Wildlife Photography: Capturing Portraits of Your Favorite Animals | Konsta Punkka | Skillshare

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Wildlife Photography: Capturing Portraits of Your Favorite Animals

teacher avatar Konsta Punkka, Outdoor Photographer, Squirrel Whisperer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      How to "Whisper"


    • 3.

      Gear & Settings


    • 4.



    • 5.

      Warm-Up Landscape Shots


    • 6.

      Shooting Portraits of Animals


    • 7.



    • 8.

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About This Class

Go into the wild with 21-year-old Finnish photographer and self-proclaimed "squirrel whisperer," Konsta Punkka.

In this 30-minute class, you’ll learn Konsta’s tried-and-true techniques for capturing stunning portraits of animals, including:

  • finding a shoot location near you
  • how to gain the trust of squirrels, hummingbirds and foxes
  • how to "whisper" to get the animals closer to your lens
  • what camera equipment and settings can achieve the best shots
  • how to showcase the emotions of the animal

With insights for every level of experience and equipment, from iPhone to DSLR, you'll walk away with the skills and knowledge you need to shoot like a pro, and a newfound respect for your natural surroundings.

Join Konsta and his furry friends for a picturesque adventure! 


Photo credit: Jaakko Kahilaniemi


What You'll Learn

  • Introduction. As most wildlife photography courses will tell you, capturing photos of animals takes patience and luck. In this course, Konsta Punkka will show you how to increase your chances of getting that perfect shot. With his unique approach and photography techniques, you will learn how to gain the trust of the animals you wish to photograph, how to find the best locations, and how to take the photo without scaring them. Animal portraiture is all about capturing the emotion of your subject, and this class will help you find the small details that professionals use to create incredible wildlife photos.
  • How to “Whisper”. One of the most essential parts of photographing wildlife is earning their trust. Konsta has spent years refining his approach and shows you how to locate the animals where they live, let them know that you aren’t a threat, and how to make them feel safe so that you can learn how to best approach your chosen subject. He calls this skill “whispering,” and though it may take time to learn, in the end, they will be eating out of your hand. Literally!
  • Gear and Settings. When learning photography online, most photography courses cover the basics of the camera gear and settings you would need for a typical studio shoot involving models or other standard fare. However, wildlife photography requires special attention to aspects of the camera you may not normally think about. The sound of the shutter, for example, can frighten an animal and ruin your shot. Konsta shares a few of his tips to reduce this risk and help you get the perfect photo.
  • Locations. Weather and seasons also play an important role in wildlife photography, as does the time of day that your subject is typically active. You might also think that living near a city means that you won’t be able to find wild animals to photograph, but this is not the case. Animals have learned to use cities to their advantage, and Konsta has some thoughts on how to find the best locations, even near an urban center.
  • Warm-Up Landscape Shots. Before you start trying to photograph any animals, you should take a few warm-up shots of the landscape. This will help you find the best angles for the light and reduce the amount of photography retouching you might have to do if you get it wrong. Shooting towards the sun, for example, would result in a subject that is too dark to see. Take in the landscape and have your composition in mind before you start.
  • Shooting Portraits of Animals. When you’re finally ready to approach the animals, there are numerous elements to keep in mind, from the camera to the environment. Konsta shares his thoughts on how to find interesting angles and then how to coax the animals into position. Again, it takes time, patience, and a bit of luck, but with Konsta’s guidance, you will be on your way to photographing wild animals up close and in gorgeous detail.

Meet Your Teacher

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Konsta Punkka

Outdoor Photographer, Squirrel Whisperer


21-year-old Outdoor Photographer and Squirrel Whisperer based in Helsinki, Finland.

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1. Intro: Hi guys, I'm Konsta Punkka, 21 years old, professional nature and outdoor photographer. I come from Southern Finland and today, we will learn how to take some animal portraits. It's December, so the landscape is not the most beautiful right now, so we are going to focus on small details. We hit the road with friends and arrive to the tiny city near my hometown, Helsinki. This class is called wildlife photography, get up close and personal with nature. I will teach you guys how to get closer to your subject and how to photograph the expressions and feelings of the animals you are shooting. We are going through the basics of emotive portrait and how to get closer without scaring the animal away. So, you will learn how to whisper, what settings and gear to use, how to gain the trust of an animal, how to find the perfect location, what to do when you take the photo. This broke should only take one to two hours, so you don't need to go to any exotic location, you can just shoot in your hometown. It's useful if you have some sort of knowledge about how nature and animal you are shooting behaves, so you will know how and when to take the best photos of it. 2. How to "Whisper": Before you start "whisper" or taking the close up shots, it's important that you are in the right mindset. I always have to shoot four hours a day, that's a minimum. You have to enjoy and appreciate the nature you are photographing. You have to be ready to spend many days in the nature without getting any shots. The idea in my photographs is to get as close that you can witness animal thoughts and ideas through with the lens. That often means that you have to cooperate with the animal with trust. Getting close is all about the time you spend in the nature and how patient you are. At first, before you have that trust connection with the animals, you need to hide yourself from the animals by laying on the ground or making some sort of hide core in view from the sites from the animals. When you have found an area where the animals sleep, you can start getting closer. At first it will, of course, take a lot of time. First, the animals will, of course, run away, but when you visit the area many times, the animals start to realize that there's nothing to afraid of. At the beginning, when you have found a place to shoot the animals, you need to use heights because the animals are really scared of you. The biggest mistake you might make is that you are not patient enough and you may get frustrated when you don't get the close up shots immediately. Whispering part of this art is all about the trust you already have. You won't get any bird or squirrel to sit on your hand if you haven't visited the area like 100 or 500 times before. Whenever you find a place where you are going to shoot animals, you have to start to make some whispering or whistling noise every time you enter the area because that's how the animals learn the whispering sound and it's easier to shoot in close ups later on. The whispering signals to the animals that it's you on the area and there's nothing to afraid of. So, they can come there and you can take the good shots. But, it's super important to know how the animal acts and behave to know when it's the perfect time to get closer and when and which time of the day. You will learn the timing and when to shoot the animal just by being on the area daily. 3. Gear & Settings: So, this is my gear, what I use. Here's my Nikon 810 which I mostly use with a wide angle lens. Then I have my old camera, Nikon 700. Then my super old Sony with my 300 millimeter plus the camouflaged badass lens. So, these the good gear I use in my photos. So, as I said earlier, all my animal portraits are pretty much done with wide angle lenses. My favorite one is this 14-24 millimeter. It's super wide, and it's super fast, and the photos and the sharpness is on top. It's really nice rainy color. You can put this in the rain, and nothing happens for the camera. It's a full-framed. When I started photographing, I just grabbed Nikon on my hand. That's why I still shoot with Nikon. I love my Nikon. Sometimes I also use my 50 millimeter lense, 1.4 aperture. If the animal is not coming to super close on me, I can get that beautiful soft portrait of them. The last camera and lens, what I will use is this old Sony 850 which has this massive 300 millimeter F4 lens. This is the lens I use while I'm driving or I come to some photo shooting situation just by accident and I need to take the photo quickly from far away. So, this old camera still works really well and I use it as well on the heights when I'm shooting maybe bears and stuff like that. One really important thing when I'm shooting animal portraits on my settings is I always use the auto single focus, which means every time I take a shot of a bird or squirrel sitting with my hand, I can focus on my fingertips here, and then recompose the picture. But the focus stays on the hand. So, when the bird flies to my hand, I have to just put the shutter. It's always in seconds gone, so you have to be ready. Also one good thing is when you have a specific spot in your mind, for example some old food where you have peanuts or something that makes the squirrels come there, you can put focus on manual and just focus place where you want, because you know the animal will come to some certain spot. Then you can just keep the focus on the same area and just focus on taking the shot on the right moment and find the degree of composition or the crop of the image. One of the most important things about animal portraits is the thing that animal's eyes are always sharp. There's no point of using the shot if the eyes are not sharp enough. Else is always use the spot mirroring, which means I focus on that point to the animal's eye and it comes to light from there. That's good for lights and sharpness of photo. One thing that photographers often teach is that you can never use any auto modes or stuff in your camera. But in the wildlife or the photography, I always shoot with the mode A, aperture mode. Because if you shoot on manual mode on your camera, it's of course cool that you can decide the settings by yourself. But when you're shooting wildlife, the situations happen all super fast, in seconds. So, you need to always be ready. That's why I always use the A mode at least when I'm shooting foxes or something that moves really quickly. Just like hands on the camera, that it's enough good to count the good shutter speed. I know that my camera is quick enough. So, I will choose the ISO and aperture, how I want the depth of field to see in the photo. Then, the camera counts the shutter speed for depth. What you often see is wildlife photographs with big lenses shoot like 600 pictures with the [inaudible] mode. But what I tried to do is, at least if the animal is peaceful and it's walking slowly, the burst mode often scare it away. So, I often shoot just a few pictures. But sometimes, of course, when this folks running in a field or dear jumping in a field, I often shoot moments that go fast with the burst mode. It really doesn't matter which sort of camera do you use to take the photos, it's just the best camera is the camera you have in your hand. But a few things you have to remember is that sometimes the animals and wildlife when you're shooting them, the situation goes so fast that the camera with the phone can't go with it, you can't focus or it's too fast to the camera. So, it's all depends what you want to shoot, if you want to take peaceful portraits of animals you can do it with your phone. But if you are more into action wildlife shots, then I recommend to get a better DSLR camera because that's just much easier, and it's faster, and you can get better shots with that one. 4. Locations: The spots I find for my animal portraits and landscapes are always related to what's nature offer on that time of the year. I choose my locations depending on the weather. If there's predicted snow in Lapland I go to Lapland to take winter shots. It's all about new things happening in a nature all the time and you have to be on the right place at the right time. My wildlife work depends on the weather and nature as well really much. I go to take my fox pictures and squirrels and bird photos, places where it's possible on that time of the year. For example, birds and squirrels are pretty much shootable on the whole year, but the foxes and fox puppies for example, is really small time of the year when you can take photos of them. My photography is balancing between luck and patience all the time. Luck always has a part in taking photos because you can never predict nature. Of course you want to plan beforehand what kind of shots you would like to take, but it's always really hard when you're working with the nature. To unmount a fluck in my photos, it all depends what I'm shooting. Taking photos of squirrels and birds is really easy. You can always pretty much plan beforehand, what you going to do, what perspective you want to take. It's always easy to plan different ideas and different perspectives to take because the squirrels and birds are always there, but it's a completely different story when you are shooting foxes or deers or bears. It's really much harder to predict the moves of a bear than a squirrel. I have traveled across the world pretty much last years to get good wildlife shots. I have been really lucky to get the chance to shoot on different heights and different locations. One of those coolest moment was, I was shooting ospreys in a small lake, and I went to underwater height, where I could take underwater shots. Unfortunately, I wasn't really good photographer back in the days, so the shots didn't turn out that good. Then I have shoot bears pretty many times in Russian border which is the best place to take their portraits. I have also traveled around Iceland and the Faroe Islands and I have taken photos of crazy ducks who went hiking with us, and then many seals around Iceland. You are actually pretty lucky if you're living near city because that's a really good place to start your animal photography career. Foxes and many different mammals always live near cities, because they have learned to get easy food access from the city, so they don't need to live out in the wild that much anymore. So, you can just go to a park or a forest near your home, or near some city, and just go there and hunt a location, choose the location where would be something to shoot. So, when you are shooting closer to cities, the animals you want to take the portraits of, the animals already have some trust connection between humans so, it's easy to start getting closer and closer that you don't need to hide that much. How I have found the best locations to take the photos is all about time I have spent in nature. It's a common way to think that rain doesn't work with the photos. That's wrong. The rain can give a really beautiful movie feeling on photo, which means the photo is without harsh light and hard shadows. It's also really cool to shoot in storms and extreme confidence when you can really think and be creative the way you want to represent the rain in your photographs. On summer, I was walking on the abandoned railway when I suddenly saw a fox family with five fox babies and a mother. I was really stoked to see a new perspective with railways and gather railway station and stuff behind the shot when I shoot the foxes. So, I needed to stay three days in the woods to learn how they behave and what environment they live. I was shooting near Kotka, Finland, and I had heard that there's lots of woodpeckers around. So, I went to a small forest near the city and started to whisper, and suddenly a big woodpecker landed on my hand, and stayed there for like 10 or 15 seconds I could take many many shots. That was one of my maybe most magical moment I have witnessed with my camera. 5. Warm-Up Landscape Shots: So we have just arrived to the sunrise shooting spot, and right now I'm checking if I can find some foreground for the landscape shot, and clouds are looking pretty nice right now. So, we need to find our composition to get the nice combo with the sky and land. So let's see. The challenge are in the dark foreground plus the sky is super white on the over sky and then the sunrise getting from dark to clean. So, what I never do, I never use any sort of filters because I trust the raw file, so I always trust the raw file you can always light room the sky down for two steps down or two step up. So whenever I'm doing landscape photography. I always just check the compositions and take the shots and then make the balance between the sky and foreground always in light room. So I don't need to use the filters and switch and all the mess so it's easier for me to focus the things I want to shoot. I will checkout the place beforehand and try to find the best composition for crown places to witness the sunrise because the sunrise shot doesn't look like anything if you don't have anything interesting in the foreground. But the most thing I do when I, for example, go to the woods is I warm up and try to whisper to animals closer. Finnish weather is not the most photogenic right now so the dark foreground without snow is pretty challenging. Right now, we're heading to the woods nearby to whisper to animals closer, so we can take some close-up shots of squirrels and birds on my hands and stuff. So, let's see what we can work it out. I want to show my students how to get their animal and nature photograph to next level, how to shoot most of the animal portraits and stuff with wide-angle instead of the most basic thing to shoot with long telelenses or with long focal length. It's like the main thing is to get closer and that's what I want to teach you guys today. So, right now we arrived to one of my squirrel-whispering, animal whispering place where I take lots of my close-up portraits of different sorts of birds and animals so, let's go and check it out. 6. Shooting Portraits of Animals: So, we just arrived to the place, and often, it takes a while to get the animals to come close. That's one of the things in animal photography you have to wait, and wait, and wait. So, I always want to take the close-up shots because I want to get the feelings and ideas behind the animal, what he's feeling. So that means we have to use lots of patience and lots of time to get that close that you can feel the animal in the photos. You can always take broad shots on different kind of mammals shots with long lenses. Always, when you're shooting with long lenses, you don't feel the ideas and feelings of the animals in the photos. So, today we're going to try to get up close and take some portrait with animals' eyes wide open, and then looking into our cameras so we can get some serious stuff happening. So, right now we have this long tree on my right side and I'm trying to get a shot down here, perspective towards up, so I can get different perspective. So what I do, I need to figure it out how to get the squirrel looking down on me when I'm going to shot up there. So, I need to really focus and think about how to get the animal standing around here. So, what we're going to do, we're going to put this stuff here, there. Make them stay for a minute, and take the photos. You have to think how to get close, how to get down here, so you have to work with peanuts or trust, how I would say, to get him on the right perspective place. One really important thing is when you're shooting a closer portrait of squirrel or fox or something and you know where the animal is coming to meet you with your camera, you can switch the focus on manual mode, so then you can only think about the shutter speed and the composition you want on the photo so you don't need to anymore think about where to focus. So, that's one less thing to worry about. Often, when I go to shoot, I start my day by going to the close-by landscape place to take some sunrise photos or something, so I can relax and think about the things I want to shoot on the wildlife place. When I'm close enough like this, I can get the feelings and ideas through the animal eyes on my lens, and that's how I get the money shots. The thing how you can get started with the animal photography and wildlife photography, like basic, you need to really know how the nature works, how the animals you shoot works, like which time of the day they are active and which area they are living. So, you can locate the place where you want to shoot, and then when you have found a place where you start the photography, you can start to get closer, and closer, and try to earn the trust by step-by-step. So, right now you can see all the birds and squirrels are coming straight to sit on my camera or just come here, they don't care. We have a trust connection between us. They are not afraid, so I can get super close with my wide-angle, and that's the main thing to get the close-up shots. I always shoot with the aperture mode because when I shoot wildlife, the moments come super fast, so you need to trust the camera that it can shoot the right shutter speed. Because you might have 10 seconds, 15 seconds time to take the photo, so you can only focus on the aperture and you're taking the photo on the right time and the composition is good. When I'm thinking about the light in my photos, I have many options. One option is I shoot my animal portraits towards the sun which gives silhouette or contrast twist on the photos, or you can shoot along the sun, which means the sun is behind you, so you will get a really nice soft light on the animal and the landscape behind the animal is also really soft without contrast. On a cloudy day, you get a flat soft light and low contrast. In my close-up photos, I used the spot metering to get the animals eyes super sharp. If the eyes of animal in my photos are not sharp, the photo is completely rubbish. What I do differently in my animal photography is I whisper to the animals. What that means is I use some sort of voice. At the beginning when you try to find a place to take the close-up animal photos, it's really important that you start using some sort of voice when you come to the place, so the animals learn the sound and what means. That gives you the extra space and trust to get super close. When the animal hear the sound, he always looked to the camera and check you can get the shot. It's really important that you put the shutter sound off or on silent mode because the animals are really afraid of the sound. Right now, I have already taken photos of these animals like two years, so they already know this sound so they are not afraid. When you start taking the animal photos, it doesn't mean that you get super close immediately. That means you have to take time, patience and lay on the ground many hours to get closer, and then, you can get the close-up shots because the animals don't know you are there, and that's the main key to get the shots without the thrust connection. 7. Wrap-Up: Thanks guys for joining my Skillshare class. It was a pleasure. Let's have a quick recap. We have learned how to whisper. We have to go through some gear and settings and some location scouting and action on site. Now, when you are into taking animal portraits. I'm really looking forward to see your photos please share the photos on the [inaudible] gallery and I'm looking forward to see them. Take care, guys. 8. Explore Photo Classes on Skillshare: