In this guest post Daniel Padavona looks at how you can achieve higher quality wildlife photos, looking at equipment, set up and approach. It is often frustrating to return from a photography trip only to realise that some of your favourite compositions have not coming out as well as you hoped. Attend one of our Lightroom Training or Photoshop Training courses, and learn how to enhance your photos after taking them to get the best out of your photography.
Wildlife Photography is an art form which requires major time and equipment investment. Very early morning shoots are common in the quest for the right lighting. Lugging heavy camera equipment through a dark forest to reach your destination by sunrise is also common.
The art form of wildlife photography requires specialized camera equipment, a steady hand, a knowledge of wildlife activity, and patience. In this article I will share some of my favorite tips for getting great wildlife pictures while in the field.
A lot of reach is required to effectively photograph wildlife. I won’t go into the field with anything less than a 200mm zoom reach. And honestly I prefer 400mm.
Longer reach will open up possibilities, but I find them less necessary with cameras now pushing over 20 megapixels. With a 16 megapixel Canon 1D Mark IV I can bring a 400mm lens into the field and shoot at 4896 x 3264 pixels. If I crop the image in Photoshop to 2448 x 1632 pixels, I will have effectively produced an 800mm zoom.
I would rather go for less reach, and pay a little extra for image stabilization in my lens. A lot of my wildlife photography is hand held, so image stabilization is important for keeping my images sharp.
Shutter Speed and Aperture
Shutter speed and aperture are specific to what I am photographing, and whether there is one singular subject or multiple subjects. For a single subject, I prefer to shoot wide open at f2.8 and throw the background out of focus. But if I am shooting several ducks in a pond, I will selectively focus on one duck, but increase my depth of field to keep the rest in good focus.
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A stationary animal can usually be photographed at 1/250s to 1/400s hand held with image stabilization on. However a fast moving mammal or bird in flight will require 1/2000s to 1/3000s to capture it in sharp focus.
Use a Modern Professional DSLR
A modern professional DSLR will make your job a lot easier. The reason is simple. You will be shooting most of your pictures in the first or last 90 minutes of the day. While the light will be gorgeous, it will also be limited.
Even using a wide open aperture of f2.8, you will find yourself lacking light when pushing the shutter speed to 1/2000s or 1/3000s to capture a bird in flight. For this reason it is inevitable that you will have to raise ISO to 400, 800, or even 1600.
Older DSLRs and consumer level cameras struggle mightily with these very high ISO levels. Noise can completely destroy an image, and no amount of software noise reduction is going to save it.
However professional level DSLRs are getting better every year at handling noise. A modern professional level Nikon or Canon is a must for shooting in low light conditions at high ISO levels. I’m particularly impressed with how well the latest Canon 1-D line reduces noise to manageable levels.
Not a fan of wildlife? Perhaps taking photos of humans is more your cup of tea. Learn how to engage with your subject for eye-catching results.
The high level Nikon and Canon models are also vastly superior with their fast focusing systems. I use center point auto focus on my 1D, and it amazes me how quickly it locks onto a subject in sharp focus.
Use a Tripod
Yes, I did say I shoot a lot of hand held in the field. But no matter how fast your shutter speed is, and how good your lens image stabilization is, it is virtually impossible to avoid some camera shake with big lenses.
When I can, I prefer to mount the camera on a sturdy tripod that can handle my camera and lens. Not surprisingly I get my sharpest photos while using a tripod. It also provides a welcome break from holding the weight of the camera and lens for long periods of time.
Know Your Subject
Knowing your subject is half the battle. Understanding how an animal behaves in various scenarios is important because it allows you to anticipate action. It’s easy to miss a great shot, and you will miss plenty until you learn to anticipate what the animal is likely to do next. There is no substitute for experience and observation. Eventually you will develop a sense for what the animal is going to do next.
Once the action begins, shoot in burst mode and capture several images quickly. A subtle change in position and action will make or break an image. Put the odds in your favor by using burst mode to capture multiple images.
Wildlife photography is difficult business. It requires a lot of patience, and an investment in professional level camera gear to get great results. We can take advantage of the high pixel count on modern DSLRs to reduce our need for very long lenses, and thus save a lot of money in the process.
Knowing how an animal often reacts to a situation is important in helping you anticipate action, and capture winning images.
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