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Wildlife Photo Tips and Suggestions Part II

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Wildlife Photo Tips and Suggestions Part II

In our last post, Wildlife Photo Tips and Suggestions Part I, we covered some basics of etiquette while shooting in the wild. Here we’re going to get into the nit and the grit of it all with wall-to-wall technical tips and suggestions.

Technique:

When you’ve positioned yourself in an ideal spot and you’re ready to shoot, there are a few things you should keep in mind so that you can be ready and able to catch that unique moment you’re probably looking for.

–       Try to frame your subject a little wide just incase there is some sudden movement. You can always crop the shot later on.

–        Shoot in bursts. Most DSLRs have a burst mode where you can shoot a certain number of frames in immediate succession. It helps a lot when you have subjects that are as unpredictable as a wild animal.

–       Shoot with both eyes open. You want to have a keen sense of the surroundings, not just one animal. If you’re framing a gazelle grazing on an African plain, you really don’t want to miss out on that lioness that’s about to pounce on it a few yards away. It’ll help you anticipate and react better.

–       Mind your viewpoint. The vertical angle you shoot from impacts the tone and quality of any shot. So, if you’re shooting a fawn from above its eye line it’s very different than shooting it from below its eye line. And if you shoot it right at eye level, well that’s completely different as well. Just be aware that eyes connect the viewer to the subject, and the eye line dictates how the eyes read in a photo. On a related note:

–       Recognize the impact of having the eyes in frame versus not having them in frame. This depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your photo, but keep it in mind, regardless.

–       Don’t use flash, if you can help it. Frankly, it’ll probably freak most animals out, so just try to avoid it.

–       Be conscience of the impact of having your subject framed with it’s environment clearly visible versus not. This, again, depends of what you want to achieve with your image, but keep it in mind. Are you trying to capture the texture of a bird’s feathers, or are you trying to capture the subject within the context of its environment?

Equipment:

Generally speaking, most wildlife photographers use a pretty long lens due to the fact that they don’t get very close to their subjects for obvious reasons. Most would recommend at least a 300mm lens. Many use 400, 500 or 600mm lenses. Some prefer to shoot with a zoom lens, as that affords some flexibility with framing, which is extremely helpful for novice wildlife photographer. Bear in mind that there are certain caveats to shooting with such long lenses, the big one being the need for high shutter speeds. The rule of thumb is to shoot with a shutter speed that is at or above the effective focal length of your lens. Que? That means that if you have a 300mm lens on and you’re shooting on 35mm film, your shutter speed should be the closest setting to 300 or above. For most standard camera bodies that means 1/500th s. However, the major factor that DSLR users have to keep in mind is their image sensor’s crop factor. A lot of DSLRs have a crop factor of 1.6x for example (you should really figure out what the crop factor is on your personal camera though), so that means you need to multiply your lens’ focal length by your crop factor in order to find out what your “effective focal length” is. A 300mm lens on a body with a 1.6x crop factor will have an effective focal length of 480mm. Thus a shutter speed of 1/500th s or faster is needed to eliminate most occurrences of camera shake based blurring.

That usually means you’ll need a lot of light. This is fine during most of the day, but when magic hour hits and the light dims you need to get creative in how you address this issue. There are a number of ways to stabilize your camera/lens. The obvious one is a tripod. That might work for some, but might not work for others who need to constantly adjust your angle.

One helpful piece of technology that you can find often enough is an Image Stabilized lens. Most wildlife photographers pretty much require these, so consider that a worthwhile investment. Also, camera triggers and wireless remotes are very helpful as any touching of the camera itself can result in some serious camera shake problems with such long lenses.

For a more inexpensive solution, you can make a pliable support for your lens by stitching together a sack made of cloth or even burlap and filling it most of the way (but not completely full) with either raw beans or rice. This is particularly good for the traveller who prefers to fly light. Pack the empty sack and just buy some beans or rice locally when you arrive at your destination. You can put the support on a rolled down car window, or a log for extra support when you need it.

Other than that just know your equipment especially well. You don’t want to have to fidget about with your camera trying to figure out how the set it for shutter preference and miss something amazing.

Remember: be respectful and plan ahead.

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