How To Photograph Meerkats

Meerkat family looking in the distance

Their bright orange fur. The fact that they only live in deserts and semi-desert areas of southern Africa. The way that they make a sound like a squeaky toy when you give them a hug (probably not wise to hug a wild meerkat though). The way that, for the most part, they live in family groups – with one male and multiple females and their offspring.

There are so many things that make meerkats awesome and that’s why they are so much fun to photograph. But it’s hard to get good pictures of them.

It’s easy to get confused when you’re photographing meerkats, which is why I’m going to try to explain all the basic principles that make them so challenging. It’s my hope that this article will make it easier for people who are going out with their cameras in some of the desert areas where meerkats are found – like Kenya and Namibia – to get some great photos of these adorable animals.

What Gear Do You Need?

For most kinds of meerkat photography, you don’t need any special equipment. Although you’re more likely to get the best photos of a meerkat if you use a telephoto lens, I’ve taken some great pictures with my ‘kit lens’ (the lens that comes with the camera body). That’s because there are lots of situations where it’s not practical to use a telephoto lens – for example when taking pictures of two meerkats together.

As far as the camera goes, I use the same one that I use for all my nature photography. You should use the highest quality DSLR or mirrorless camera your budget allows.

A traveling tripod will also come in handy. You can take some great looking photos of meerkats using a low quality one, but the best way to take photos of these animals is with a tripod that allows you to comfortably stay in position for extended periods of time.

How To Photograph Meerkats

Trying to photograph meerkats is like trying to nail jelly to a tree. They move so quickly and are so unpredictable that your best strategy is often simply waiting for them to settle down in an interesting position.

Always be aware of what’s going on around you and don’t keep your camera up to your eye when there isn’t anything special happening. If you want to be able to take good photos of meerkats, the first thing you have to do is get over your fear of losing out on a photographic opportunity. You’re not going to get good photos of these animals if you spend most of your time staring at them through your viewfinder, waiting for the perfect shot.

Your best chance of getting a good photo is often with a quick shot – or ‘snap’ as some photographers say.

I decided to take a few of the pictures in this article with a late-night ‘snap’ at the rehabilitation centre in Kenya where I saw the first wild meerkats. It’s important to take some high quality low light images of meerkats – because they are nocturnal animals. That means that their eyesight is very sensitive to light, so they’re often best photographed at sunrise and sunset when it’s not as bright out.

The most important thing to remember when photographing meerkats is that they move around fast and can be unpredictable.

Because the animals are so fast, you have to be prepared to shoot many photos in a short period of time.

Camera Settings

Depending on your camera, it may be a good idea to turn on continuous shooting mode. This means that you’ll be able to take several photos in a row without having to put the camera down. This is useful because most of the time, you’ll take one photo where you’ll get both meerkats in the frame – instead of just one of them.

I tend to use manual camera settings for meerkats – I don’t want to spend all my time in the settings menu trying to figure out what settings work best in different situations. That’s why I usually use the standard aperture and shutter speeds that come with my camera.

Good Tip: Make sure that your LCD monitor is clean so that you can view what you’re getting on your camera’s live view, as well as in your frame of the viewfinder.

Bottom Line

  1. When photographing meerkats, be aware of the fact that they move around quickly.
  2. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze them in motion.
  3. Look for situations where there are a lot of meerkats and you can use slow shutter speeds for your shots (like at sunrise or sunset).
  4. Don’t spend so much time using the viewfinder, but instead focus on getting great images in fairly quick succession.
  5. Don’t use a telephoto lens unless you have to – meerkats move around so quickly that they tend to disappear into the background.
  6. Always be aware of your surroundings – and be prepared for meerkats to dart out unexpectedly at any moment!