Written by Reed Ramsay, Photography Volunteer in South Africa

There is nothing worse as a wildlife photographer than scanning through your photos on your camera and thinking you have a perfect photo waiting for you when you get back to your computer, then realizing your “perfect” photo isn’t quite what you thought it was going to be. Even worse, you notice that the photo you thought you got isn’t even in focus!

After thinking about how you managed to NOT capture that perfect moment, you start wondering about the cause. Was it because your settings weren’t quite correct? Was the auto-focus too slow? Was the animal moving too fast or too slow? Could it be that the animal was either too far away or too close?

Ultimately, this happens to all of us at some point.

Here are some of my experiences with missing great shots as a wildlife photography volunteer.

Watch: A Day in the Life of a Photography Volunteer


Wildlife Photography Volunteer vs African Hawk Eagle

Birds are always fun to photograph because they come in all different colors, shapes, and sizes. They are also very hard to photograph. This ‘Missed Shots” example comes from a morning game drive in Balule Game Reserve when we came across two African hawk eagles. Both were sitting in a tree.

From where I was, I could tell they had dark grey wings and a beautiful white chest with shades of grey. Lifting my camera and focusing on them, they both took flight before I even got a shot off. Luckily, they were in close range so as soon as one came soaring over my head I clicked away.

I was extremely happy reviewing the shots, but upon further review, I noticed they were not in focus.

Two things caused me to miss this shot: I was not quite fast enough at keeping up with the bird and my shutter speed had been a tad too slow.


Looking for Lions

On a weekend trip to Kruger National Park, everyone involved had a mission to see lions! We spent all day travelling up and down roads. We saw hippos, giraffes, and zebras, but no lions.

It was coming to the end of the day when a nice family stopped us to say they spotted a lion with a kill. We came up to the area where the lion was said to be. Unfortunately for us, it was in tall grass and low light.

But that was not going to stop us!

The lion looked up a few times – once with a kill in its mouth – and we got our shots. Everyone seemed to be pleased. Turns out, only one person in the group got a clear photo. Everyone else missed the shot!

Also see: Photography Tips for Shooting at Different Times of Day


Multiple factors played a role in our missed opportunities. For me, my autofocus only focused on the grass right in front of the face of the lion because I wasn’t patient enough to switch to manual focus. I ended up missing a potentially great shot because of this impatience.

In the end, no one is perfect and the best thing to do is learn from your mistakes. That way it is never a failure, just a learning curve. And of course, the most important thing is to just keep clicking away!

Check out our Wildlife Photography Facebook page to see what photography volunteers get up to!


Volunteer abroad on a wildlife photography program and experience life as a wildlife photographer in one of the most beautiful and exciting places in the world – Africa!