7 Tips for Photographing Amazon Rainforest Animals

Woolly monkey | Tips for Photographing Amazon Rainforest Animals-0571

You’re headed to the Amazon for a river cruise, a beautiful and exotic destination teeming with wildlife and photographic opportunities and you want to take some great pictures. Awesome. But take heed, the jungle has its challenges: from a towering canopy to problematic lighting, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when you go. Below are my 7 tips for photographing Amazon Rainforest animals.

Bring a long lens

During a recent river cruise with International Expeditions to the Peruvian Amazon, I learned quickly that 90% of the wildlife I was going to photograph is high in the canopy. Not much happens at eye level. Sloths, monkeys, birds, most of the time they’re above you. Consequently, I recommend bringing the longest lens you can hand-hold comfortably while shooting at a 45-degree angle (or more) for an extended period. I used a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a 100-400mm lens and a 1.4mm extender, giving me a total range of 560mm.  I still needed to crop some of my photos.

International Expeditions' skiff | Tips for Photographing Amazon Rainforest Animals-0477

Sit at the back of the skiff 

It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s easier to photograph animals in the canopy sitting at the back of the skiff—the 10-12 passenger motorized longboat used to navigate the Amazon’s narrow waterways. If you’re in front and the boat floating toward the shoreline, you’re may find yourself underneath your subject. The farther back you are in the boat, the greater chance of capturing your subject at a better angle.

 Watch your shutter speed 

When you’re in a skiff you’re constantly moving. Even if the motor is off you’re still drifting and subject to the dips and rolls of the current. Watch your shutter speed and bump it up a notch to offset the motion.


Raise the camera to your eye

When you see a subject in the canopy you want to photograph, resist the urge to look down at your camera before you begin to shoot. Instead, keep looking at your subject then raise the camera to your eye. The rainforest canopy, swaying and blowing in the wind can make it difficult to keep track of your subject. If you don’t look away, you won’t lose it.

Sloth in a tree | Tips for Photographing Amazon Rainforest Animals-0040

Don’t overexpose

If you are shooting up and your subject is in a little shadow, be mindful of not using too much exposure compensation to brighten the image, you risk blowing out the background. Rather, adjust the image later while editing by increasing the exposure a tad and bringing up the shadows.  That said, if the shadows are too dark, best wait for a better shot.

Be patient with Amazon Rainforest Animals 

This is pretty much the case with all types of wildlife photography. Unfortunately, animals never do what we want them to when we want them to do it. Take heart, be patient and wait for the right opportunity.

Black-tailed Trogon | Tips for Photographing Amazon Rainforest Animals-0198

Bring a flash

Not that a flash will help you with subjects high in the trees, but if you’re on a jungle walk through the rainforest you’ll be plunged into low light. If you find something you want to photograph (a poison dart frog or tarantula, for example) you’ll need a flash.

Bonus tip: Have a water-resistant/waterproof bag handy

Unpredictable is the best way to define an Amazon rainforest climate; it’s likely to live up to its name. To protect your camera, bring a camera bag or a backpack that’s waterproof or at the very least water-resistant. I also recommend bringing a rain poncho so you can slip it over your body and the bag at the same time.

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Tips for Photographing Amazon Rainforest Animals

36 thoughts on “7 Tips for Photographing Amazon Rainforest Animals

  1. David says:

    Stunning images, Susan and some really good tips! I would add that if you only have a week or two of holiday then be sure to use a guide. It isn’t easy to learn how to find wildlife in a different country in such a short space of time. If you are going to use flash under the canopy then avoid using it for mammals. It does not seem to bother frogs and spiders etc. but larger mammals can be unsettled by it. Finally, aim at the eyes, they need to be sharp.

  2. Mike Clegg from TravelAndDestinations says:

    Great tips and so helpful! I don’t have an awful lot of experience with wildlife photography so great to read. My longest lens I currently have is 105mm so sounds like I need to get some upgrades before such a trip. I also like your tip on keeping an eye on the subject and then raising the camera up to your eye. Wouldn’t have thought of that one.

  3. Heide says:

    I concur especially with the water-protection suggestions. (If your experience is anything like mine growing up, unexpected downpours were kind of the norm!) Thank you for these inspiring photos and helpful tips.

  4. ronjoiner2015 says:

    These are great tips. May I add some others?

    If you can afford it look for a weather sealed/splash-proof camera and lens on your next camera buying outing. That will take care of those rainy days in environments like the Amazon.

    Shooting RAW will allow you to make larger exposure adjustments in post-processing. You will need a RAW image processor but many are free.

    In the absence of a image stabilized camera there are travel mono-pods that are light and very useful for long exposure images.

    In addition to bringing the camera to your eye, lower the camera to meet your subject.


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