There are some ways to prepare for the day when you will be shooting your best photos of wild animals and birds. First and foremost, know your camera. Practice taking shots at the settings you will use in the field. If you can’t afford a proper telephoto lens, borrow or rent one. The kit lens that comes with most DSLR cameras will not get the job done.
Another piece of equipment that is helpful is a tripod with a good ball head. Some nature photographers specialize in hand-held shooting, but it takes lots of practice to be good at it. A tripod is your best bet to hold your camera steady with that big gun of a telephoto lens on it. The longer the lens, the more likelihood of camera shaking, which results in unacceptably blurred photos.
As you practice taking nature shots, William Schoellkopf suggests aim for the eye of the animal. If the eyes are out of focus, the image will not be acceptable. You can practice in your yard by setting up a blind near your bird feeder. Or you can even take pictures of your own pets when they are in action. Shoot for the eyes.
The best time of day is early mornings. The lighting is awesome before 9 AM. Once the sun gets high in the sky, the lighting is too difficult to manage. A high, bright sun causes harsh shadow and far too much dynamic range for digital cameras. You should also familiarize yourself with the camera settings of your digital SLR camera. You will not have time to think about which settings are best for a particular situation in the field. You should already know which setting you will use and be ready in case there is a change in light.
Before you shoot, check your settings. There is nothing worse than forgetting that you set your camera on ISO 3200 the day before when it was getting dark. You will be disappointed, and you will get a bunch of lousy pictures. It ends up being a waste of time, so take a few minutes before you leave your house to check the settings. While you are at it, check to make sure you have all your batteries charged and some extra storage discs in your bag.