Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wildlife Photogaphy; Tools of the Trade

Your success in taking great wildlife pictures begins with the right equipment. 

 I still remember being on holidays years and years ago. We are in kayaks in the ocean. The water is crystal clear without so much as a ripple. The sun is just barely peaking out from behind the clouds. The light is soft and I see an eagle in a tree staring down at the water. I get my camera ready and focus on him. He swoops down right in front of us to pick up a fish. Now most shots you see of eagles picking up fish out of the water are shots from the side. Intresting, but not dramatic. This eagle was facing us as he dropped down out of the sky to grab this fish. I had perfect timing. his talons are sunk into the fish, wings spread wide, you can see the splash and water droplets from his wings and talons leaving the water. I could see his eyes as he was looking up as he was taking off from the water with his prize. It actually looked like he was looking right at me! Absolutely perfect timing. Perfect picture. Exciting, interesting, dramatic. A picture that you coud hang on your wall and spend hours looking at it in awe. Literally one of those once in a lifetime shots...

The result? A somewhat blurry picture of a perfect opportunity. I was so crushed! I knew right then what my problem was. I bought a crappy lens and ended up with a crappy result. If I had the camera equipment that I have now, the picture of that eagle would have been enlarged, framed and the center piece of my livingroom as it would still be hanging over my fireplace to this day. Instead I have a picture of a cougar in that spot. I love my cougar, but that eagle picture would have been truly amazing.

So, a few tips, so you don't miss out on your once in a life time opportunity. If you haven't decided on which camera equipment to buy here are some tips for you.
  1. Research the lenses first. Photography equipment has come a long way in recent years. Your lens is going to be your biggest asset. Don't make the mistake of rushing out and buying the first camera that is on sale. You can't put canon lenses on a pentax camera.
  2. The leaders in the industry are canon and nikon cameras and lenses. Some people like one, some like the other. When on safari, I notice that most wildlife photographers use either one or the other. Personally I think Nikon cameras edge out Canon in some ways, and canon cameras edge out Nikon cameras in some ways, but at the end of the day, I prefer the "L" series glass of the canon, so that is my camera of choice. Choose the lens, then buy the camera and build your lens collection around your brand of choice.
  3. Wildlife isn't usually fond of close human presence, so the longer the lens the better.
  4. The best wildlife light is dim in the morning and dim in the early evening. To take advantage of that soft light, buy a lens with the smallest aperature you can buy. A zoom or long lens starting at an aperature of f2.8 with image stabilization will go a long way to assist you in taking those amazing wildlife pictures, so spend as much as you can afford on each lens. If anything, scrimp on the camera. Camera technology changes yearly. The technology in my lenses hasn't changed since I bought them ten years ago. You will upgrade cameras every few years, but you will use those same lenses on all of your cameras throughout the years. I can't stress it enough. Spend the bulk of your photography budget on the best lens you can buy!
  5. To reiterate; you need to bring your subject in closer, with the smallest aperature, so you can use faster speeds to stop the blur of the action with lower ISO's. Simple principle, expensive lenses to get the results you are looking for.
  6. Learning photoshop and lightroom are a must whether you use Nikon, canon, whether you have a pc or a mac. Spend lots of time learning the in's and out's of photoshop and lightroom. These programs can be intimidating, so get some Scott Kelby help. His books and website will help you with any question that might arise with the latest in photoshop and lightroom products. His tutorials are easy to follow and written so even I can understand them.
  7. Where to buy? Here are a couple of my favourite spots. In the states I like to go to B and H Photo: or in Canada I like: Don's Photo at or sometimes: McBain's at: I usually prefer Don's or B and H Photo. Sometimes one edges out the other, but they are both great companies!
Remember to respect nature and respect wildlife. Nature and wildlife can and will cause injury and or death to those who are arrogantly disrespectful. If you can't be respectful, inevitably one day, a guy like the beast below will teach you a lesson that you may never have the second chance to learn from. The picture below illustrates one more reason why you need to buy a long lens. This picture was taken with a 600mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter. It is cropped a little bit, but shows the intimacy of this beast while living to talk about it because we are not invading his personal space..
'The Beast'

Check out more grizzly bear pictures at our Harvey Wildlife Photo Gallery

1 comment:

  1. Hi friends,

    While wildlife photographs can be taken using basic equipment, successful photography of some types of wildlife requires specialist equipment, such as macro lenses for insects, long focal length lenses for birds and underwater cameras for marine life. Thanks for sharing it......