double daily. These are entirely up to you. While some are cheesy and useless, others, like VSCO Cam and Afterlight are both legitimate post-processing apps to add to your images.