The adrenaline, picturesque landscape, and telephoto zoom lenses are the three hallmarks of wildlife photography. But there is more than what meets the eye when it comes down to taking excellent shots of lions, tigers or even birds lost in their own symphony.
And here is a quick primer on all what you need to know about wildlife photography.
1. The pros and cons of using telephoto zoom lenses
Telephoto zoom lenses were purposely invented to get rid of the need for getting too close to the subject to take a clear shot of it. Which actually makes sense since it’s impossible to get too close to wild animals without running the risk of being attacked.
Additionally, this also allows photographers to capture stunning HD still images of camera shy or skittish animals.
However, there are several things you need to know about these long lenses.
- For starters, the long focal lengths of telephoto zoom lenses tend to reduce a photo’s depth of field significantly. In effect, you may notice that your subject’s background gets a little blurred out which results in the loss of an accurate pictorial representation.
- Sometimes, telephoto lenses also have the tendency of compressing spaces between subjects, which as a consequence, makes the elements appear closer to each other than in the actual sense. Not a big deal to many shooters, but still worth taking note of.
- The narrow field of view often makes it harder for a photographer to achieve what can be termed as ‘sense of place.’ And this is mostly because long lenses will most often than not blur and crop out elements in the background.
Nonetheless, don’t get me wrong, telephoto zoom lenses sit among the highly sought-after lenses on the market today, but you need more than a couple of practice shots before morphing to an experienced wildlife shooter.
2. Keeping the camera steady
As you may already know, still photos look great when the camera is as steady as practically possible. So, make sure you have at least one reliable mechanism of making sure that the camera remains in a stable position during the entire excursion. Personally, whenever I’m shooting wildlife from the top of vehicles, I always ensure that I use a bean bag or a tripod to keep the lens steady. And more often than not, these photos always turn out stunning and sharp enough.
Additionally, if you’re going to be shooting from a hide, then you may want to make use of a tripod to hold the camera and the accompanying lenses steadily.
But, as some people can attest, sometimes carrying a tripod along can be cumbersome and tiresome, especially if you’ll be exploring the area on foot. So, to save time and labour you can instead substitute that with a lighter mono-pod or simply handhold the camera.
Speaking of which, if you have to handhold the camera, then it’s advisable to lower your centre of gravity when taking the shots so as to keep the adjoining lens steady and increase your chances of ending up with a clear shot.
Another good trick is to activate the VR (Vibration Reduction) mode when you have to handhold your camera in the wild.
3. How to bring the best out of your telephoto lenses
While it is no secret that telephoto lenses wield significant optical potential when it comes to taking photos in the wild, a lot of photographers are yet to learn the craft of handling these lenses. And if you’re just starting out, here are some valuable tips for you.
First, remember that DSLR photos appear the sharpest when the telephoto lens in use is set to mid range apertures. For those of us who don’t know what mid-range aperture are, they are lens sizes between f/8 and f/11. Therefore, so long as you’re looking for brilliant photos keep to these aperture settings and at the same time avoid using the widest or the smallest apertures.
Secondly, if you’re not using a tripod, mono-pod or handholding the camera, you can conveniently reduce the vibration by firing the shutter remotely. You could also try using the mirror lock-up function if the problem persists.
Thirdly, for those on a budget and cannot afford to buy new telephoto lens each time one of them breaks or wears out, you can still achieve similar results using teleconverters. In such a case, the teleconverter can be used in conjunction with an existing standard lens and still replicate the desired optical effects.
But even then, it is still important to bear in mind that even though your camera’s focal length doubles when you combine the two lenses, the amount of light that reaches the sensor is decreased by half, as a consequence. Which, of course, implies that you might have to use a wider aperture setting, a higher ISO, and slow shutter speed. But more importantly, you have to remember to keep the camera steady to minimise the blur.
4. General precautions to consider when shooting wildlife photos
Cameras and bean bags aside, it won’t do you much good if you buy a ton of expensive camera gear, only to shoot yourself in the foot in the field. After learning the basics of handling your camera (in the section above), the next phase is usually mastering the art of tracking the animals. So you better brace yourself for a crash course on how to follow tracks, paw marks, impressions left by hooves, etc.
And as you may be already guessing, patience is key here. In fact, ask around and you’ll surprised to know that the high-res African leopard photos you see in some photography blogs were taken after the shutterbug in question laid in wait for several days for that ‘picture-perfect’ moment.
Regarding these moments, avoid wearing bright-coloured clothes when you’re out on such a photography mission to minimise the chances of you starting the camera shy ones. If anything, dull and earthen tones should be at the top of your wardrobe when planning for such photography excursions.
5. The bottom line
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of wildlife photography, unmatched prowess behind the camera has to be complemented with smart terrain skills for you to end up with great photos.