From big cats to blue whales, the animal kingdom is chock-full of weird and wonderful creatures just waiting to be snapped up (quite literally) by the wildlife photographers of the world. Unsurprisingly, it’s a full throttle, glamorous and exciting job that many budding photographers are keen to forge a career in. But first off, what is a wildlife photographer?

Essentially, it’s anyone who documents animals in their natural habitat. The last part of that sentence is crucial; no marks for popping round to your local zoo and taking pics of the parakeets – wildlife photography is all about one thing: location, location, location! We’ll take you through the ins and outs of wildlife photography, including how much you can expect to earn and how you can take the first steps towards making wildlife photography your career.

What sort of salary can I expect as a wildlife photographer?

A photographer in the open grass land trying to shoot a black buck.

While it’s extremely difficult to break into wildlife photography and start earning a liveable wage, it’s still possible to make money with your animal snaps. Overall, the pay is relatively low, however that’s more than compensated for by the rewarding nature of the work. Most wildlife photographers make between £18,000 and £30,000 per annum, although there’s always the potential to make significantly more. Remember, most wildlife photographers are freelancers, and you’ll have to account for additional factors such as equipment upkeep, insurance, office space, tax, VAT and travel costs when working out how much you can expect to earn.

How do I become a wildlife photographer?

Two Elephants and Kilimanjaro mountain

Luckily enough, there are a couple of different ways in which you can become a wildlife photographer:

  • Working as a freelancer, you can sell your photographs directly to publications. Alternatively, you can go through an agency.
  • Stock photography is a great way to make money from wildlife photographs. You’ll need to take a large volume of photos, and while the rates aren’t particularly high, it’s a solid source of income for many wildlife photographers.
  • Since it’s quite difficult to make your living exclusively from wildlife photography, you may have to supplement your income with other forms of employment.

What qualifications do I need?

Mother cheetah and cubs – Masai Mara, Kenya

While a degree or MFA in photography will obviously be beneficial, you really don’t need any type of qualifications to become a wildlife photographer, particularly if you’re going down the freelance route. However, a solid photography education can certainly help you to get your foot in the door when you first start out in your career, mostly because it will teach you about all the technical aspects of photography that you will eventually need to know about.

In addition, there’s loads of online courses you can take, while it may also be beneficial to take business classes so that you can learn how to run your own business properly. More important, you should build up an amazing portfolio of animal photographs. In the long run, this should serve you much better than a classical photography education.

Who are the best-known wildlife photographers?

Seniors, man capturing wildlife, photographing giraffe in Africa

There are plenty of wildlife photographers who’ve made a big name for themselves, making them awesome models to emulate and take inspiration from. So, who are the ones to watch out for? Here’s a couple of our favourites:

  • Suzi Eszterhas. Featured in many major publications, Eszterhas is a major new voice in wildlife photography.
  • Andy Rouse. Having won tonnes of awards, including the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, Rouse is one of the young bucks to keep an eye on.
  • Moose Peterson. Look at the name, this guy was born to be a wildlife photographer!
  • Brian Skerry. For underwater wildlife photography, Skerry is your man.
  • Cyril Ruoso. With Ruoso, it’s monkey business. Seriously, check out his amazing primate images!

Lone deer in a forest

Although it’s a difficult world to break into, wildlife photography is one of the most rewarding career paths that a young photographer can get into. How was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!