If you are a wildlife photographer, you have probably dreamed of photographing a tiger in the wild. Even if you are just a beginner wildlife photographer and starting out on your journey, it is highly likely to be at the top of your list.

It isn’t as difficult as you think. Tiger safaris are easy to organize and, compared to African Safaris extremely good value.

Getting that stunning prize-winning photo of a tiger is quite difficult. But let’s not get carried away. Enthusiasts can quite easily get a good image of a tiger if they are armed with the right knowledge.

First things first, where do you find wild tigers?

Where to Photograph Tigers in the Wild

If you have a good guide you will see much more at a tiger sighting. Despite moving through the bushes our guide knew exactly where the tigers path would be on the way to a waterhole and positioned us accordingly.
Adrian O Brien
If you have a good guide you will see much more at a tiger sighting. Despite moving through the bushes our guide knew exactly where the tigers path would be on the way to a waterhole and positioned us accordingly.

India is the obvious destination for a tiger safari. Most of the about 4,500 wild tigers (2024 numbers) remaining live in India.

The numbers in China have been decimated, and few remain in Southeast Asia. The Sumatran subspecies is extremely endangered on the island of Sumatra. Even rarer is the Siberian Tiger, the largest subspecies of tiger and the one with the largest territory. As such, it is quite difficult to find in the wild.

Project Tiger in India, founded on April 1st 1973 started out as a joke. The few remaining tigers were still poached, and numbers declined even more. However, as time went by, and importantly as the culture, and especially the available funding, changed, Project Tiger started showing positive results.

They set up multiple tiger reserves, and today, the population has rebounded. This success should not be taken lightly, though, as many threats still exist to the majestic Bengal Tiger.

Best National Parks for a Tiger Safari

There are tigers all over India, but some national parks offer better chances of seeing one in the wild and, more importantly for most of my readers, better photographic opportunities.

Ranthambore National Park

Ranthambore National Park in Rajastan, India is well known for its tigers (Panthera tigris). The Park is easy to reach from Jaipur.
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Ranthambore National Park in Rajastan, India is well known for its tigers (Panthera tigris). The Park is easy to reach from Jaipur.

Just south of Jaipur in Rajasthan, this national park is a common add-on for those visiting the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Travel here is easy, and therefore, the park is quite busy. Not everybody is a massive wildlife fan, and some people are just ticking off their bucket list. The park can get very crowded.

Ranthambore has a very high density of tigers, and a sighting is almost guaranteed within a couple of days. However, a good sighting and photographic opportunity probably need a few more days.

Despite the crowds, the professionals who guide trips to all parks in India state repeatedly that this is the best park for photography.

There are plenty of local and national companies that offer tours to Ranthambore.

Bandhavgarh National Park

Male Bengal Tiger(Panthera Tigris) cooling off in a waterhole in Bandhavgarh tiger reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Male Bengal Tiger(Panthera Tigris) cooling off in a waterhole in Bandhavgarh tiger reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India.

The second most popular of the Tiger Reserves, Bandhavgarh NP, offers a slightly different feel. The park is known for its ancient fort and dense sal forests, which provide a unique backdrop for tiger sightings.

While the park may not match Ranthambore in terms of sheer numbers, it is known for the quality of its tiger sightings, with a high probability of witnessing these majestic cats up close and personal.

The park’s terrain, with its undulating hills and rocky outcrops, offers interesting opportunities to photograph tigers in their natural habitat. With experienced naturalists and guides who know the park, Bandhavgarh provides some of the best chances of getting an exceptional tiger photo.

Kanha and Pench National Parks

It isn't always possible to get great images. This tiger should have more space in front of him for a well framed photography. Unfortunately there are sometimes unwanted items that cannot be removed from the frame.
Adrian O Brien
It isn’t always possible to get great images. This tiger should have more space in front of him for a well framed photography. Unfortunately there are sometimes unwanted items that cannot be removed from the frame.

While Bandhavgarh and Ranthambore may steal the limelight, two other parks in Central India offer excellent opportunities for tiger photography – Kanha and Pench National Parks. Located in the state of Madhya Pradesh, these parks offer plenty of opportunity for both tiger photography and general wildlife photography.

Kanha National Park is renowned for being the inspiration behind Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The area is a vast expanse of sal and bamboo forests, meadows, and ravine systems.

Although tiger sightings may be less frequent compared to some of the more popular reserves, Kanha’s diverse landscapes offer photographers a chance to frame their their shots in varied environments – from lush grasslands to dense foliage. The park’s rich biodiversity makes it a rewarding destination for the more patient tiger photographers.

Read our full review of Kanha National Park here

Pench National Park: Sitting on the borders of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, Pench National Park is a lesser-known gem in the tiger circuit. Its rugged terrain, comprising teak forests, meandering rivers, and undulating hills, offers a different challenge for photographers seeking to spot and click tigers in their natural surroundings. (Pro Tip: If you are heading to India, you need to learn to speak like a local: to click a photo is much more appropriate than the more western shoot or capture when talking about wildlife photography).

While sightings may be less frequent, Pench offers a sense of seclusion and tranquility, making any tiger encounters a more special experience. Pench National Park is a great option for those looking for something different from the hustle and bustle daily life in Northern India.

Tadoba National Park

Tigers (Panthera Tigris), here in Tadoba National Park, cool themselves down by bathing in waterholes, where they also quench their thirst.
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Tigers (Panthera Tigris), here in Tadoba National Park, cool themselves down by bathing in waterholes, where they also quench their thirst.

Further South, on the other side of Nagpur to Pench, is a lesser-known tiger reserve outside of India. Tadoba National Park is not at the top of most people’s lists, but it is a great opportunity to see tigers in a slightly different habitat.

Dense woodlands cover the majority of the park, and Teak trees are the dominant species. There are some small patches of grassland, and bamboo thickets are also quite common. It isn’t as open as the parks further north.

Photography in the forest is a bit more challenging because of the light conditions. I would say come in April or May when the bush is at its lowest extent, but the park can be quite hot at this time. It is known to be hotter earlier than other parks.

One advantage of going to Tadoba is that your permit is for the whole park, not just for a single zone. So, if you hear about a sighting elsewhere, you can head there. The disadvantage, of course, is that everybody will be at the sighting.

Remember to let your guide know that the ethics of wildlife viewing are important to you, and move away to find other sightings. I know you want to get great images and create wonderful memories, but the welfare of animals is paramount. Of course, a peaceful viewing of a few wild dogs will be much more rewarding than an overcrowded tiger sighting.

On the subject of wild dogs, Tadoba is known for its dholes and sloth bears. Recently, Tadoba has also had regular sightings of melanistic leopards: the Black Panther.

Sundarbans National Park

Tiger footprint in the mud, Kanha National Park, India
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Sometimes, all you will manage to see is a tiger footprint in the mud.

In the Northeast of India, on the coast south of Kolkata, lies Sundarbans National Park. Situated in the delta of the Ganges-Brahmaputra River system, the park is a massive wetland.

It might not be the place you expect to see tigers, and sightings are not as common as other national parks or tiger reserves. However, here you might be treated to tigers swimming. While they often take to waterholes elsewhere, to cool down, here in Sundarbans the tiger can be found swimming and chasing prey at the water’s edge.

The mangrove areas are home to a host of other wildlife. Birdlife is especially interesting here.

Kabini River area

Quite often tigers will emerge from the jungle and walk down the road. The only difficulty is that we can never know which way they will walk.
Adrian O Brien
Quite often tigers will emerge from the jungle and walk down the road. The only difficulty is that we can never know which way they will walk.

Two more national parks are located in the south of India, offering good tiger sightings and photographic opportunities. Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks are in the Western Ghats and have a completely different ecosystem.

The Western Ghats mountain system is known for its rainforests. The parks here are, therefore, much greener and get much more rain than just during the monsoon season. The mountains have a significant impact on the climate, and not everything is rainforested. In some areas on the drier eastern side of the hills, there are plenty of dry deciduous forest and even scrubland.

The best place to stay in the area is in Kabini, a resort town along the Kabini River. It is about four hour’s drive south of Bangalore, and there is accommodation to suit all levels. Be aware, though, that prices here are quite a lot higher than in Northern India. English is more widely spoken, though, and at a much better level than further North, where Hindi is more common.

The area around Kabini and the Kabini dam has quick and easy access to both Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks.

How to get good photos of Tigers

Ranthambore is often the first Indian National Park for foreigners. The tiger density is so good that you are almost guaranteed a sighting on a three day trip.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Ranthambore is often the first Indian National Park for foreigners. The tiger density is so good that you are almost guaranteed a sighting on a three day trip.

The first thing is, of course, to know your target. Read my bio of tigers here for more information. Use the knowledge of your guide or driver. They do this every day and might even know the personality of some tigers. Knowing your subject allows you to predict what they might do next.

Being prepared and knowing what the tiger will do next is essential to planning an image.

For a good photography it is always best to position yourself ahead of where you expect an animal to be. If possible, you should also be at eye level. Consider the background of the image, too. Getting all three correct is not easy, but it is what makes for a great image.

Often, it is not easy to determine what the background of a Tiger image will be. Sometimes, they stay close to the bushes. The bigger the distance separation between the subject and the background, the more out of focus the background will be. More precisely said. The larger the ratio of background to subject distance, compared to the subject to camera distance, the more out of focus your background will be.

Often, you might not even see the tiger before you click your images. So often in India, tigers are heard long before they are spotted. Tigers navigate through the undergrowth silently, so how do you hear them?

The trick (and again, your driver and guide should recognize the sounds) is to know the alarm calls of the monkeys, birds and deer. The alarm calls often plot the path of the predator through the bush, and you can predict where they will appear.

After about a half an hour following the 'tiger' calls of the monkeys and deer the 'tiger' finally emerged. It turned out to be a leopard. Always be prepared.
Adrian O Brien
After about a half an hour following the ‘tiger’ calls of the monkeys and deer the ‘tiger’ finally emerged. It turned out to be a leopard. Always be prepared.

This isn’t always foolproof. In Kanha National Park, our guide followed a Tiger through the trees in a ravine for 30 minutes and more than a kilometer, despite being unable to see anything. The barking deer were barking, the macaques were screaming, and the birds confirmed that someone was stalking through the undergrowth.

When the ‘Tiger’ finally emerged onto the hillside, it turned out to be a leopard. Unfortunately, the languages of deer and macaques use the same word: ‘large ground-based predator’ for both animals. We still had an amazing sighting of a beautiful leopard and got some images of a fleeting cat because we were prepared.

So what do you do when tigers aren’t obliging, and stick close to the undergrowth?

If the background is going to be in focus and visible in your image, try to make sure no trees are sticking up through the tiger’s head or something similar. It can ruin an otherwise great image. Just ask your driver to reposition a little bit. Subtle movements left or right are often enough to completely change the background to something more aesthetically pleasing.

Best lens for tiger photography

Diring the heat of the summer tigers can often be found cooling down in waterholes. However the rising humidity can make focussing difficult.
Adrian O Brien
Diring the heat of the summer tigers can often be found cooling down in waterholes. However the rising humidity can make focussing difficult.

We will assume here that you are already using a DSLR or mirrorless camera while on tiger safari.

When choosing the best lens for tiger photography, we need to consider two aspects: length and aperture. The best lens is obviously a 400 mm f/2.8, as it is the best lens for all wildlife photography (read why it might not be). These lenses are ridiculously expensive, even secondhand, and they don’t cover every situation or scenario, so let’s be more realistic.

Aperture

First, consider the aperture. The widest aperture possible is best. However, not everyone can afford wide-aperture telephoto lenses, and they aren’t always necessary. I have a beautiful Nikon PF 300 mm with f/4. It works really well in the forest, where the lighting isn’t so great. However, adding a teleconverter to make it 600 mm turns it into an f/8, and it refuses to focus half the time.

Any of the 150-600 mm lenses with f/5.6 or f/6.3 at the long end is quite good and very usable for most situations. Sometimes, though, in the dim light of the forest, these can underperform or push your ISO towards 5000. Knowing how your camera handles this sort of ISO is important.

Focusing in such light is much less of an issue on mirrorless cameras. The camera employs a different focusing technique, using the camera sensor rather than a dedicated autofocus sensor like DSLRs, which makes autofocus in poor light much more reliable.

A wide aperture, therefore, is definitely preferable. However, it isn’t the aperture that prevents you from getting great images. Sometimes, they might have a higher ISO than preferred. Sometimes, the tiger might not be as separated from the background as you like. These can somewhat be overcome by repositioning in the field or using different post-processing techniques to deal with the high ISO

Conclusion: Don’t worry too much about the aperture.

Best Lens Length for Tigers

The optimal time to spot a wild Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) in Ranthambore National Park is April, just before the onset of the monsoon. As the grasses wither due to water scarcity, visibility improves, offering better chances of spotting tigers amidst the dense undergrowth.
Licensed from Shutterstock
The optimal time to spot a wild Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) in Ranthambore National Park is April, just before the onset of the monsoon. As the grasses wither due to water scarcity, visibility improves, offering better chances of spotting tigers amidst the dense undergrowth.

Obviously, the lens length you choose will affect the images you manage to get while on a tiger safari. Is longer automatically better? It certainly helps, but there are occasions when you can be right up close to a tiger, and a simple 70 – 200 mm lens is great.

This lens (or anything in the 70 – 300 mm range) is great for taking environmental shots. Often, a tiger sitting at the far side of a waterhole might offer a good environmental shot with a wider angle showing where the tiger is.

Sometimes, though, the 600 zoom mm lens on a crop sensor body isn’t enough to get a good image of the far side of a waterhole. In that case, sit back and enjoy the sighting, and don’t forget to study the behavior so that you know what will happen next time if you are close enough for the shot.

On a full-frame camera, a 70 – 200 mm zoom and something around 500 mm (zoom or prime) are great lenses that should allow you to get good images of tigers.

If you have a regular wildlife lens, any of the Tamron 150 – 600 mm competitors (Nikon 180 – 600 mm, Sony 200-600 mm, Canon 100 – 500 mm), you already have the best lens for a tiger safari – at least for normal people, for non-professionals.

Just make sure you bring something wider for some landscapes.

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