I go through a few thought processes before taking a shot like the one above, which was somewhat spontaneous, unlike the one in my post yesterday, which was planned. In this case a nice Western Black Squirrel, wasn't moving a lot as I walked up, most likely because it was checking me out. In fact the squirrel did not move very much at all for at least two minutes, which gave me plenty of time to compose the shot the way I wanted.
First thing I did was switch to an auto focus point that was not in the middle of the frame, which I find really helps in terms of final composition. Since I was out shooting birds at the time I had auto focus set to AF-C on my D90, which meant that if the squirrel did move, I wouldn't loose focus. Now if you are just starting out, you'll find you'll have to think about these types of things more often, but over time it becomes natural and you wont have to think about changing settings at all, you'll just do it. Of course having an idea of what you want to shoot ahead of time helps as well. Since I was out bird shooting I had my Nikon 300mm F4 AF-S mounted, which made this shot possible. If I had one of my short lenses, like the 35-70 F2.8, I could have scared the squirrel away, because I would have needed to get a lot closer. So keep the subjects you want to shoot in mind when you go out specifically to take photos. This is a lot more difficult to do when you are not on a planned outing.
The next thing I do in a shot like this is decide whether or not I want fill flash. In this case I did not use fill flash as the light was the way I wanted it. If you have a chance, take a few shots, with and without flash to see which result you like better. One reason to use flash with animals is to put some light in their eyes, which draws attention to them. In this case there was a nice balance of natural light, and I found that using the flash would not be very beneficial so I chose not to use it. Following the decision to use flash or not, is the what is in the back and foreground of your shot. I liked the fact that this squirrel was on a stump, which made the shot more interesting. The background was a little distracting, with lots of trees and bushes, so I shot this at F4, which softened it up.
That's about all for the week. Next week I will be traveling and will have some new shots and tips to share when I return.