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PostPosted: Tue Feb 15, 2011 4:27 am 
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A Basic Guide to Wildlife Photography

Overview:

Many people have asked over the years what gear is required for a wildlife photography outing. Although not an easy question to answer as things will always be missed and opinions amongst individuals vary I thought I would give it a shot and hopefully others will add what I have missed.

One item I gave long thought to was what pictures I would include to give examples of wildlife and situations discussed to round out this guide. After much thought I decided to include pictures which were taken with three lenses which to me create a good kit for any wildlife photographer. Again, some may argue the merits of other lenses but this would be my choice and it is a kit I have made many trips with. There was some thought given to include pictures taken with 200mm and 400mm primes as well as a few other lenses but my train of thought was lets present what a well rounded kit is capable of producing which may well still fall within the financial means of most of the camera labs members. One that can be transported easily in any environ and which is fairly light and mobile but hopefully won't break the bank.

With that in mind all pictures presented in this guide were taken with either the Canon 50D and either the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM or the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM attached or the Canon 7D with the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM attached. The vast majority will be pictures taken with the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM to show its versitility under different circumstances and to show as well that if one was to choose one lens a 100-400 or something similar is a very good choice for wildlife photography and will cover the vast majority of the shots you may encounter.


I chose at the outset not to discuss brands, except within the above paragraph, as this is a personal choice but even taking that into account there is a lot to talk about besides cameras and camera gear to make a wildlife outing both successful and enjoyable and this is what I will be focusing on so let’s get started...

When discussing wildlife photography one must first define what one means by wildlife and what basic camera settings apply to different types of wildlife. I tend to break wildlife down into three basic categories to begin with.

1) Wildlife: Wildlife found in non-urban locations which rarely if ever comes into contact with people and/or urban environs.
2) Urban Wildlife: Wildlife which makes its home in or in close proximity to humans and urban environs or urban-like environs such as large National Parks.
3) Zoo Wildlife: Wildlife found in zoos and enclosed animal parks.

The reason I differentiate between these three is because they require different approaches both in regards to photography as well as other gear and approach. We will for the most part be talking about wildlife so there is really no reason to get into a long discussion at this point on the differences but I will touch on them briefly at the end.

The next thing that should be broken down is the wildlife itself.

1) Birds
2) Small animals
3) Large animals
4) Insects
5) Marine Wildlife

Again... all of these subjects can go on forever but to keep this somewhat basic let’s discuss these five. You will find that as you proceed I will cover subjects which apply to all categories above. I have done my best to point out where these take place.

Birds:

Birds can again be broken down into two groupings: small birds (birds smaller than a crow) and large birds (crows and larger birds). Small birds tend to be a lot more approachable than larger birds, especially raptors. When photographing birds of any kind one of the most important things to learn is the bird’s threat zone. Although every individual bird will respond differently I think it is pretty safe to say with a little patience it is fairly easy to get within 5 meters of most small species of birds. The same cannot be said for larger birds especially raptors. I personally have found that when it comes to raptors and other large birds if you can get about 40 meters away from them start shooting... chances are you won’t get a lot closer than that and if you can get to within 20 meters you are doing very good.

Small birds such as song birds can usually be approached to within 5 meters fairly easily. The shots below were all taken with a 100-400mm lens and ranges varied between 5 to 8 meters.

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This next shot was also taken within 5 meters and shows that it is possible to approach small birds on nests and catch feeding behavior without interfering with their normal activity. The key is taking your time and understanding the species.

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This is as good a place to say it as any and it applies to all wildlife of all sizes in all places. Start taking pictures when you first see the animal and you are still well outside of its threat zone. After a few pictures take a few steps closer and take a few more pictures... repeat until you have the shots you want, spook the animal or the animal decides to charge you... joking about the last choice. It’s better to get some shots than none at all.

One of the best ways to photograph birds, and other animals for that matter, is from a blind. Blinds can come in many shapes and forms and we won’t get into the details here suffice it to say use what works best for you. A blind can be as simple as a few branches properly placed to conceal your location or a snow wall with a hole cut in it to shoot through to elaborate structures which are permanently put in place. Before placing your blind make sure it is in a location which gives you the best chance to get the shots you want of the species you want at the time of day most convenient to you. Yes... time of day is also important as once you are in a blind your movement is nil. You want to ensure as much as possible that when you are there the sun is in the right position for good lighting... at least for a good portion of your outing. Blinds take time to set up and finding a good location isn’t easy either so there is work involved but the results are well worth it.

Blinds may take time to plan out and set up but the results can be well worth it as seen below. Both shots were taken with the 100-400.

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The following picture was taken from a blind set up to observe ducks from ground level. Imagine my surprise when this hawk swept in to grab a baby duck. Right after a kill raptors will often take this pose protecting the kill with the wings while looking around for any threats.

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One item not many think of as a blind but that functions exactly like one is a car. Call it a mobile blind but for some reason animals tend to let a car get a lot closer to them than a human. With this in mind, if a shot is available from it, never leave your car unless you have gotten as close as you can in it and have gotten the best shot that you can from it. Only then should you attempt to get out and get closer for a better shot if needed. There will be times when the angle isn’t right, light isn’t right or many other reasons so that shooting from a car isn’t practical. If this is the case then stop the car well out of the threat zone of the animal and plan your approach from there. One quick tip for shooting from your car is to turn off the engine if at all possible before taking your shot. Vibrations from the engine may well cause some blur and along with this exhaust fumes from the car may well cause atmospheric distortions if the wind is blowing the exhaust back across your shooting path. Chances are slight of this happening but it can occur if the conditions present themselves.

The following shot was taken with a 100-400mm lens and a shutter speed of 1/1600 from a car. I followed this hawk back and forth for a good 30 minutes while it was hunting the edge of a farm field without in any way disrupting its routine.

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Stalking birds as well as any other animal is always an option and success is really determined by your knowledge of the animal’s behaviour as well as the environ you are in. Many may laugh but camouflage gear is an asset, especially in really wild areas or areas which receive heavy hunting pressure. Any little trick to help you get a few meters closer in areas like this is an asset. If you have spotted a bird or any animal from a distance look around to see if there are any natural ridges, tree lines, hedges, or even manmade things like gullies, trenches or the like to follow to get you closer to the animal while staying out of its line-of-sight. Try and find a place where you can pop up and take your pictures before setting out along the path. This is one of the easiest ways to approach an animal of any kind without it noticing you. Just be careful to be as quiet as you can. If this is not possible try and stay as low as you can as smaller objects are considered to be a lesser threat. It should not be beyond you to belly up to an animal for a better shot crawling on your belly to get to where you need to be. If you are in high grass with no other obstacles to obscure your approach crawling or bellying up are two very good approaches. If all else fails and you are in the wide open staying very low and moving only when the bird or animal has its head turned is always worth a try. When all else fails one approach for raptors that has worked at times for me is walking slowly in plain view of the bird stopping every few steps to take a few shots and watch the bird’s reaction. Plan ahead so that when the bird does take off hopefully you have found a hiding place close enough to the perch it was on to make a quick dash for. As the bird is flying away make a quick dash for the cover and remain perfectly still. If the bird didn’t notice your dash because it was flying in the other direction and if the perch it was on was a favourite perch for hunting there is a chance it may return after a bit of time if it does not spot you. Odds are not high for this approach but it has worked often enough for me to attempt it if I think the conditions are right.

Stalking an animal for a closer vantage point or better shooting angle is something anyone serious about wildlife photography needs to learn to do and it will take time. There will be a lot of disappointments, even after you think you have it down, but it will be your only way of getting within range to get your shot under many circumstances. A successful stalk may at times take quite some time as well. Taking 30 minutes or more to get into a good shooting position is not unheard of.

Bird photography in many cases will require your longest lenses. Although some will say 200mm may be enough and it may well be at times a safer length would be 400mm and even with that you will be wanting for more. Many serious bird photographers shoot 500mm or 600mm lenses. Keep in mind however that anything over 400mm will more than likely require a tripod or monopod at least and this is something to take into serious consideration if one does a lot of hiking. A 400mm will give you the freedom of shooting on the go if it has good image stabilization. A prime of course would be ideal but here again you may well find it limiting if hiking or backpacking and in these cases a zoom with a reach of 400mm would be much more appropriate.

Raptors and other larger birds become much harder to approach. Always be at the ready while approaching and if you notice one deficating get ready for them to take off as chances are they will as seen below. This shot was taken at 25 meters. This was again taken with a 100-400mm lens with a shutter speed of 1/1000.

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Let us spend a minute or two talking about weather sealing and weather protection for wildlife photography. If one can afford it any gear used in wildlife photography should be weather sealed including lenses and camera bodies. One never knows when the weather will turn and inclement weather can result in some amazing wildlife photography so just because it starts raining doesn’t necessarily mean put away the gear. Another small thing that helps for lenses are lens coats. These typically are neoprene covers which snug over the lens and were designed to camouflage the lens. They also however provide a little weather sealing and most importantly for myself, on cold winter days, they keep the lens insulated a bit against the freezing temperatures thus making them more comfortable in the hand. One last point on these is that if you drop your camera or bang it against something the neoprene covering on the lens may well protect it from scratches and small dings as well as more serious damage. Lastly a good rain cover can prove to be invaluable when out shooting wildlife. There are many on the market these days ranging in price from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. Do not brush aside the ones for a few dollars right away however. I have seen disposable ones worth about $5.00 used on whale outings in the worst of weather and they functioned without any hitches and protected the camera just fine. It really boils down to personal choice and which bells and whistles one wants.

Back to the birds… some of the best bird photography comes in the spring when birds are on their nests with young. A very important thing to keep in mind here is not to harass or overstress the bird. With some bird species one can overstress the bird and it will not return to the nest abandoning its young and no picture is worth that in my opinion. Carefully watch your approach and how the bird reacts to it. In many cases it will carry on life as usual including, if you are lucky, feeding behaviour. But if the parent starts to become agitated or aggressive towards you slowly start to retreat to a safe distance.

The same can be said for feeding birds. Birds, especially predatory birds, expend a lot of energy on hunting their prey. If you disturb a bird while feeding and drive it off its meal and continue to harass it it may well not return to its meal or something else may take it. Depending on the time of year this could have detrimental consequences for the bird.

Although not ideal light due to a hazy overcast the following picture shows that if you take your time and plan your approach it is even possible to get nesting shots of larger bird species without disturbing the setting as seen below. Understanding the species and the environ came into play as well. With the nest being on a beaver hut about 4 meters off shore the goose's threat zone was a bit smaller than if the nest would have been on shore allowing me to get a few meters closer.

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Many people while out birding will carry seeds, bread or even small pieces of meat or dead mice with them to bait the birds, and other animals, for better pictures. This is not the place to get into the morality of this suffice to say that if one undertakes these approaches and happens to capture a once in a life time image it is probably wise to mention this if the picture is entered into a contest or put up for sale. Again however, this is a personal choice. Pictures resulting from this practice can be amazing. You can place the bait where you like keeping in mind your location, light direction and the most likely direction of attack from the bird. If all falls into place the results can be spectacular. Again, although I do not personally agree with this practice, I think it is important to include as more and more are using it to get their shots.

When shooting birds one of the most important things to be aware of is your shutter speed. Personally I am always looking for a shutter speed of 800 or faster for birds. Getting it over 1000 is ideal. There are many reasons for this. Smaller birds tend to be very twitchy so to freeze these actions one needs a faster shutter speed. Feathers also tend to ruffle with the slightest breezes so again, to freeze this, one needs a faster shutter speed. When it comes to birds in flight one encounters the same difficulties. If you want to freeze the wing action shutter speeds up to 1600 may be required. Ducks for one have a very fast wing beat on takeoff as do most small birds. Hummingbirds… well nothing else needs to be said about their wing beats. Raptors on the other hand, for the most part, give a few strong beats and then tend to glide off their perch but one cannot go wrong with a shutter speed over 1000. All this being said I still do most of my bird photography shooting in aperature priority mode. I will resort to shutter priority only under the hardest of lighting conditions.

Birds in flight are always a challenge in regards to freezing the action, landings and take-offs especially so, but with a little trial and error with different species of birds it won't take long to get the hang of it. The following was taken with a shutter speed of 1/1250.

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Bird migrations give a prime example of instances when a shorter lens may well come into play as seen in the following. The following two shots were taken with a 24-105mm lens.

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Small Animals:

Small animals would be the next category to discuss. In many ways a lot of the things that apply to birds apply to small animals. Your approaches to them should be the same starting to shoot while still outside their comfort zone and then slowly moving closer and closer until one gets the desired results. Shutter speeds can come down slightly but keep in mind that the faster the better just as with birds seeing that small animals can be just as jittery as birds. Shoot for shutter speeds in the range of 600 or more. Again, I tend to shoot small animals using aperature priority mode and only go to shutter priority under extreme lighting circumstances.

Small animals are always fun to shoot as they are much more approachable for the most part but always be aware that they can be very dangerous. The badger below is on alert because I was within its comfort zone and this is not an animal to be taken lightly as they are very aggresive. Although the other two below may seem cute one must also be on guard at all times. The pictures again were taken with a 100-400mm lens and all within 5 to 7 meters.

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Lenses for small animals may well fall within the range of 200mm to 300mm and you will have a lot of success but something in the 400mm range will cover most of your small animal needs.

Small animals, much like small birds can be a bit more approachable than larger animals but this isn’t always the case. If it hasn’t become noticeable above by now let me make it clear here. One of the most important things to successful wildlife photography has nothing to do with your gear or your expertise at photography. It has to do with your knowledge of wildlife, its behaviour, and its environs. Without this knowledge wildlife photography becomes hit and miss and you will not have consistent results. Learn all you can about the area you are photographing in and the wildlife therein and you should experience the encounters you are looking for. Only after that will your photography skills come into play.

Small animals, although cute, should be approached with care. They will all bite and some carry diseases so caution should always be taken. Never get too close. By too close I mean within striking distance. When looking through the viewfinder we all at times get the sense of being apart from what one is looking at. This tends to be one of the biggest mistakes made by wildlife photographers and can result in serious injury.

Small animals also include small reptiles and amphibians. These animals can be approached slightly differently from other animals. Reptiles especially tend to let themselves be positioned and posed if approached correctly. Now, let me make this perfectly clear, I’m not speaking about handling any venomous or dangerous reptile or amphibian. Know the animal you are approaching and what it is capable of. If it is a reptile or amphibian you know for a fact is harmless and you feel comfortable handling it then do so. These species, if approached carefully and handled correctly, tend to become rather passive after a few seconds. At this time you can usually pose them on a log or any other place very close to where you found them for that ideal shot with the right angle and the right light. Again, if you do so do so with extreme caution to yourself and to the animal. When you are done return it to where you found it.

When shooting reptiles and amphibians a good macro lens can do wonders. When positioned properly the animal many times will hold the position for several seconds and as such one can get amazing results with depth of field using one of these lenses.

With all small animals, as with small birds, taking pictures of babies or while they are feeding have the potential of some amazing shots but as with small birds be careful not to interrupt them to the point of stress as the results could very well be detrimental to the animal.

Predatory small animals again should be approached with more caution than usual. When in their threat zone they have been known to attack and these attacks can result in serious injury both from the wound itself as well as from disease.

When shooting small animals you will more than likely be shooting at ground level so with this in mind you will more often than not not have the same light available as when you are shooting birds which will for the most part include some sky lightening up your image. Small animals may well also be in the shadows and their nests/burrows also create a lot of shade. A little more effort may be needed to get the appropriate shutter speed under these circumstances. Raising your ISO is one way to accomplish this and don't be afraid to do so. Today's cameras handle the raise in ISO a lot better and shooting at 1600 ISO can still create amazing images. Your noise level will go up but there is enough softwear out there to help reduce it during post processing. Lastly... using your pop-up flash to fill in some light under these circumstances also helps. Don't be afraid to try it. With a little practice your flash can help a lot in brightening up an image under these circumstances. If you do use your flash try switching to shutter priority mode and upping the shutter speed as most cameras go to a default shutter speed when triggering your flash. There is at least one product out there which increases the range of your flash as well. It's a handy product under some conditions and some may well find it useful. Flash extenders do have their place in wildlife photography so if you find yourself in need of more range for your flash give them a try... they can effectively double it.

Do not be afraid to up the ISO if needed when shooting animals on the ground as they may well be in the shade.

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Or just coming out of their burrow. Both the above and below images were taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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There will always be times while photographing animals when the light will be so bad that a flash will be required. Pop-up flashes can fill this role just fine as seen in the picture below. Flash extenders are also available if more range is required.

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Large Animals:

The same approach can and should be used for large animals. Shutter speeds can slow down a bit but again speeds in the range of 200 or higher are a good starting point. Amazing results can be achieved with shutter speeds of 100 but a little flinch by the animal will result in some motion blur. If the animal is in motion look for shutter speeds of 600 or more. It is a given that larger animals, just like larger birds, will have a larger threat zone and with this in mind one needs to respect that threat zone. Most large animals can do serious damage to a human in just a few seconds and that should always be on your mind. If approaching one always have a plan of retreat in mind. Make sure that you can reach a safe spot before the animal can reach you. Large animals, especially undulates, can be very unpredictable and as such should be approached with extreme caution if approached at all. Buffalo and moose are two prime examples. Both can be extremely dangerous. This of course holds true for all predators as well if not moreso.

Encounters with large animals are always exciting and getting a good shot is always the first thing on one's mind but the shot should never come at the expense of yourself or the animal. Take your time and plan your approach well but never get within a large animal's threat zone. If equipped with a 400mm zoom lens you need not get all that close to get great results as shown in the following images.

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This last shot was taken at a range of about 25 meters compared to about 45 meters for the shot above. Both were obviously cropped. The reason I was comfortable getting this close to the ram below was because there was a 15 meter wide raging river between the two of us and I have a feeling this is why he let me get this close as well. Always be aware of situations which may allow a closer approach.

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Along this same line of thought… when approaching larger animals with babies be very careful… let me say that again… be very careful. These are the most dangerous encounters of all and extreme caution needs to be taken. I think it is even safe to say do not approach these animals at all. If you do the last thing you want to do is get between the mother and the babies. If you do this you are asking for trouble. If you see a baby but do not see the adult do not approach the baby. As a matter of fact I would backtrack quickly and avoid the encounter all together until I knew where the mom was. These are the most unpredictable and potentially most volatile encounters one can have in the wild.

Extreme thought and caution should always be taken when approaching a large animal with young.

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Under most cases a good 200mm lens will suffice for large animal photography but a lot also depends on the terrain. In wide open country one may well need a 400mm lens or more.

Again, as with smaller animals, large animals for the most part inhabit and make their homes in areas which at times may well have poor light or a lot of shadow. It is also a lot more difficult to position yourself in a better lighting position when encountering large animals. As above this is another area where upping your ISO comes into play so do not be afraid to do so. Finally... keep in mind that a flash and flash extender can also help under these circumstances but not nearly as much as with birds or small animals as distances to larger animals are, for the most part, much greater... but never rule out anything.

Light may not always be right but with larger animals in many instances you need to take what you can get. After a little bit of post editing you may be pleasently surprised with the results.

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One area of discussion which at times can raise a lot of debate in all areas of wildlife photography is how to compose your shots. For myself there is no right way or wrong way. What I tell everyone when asked is do what is most appealing to you but don't get bogged down with one style and vary your compositions here and there. Myself personally I tend to focus on wildlife shots which try to at least show some of the environ in which the animal exists to put the animal in context so to speek. For myself I find these images most appealing and so do a lot of the clients I have sold images to. That being said I vary this approach often enough so that when doing a presentation there is something there for everyone.

Although a personal choice composition can completely change the way a species is represented either isolated on its own or as part of its environ. Below in the first image is a close-up crop. The second image brings into play some of the environ as well. Both shots were taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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Even when shooting close-ups one can still incorporate some of the environ into a shot.

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I guess a good example for myself would be a presentation I did a while ago on whales. Close-ups of course are always a favorite but taking shots specifically with islands in the backround or the main land, other shots with only water in the backround, maybe a shot of a whale cruising along a shoreline within meters of it, some extreme close-ups of an eye or a blowhole or maybe even whiskers if you can get that close and then take it to the other extreme with maybe a distant blow which comprises a small corner of the picture being dwarfed by a mountain range in the backround as the sun fades. The best compositions may not always be close-ups and if you are trying to put together a series of pictures on a specific animal keep this in mind. Catching it in different environs to show its various habitats really presents the animal in a unique way and also may prove to be educational for others viewing them in the future. Always be open-minded.

Sometimes a shot taken at a great distance can set the stage for a great story. Shots like this can leave a lot to the imagination and bring to mind the phrase "a picture paints a thousand words".

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Although not limited to larger animals, or even preditors fot that matter, I think this is a good place to discuss another point of contention within wildlife photography and that is showing a lot of blood due to a kill. Although Europe is a lot more accepting of this North America and the USA in particular seems to at times have issues publishing pictures of animals showing a lot of blood. I've actually been asked to edit out some of the blood in photographs by changing the color from red to brown to make it look more like mud or dirt which unfortunately is turning into a somewhat common practice in some circles. This is again a personal choice and I have always refused to alter photographs for this reason but it is something to keep in mind for everyone.

Wounded and dead animals are part of the natural cycle of things and as such can tell a story of a particular species' plight as in the case below of a whale hit by a boat which is becoming more and more common especially amoungst Humpbacks.

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Or here where even after their death pacific salmon supply a vital source of nitrogen to the forest around them helping increase the growth of everything within several hundred meters of the shoreline.

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Along the same lines some people look at pictures of dead or badly injured animals and get very upset and ask why in the world would I take such images. Again... it is a personal choice. I do not have a morbid fascination with death or showing bloody animals but I do think it is very important for a wildlife photographer not to sterilize his or her work. It is another reason I think that some people have an unrealistic veiw of nature because many, in North America especially, tend to sugar-coat it. Blood and death are a part of nature on a daily basis and if one is to accurately repersent it one needs to include photos of this type in my opinion. That being said I also think it is important to warn people ahead of time if one includes pictures like this in one's work. I have a presentation in a few hours on the great bear rainforest and at the outset I make it clear that some people may find some images disturbing.

Insects:

Insects can be a challenge to photograph but the results, to me, can create some of the most amazing wildlife shots. Another great thing about shooting insects is that you don't have to travel thousands of miles to capture them... well unless you want to shoot some exotic form of one that is. They can be found in your own back yard, your nearest park, or on any outing you may be on. Just ensure you have your camera with you.

Taken with a 100-400mm lens

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Insects, for the most part, fall into the world of macro photography and as such a macro lens can do wonders but it is not absolutely necessary. I've gotten some very good results with my 100-400mm lens. That said a good macro lens can give amazing depth of field results and clarity if you can get close enough that is. Another thing to consider for insects is a macro lens or an adaptor which gives you greater magnification than one to one.

Insects can be very twitchy so you want to shoot at a relatively high shutter speed if you can. Again however, as with almost all of my other photography, I shoot in AP mode when shooting insects. For insects, for me, this is all the more important because I'm really looking at depth of field for these types of shots so smaller apertures are defiantely the story of the day and along with this of course a lot of light... do not be afraid to use your flash and along with this a diffuser. Along this same line angles are everything when it comes to macro photography and insects because chances are you are not going to get everything in focus.

Sometimes getting close just isn't an option. Once again taken with a 100-400mm lens. The bee was a pleasent surprise addition.

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Insects can be one of the most frustrating things to shoot so you need to be patient. To get real close to insects can be trying to say the least. Take your time and make your approach real slow. Try not to cast a shadow over it as in most cases that will bring it into flight mode. It has been my experience that most insects are very sensitive to light alterations and movement. You also want to ensure the light is just about perfect seeing you want every detail coming through in all its vibrance whenever possible. All this being said... there is an upside to shooting insects even in this case and that is if you do spook them chances are they are not going to go far so keep your eye on them and watch for where they next come to rest. Then it is easy enough to try again.

And my favorite butterfly shot to date. Once again taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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Many zoos have butterfly exhibits these days and this is a great place to go and shoot if one is near by you. Butterflies are fun subjects and images of them can be stunning to say the least. I just found out our local zoo has one and I can't wait for this summer to go there and photograph them. I can't speek on the lighting in these places or any other adjustments one might have to make as I have never been at one but that being said to have the opportunity to capture so many different varieties of butterflies under one roof cannot be missed. Yes... I'm going to the zoo for a photography session :).

This is the perfect time for me to touch on this... I do not necessarily think zoos are evil and I do encourage people to visit them. I get season passes to our forestry farm every year and when they have finished building their raptor recovery center I plan on volunteering there to help in that area. Most zoos these days no longer exhibit healthy animals taken out of the wild but rather exhibit bred animals or animals found injured that can no longer be returned to the wild. Exhibits have also become much more animal friendly over the years but I still can't help but think of the two wolves at our forestry farm who pace the cage all day and whimper every time someone comes close by.

All that being said the main reason I support them these days is because in many cases this is the only real live link urban people, urban kids specifically, have to the wonders of our wild environs. Without these I really feel there would be an even greater disconnect for most of our society from our wild environs which in my opinion would lead to even greater abuses in what remains of our wild areas.

I've was fortunate enough to move to Canada at a very early age and live in close proximity to wild areas most of my life. Canada, in my opinion, has the largest expanses of wild areas in the world. This has made my life somewhat easy when it comes to photographing animals in the wild and it is what I have grown to love. I fully realize however that this is not the case for most people in most places and as such wildlife lovers need to go to where these animals are accessable to them. In many cases these are zoos or urban environs.

Marine Wildlife:

After quite a bit of thought I think it is fair to break this category down into two groupings, surface wildlife and underwater wildlife.

Surface:

Surface wildlife photography definately needs a lot of preplanning to become consistantly successful at. One of the most important things to be aware of and a lesson I learned the first time out is if any part of your outing includes taking shots of any type of marine animal colony, be it bird or marine mammal, find out where the colony is located and which direction it faces. A few years ago I went to Newfoundland to photograph nesting bird colonies and whales. The first tour I took was at 8am. Imagine my surprise when we reach the colony and it is facing due west on a very high shear rock face. This situation had the colony in complete shade until the PM. If at all possible find out this type of information before hand.

If you are on your own be aware of any potential weather which may prove hazardous to your outing and make sure your boat is equipped with all safely items. Have quality marine charts with up-to-date tidal charts as well.

If you are going on a tour find out if there are any photographers working for the outfit and if so ask for any helpful hints they may have in regards to equipment or best times. If there are none it might be a good idea to place some helpful hints in regards to what you will be looking for. They may not always listen or they may not be able to accomodate you but if you don't ask it will never happen. It's something I always do before going on guided tours and for the most part outfitters are always accomodating and happy to do so as they too learn something new which may very well increase their client base in the future. Check out their webpage as well. If they have so-so pictures offering them a few for their site goes a long way in getting your way on an outing. Trust me.. it works.

Shooting just after sunrise or just before sunset can definately create a different mood.

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This is also an environ where it is a bit more important to have a rain cover for your camera. Along with this have plenty on microfiber cloths with you or anything else you may use to dry off your camera lens. A helpful tip here... have a squirt bottle of fresh water with you to rinse any saltwater off your lens before wiping it as the salt may scratch your lens. This is one place where you should seriously consider a filter for protection against this specifically. With this in mind an extra filter also is a good idea. I only needed one one time before and that was on a 3 week antarctic outing when the frozen saltwater spray got the best of my filter. On every extended outing I have been on however I have had to replace my filters after I returned due to scratches but that is mostly due to my laziness. Most of the times I just use my t-shirt to dry my lens which is obviously a no no in a saltwater environ.

For marine environs I definately suggest a hard bodied camera case that is completely waterproof as you will get water in the bottom of the boat unless you are in a large charter craft and there is always the potential of a serious accident. Keep in mind that a quality hard bodied case is not only waterproof but also very floatable. This may sound silly but I swim like a rock and I know if I were ever to end up overboard I would seek out my camera case.. not only because i want to save my camera but it is also another piece of extra floatation. The only downside to this, and in the end it is not your downside, is that a lot of outfitters do not appreciate hard-bodied camera cases scuffing up their decks and may suggest not to bring them. In the end that is your choice. It was suggested to me this fall not to bring mine on the bear outing and I quickly suggested I would find another outfitter. Needless to say they were more than accomodating.

Shooting surface marine wildlife brings several new elements into play in regards to photography. An animal's threat zone changes drastically whereas one sealion colony may prove to be very approachable another may be almost impossible to approach. It really boils down to trial and error on any given day. Marine regulations also come into play so be sure to understand them clearly as laws, for the most part, are strickly enforced and fines for violating them can be high. I know in Canada laws state that you cannot approach any marine mammal from directly behind or from directly in front any closer than 400 meters under power and from the side any closer than 100 meters under power. Many people think this only refers to whales but that is not the case... this also includes seals, sealions, and any other marine mammal. The other thing that Canadian law makes perfectly clear is that you cannot approach "under power". This means you can drift closer than the above distances or the animals can approach you. Even with this in mind however please always respect the animals you are trying to photograph. It has been my experience that marine mammals will make it perfectly clear if they are willing to be approached. In many cases they will actually approach you out of curiousity. Once you are clear on your local laws you are set to go.

Marine mammals can be very unpredictable when it comes to approach. The sealion colony below would not let us approach at all and shots were all taken at a distance.

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Sunny days bring about a complete change some days and approaching may be very simple. Pictures were taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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As said above... marine mammals become very unpredictable when it comes to approaching them. One thing I have noticed in my outings is that most tend to become a lot more actiive and a lot more curious on sunny, calm days. Sealions and seals in particular become very curious when its sunny. I have had sealoins stick their nose within centimeters of the side of a zodiac to check us out. One actually did a playful tail-flick less than a meter away from me flooding my lenshood with water. Patience plays a large role in marine mammal photography especially if regulations like the ones in Canada come into play. Having to plot a correct drift to get closer to an animal or a colony is not as easy as it sounds and it may take several trys. Along the same line trying to plot where to stop your boat to have whales come closer to you needs to take into consideration not only the movement of the whales but also wave and tidal action. Add to this sun direction and you can see how it becomes pretty intense at times. Of course all of the above may not be able to be accomplished but if everything above does fall into play you should get some amazing shots.

One cannot talk about marine wildlife photography without talking about sun angle and direction. Both come into play seeing that the glare off the surface can very well become so intense as to ruin shots. This same glare can also make an average picture into a once in a lifetime shot. Catching the glare off the water in front of your target may very well ruin the shot. Catching that same glare off the top of a whale tale, the side of a seal or sealion, or the side of a dolphin will definatey increase the quality of the image. The same glare making a whale spout shimmer yet keeping the rest of the water flat would be amazing. Its something 4 of us shot for one evening just before sunset for 1.5 hours and no one got. Yes... some of the most drastic glare occurs just after sunrise and just before sunset but it is also the glare that becomes most workable if you are willing to put in the time and effort.

The following is one instance where the glare, what little there was, was caught on the spout enhancing the blow against the dark backround.

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This may sound very odd but shutter speeds for marine mammals, including whales, should exceed 800 if at all possible especially if shooting from a small platform like a zodiac. Keep in mind you are dealing with three seperate motions... the animal, the waves, and the boat rocking due to movement in the boat. These three combined means you want the fastest shutter speed you can get. All that goes out the window of course if it is dead calm.

Another reason for high shutter speeds is that the most common mistake I see taking place in marine wildlife photography is people thinking they can use the side of the boat, the boat railing or a tripod on the deck to stablize their shots. This is not the case especially if the engine is running. The vibrations are extreme to say the least even if it does not feel that bad. Sandbags or beanbags will absorb most of these vibrations but it is still not ideal. Even if the engine is off encounters with waves, more often than not, will cause your camera to jump off your support and once again you loose the shot. Find a comfortable stance and use your body to add support to your elbow(s) if possible.

Try not to use any part of the boat to support your camera directly as vibrations or unforeseen rocking of the boat may well ruin an image. Both myself and the other photographer in the picture below are using our lower bodies to brace ourselves against the railing but our arms are free to "float" so-to-speek and help absorb any vibrations or any sudden jolt.

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Lets talk a bit about shooting platforms. Shooting from shore does not create any issues that you will not encounter anywhere else. The next option is a zodiac or something of similar size... lets say any boat under 9 meters. I personally prefer shooting from these boats as you tend to get a lot closer to what you are shooting... especially if you are shooting nesting bird colonies. Many times larger boats do not have the draft to get into these shallow waters. I also find that for the most part encounters become a lot more intimate. I won't say always because that theory went out the window this fall for me. The potantial is just more favorable in a smaller boat. That said shooting in a smaller boat is definately more of a challenge due to the things mentioned under shutter speed and they are amplified in smaller vessels. In smaller vessels glare also comes more into play and shots that you can get from a larger vessel which gives you a higher shooting platform are just not available in these smaller boats. One that comes to mind is trying to catch something just under the surface. More often than not this will be a futile effort in a small boat like a zodiac. All that being said a small boat is more maneuverable and usually a lot faster than a larger boat. It's also a lot faster to start up and reposition than most larger boats. kpr may have a good arguement for this however with the boats they use in search and rescue :)

Larger boats as well have their ups. Putting aside all the positives mentioned above for smaller boats larger boats can get out in rougher weather, are a lot safer, and do offer a higher shooting platform which offer many more possibilities in regards to getting shots just under the surface of the water without glare. There is also a lot more room to move around which is the plus side but along with that you will be dealing with a lot more passengers. I do however think they do offer you more movement which in turn should create more angles. Things like wave action and people movement will also not be as noticeable in larger boats leaving you a bit more room in regards to shutter speed.

Both a zodiac and a larger boat are shown below. It's easy to see how these two platforms will drastically change your shooting angles. Both have their place.

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Larger boats give you the unique advantage of cutting through some of the surface glare. Shot taken with a 24-105mm lens.

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whereas smaller boats can create more intimate encounters.

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There may be times however when using your imagination may allow you to eliminate some of the surface glare when in a smaller craft. To take the following picture I had someone hold a paddle with my raincoat suspended from it over the side of the boat creating a shadow to eliminate the glare. This allowed me to take the following shot of a jellyfish just below the surface of the water.

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Continued below...


Last edited by Wolfsong on Tue Mar 01, 2011 7:11 pm, edited 137 times in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 15, 2011 8:30 pm 
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Looking at what is written above it may look a bit daunting but it really isn`t. A lot of this may well be out of your control. I mention it only so you are aware of it and can react as best you can to it. These are the types of things you may want to question an outfitter about as well and maybe drop helpful hints about to them.

I find a 400mm zoom has served me well on all my marine outings but I will throw one new lens out there for your consideration. A wide angle... giving perspective to a 500,000 to 1,000,000 bird size seabird colony can be done best with a wide angle or at least something less than 18mm. These colonies are vast and if on a charter they will for the most part approach from one end and cruise the length not really creating a good chance at a long range shot. I`ve had one chance at this size colony and my 24mm zoom was by no means capable of coming close to giving it perspective due to our approach angle.

Trying to capture the expanse of a 1,000,000 bird colony of birds will require a wide angle lens but you can still capture portions of it with other lenses. The shot below was taken with a 24-105mm lens.

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It is at times like when taking the picture above that a second camera body equipped with another lens can also come into play. Rather than having to change lenses and maybe loose a shot or risk getting saltwater spray or other things into the camera body while a lens is removed it was easy to pick up the second camera and capture these close-ups from the same colony. The following shots were taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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Everything mentioned above comes down to one thing so far... how approachable is the wildlife you are after and that will really decide how successful you will be. With Sealions, Seals and Whales it is really their choice. Nothing you can do will get you close unless they decide to let you close. If they do your shots should come pretty easy as long as you make your approach the right way and take your time. As mentioned above, if you don`t succeeed try try again. One animal where you can assist in the outcome is with dolphins. Everyone knows they like playing in the bow wakes of boats. They are actually attracted to a fast moving boat. This fall on an outing in a sailboat we were averaging about 10 to 12 knots. We were approached by two dolphins who tried to play in the bow wake but we were obviously not moving fast enough as they lost interest after only a few seconds. I was told by another outfitter that if you can exceed 20 knots encounters are much more likely. If they do play in your bow wake it is a fairly simple process to figure out their timing and you getting your shots. Other than this the only other option I know of is catching them during feeding. After that they become very unpredictable when it comes to photography.

When marine wildlife lets you approach the results can be amazing. All shots taken with a 100-400mm lens. The third shot was taken with a 24-105mm lens.

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Whales are always a huge attraction for photographers. Most whale species have very predictable behaviours so if out on a whale shoot study these before hand to get consistant results. Information you may want to seek out would be how long do they stay down on average on a deep dive. This can vary greatly. Humpbacks usually dive for 10 to 13 minutes on a deep dive. Sperm Whales can dive for longer than 40 minutes. Needless to say if a humpback deep dives it is worthwhile sticking around. Not secessarily so for a Sperm Whale. All whales for the most part, when deep diving, will bring their tail directly out of the water as they dive. If they surface for air and the tail does not come right out most of the time they will reappear in a few seconds to maybe a minute. One shot everyone always wants when shooting humpbacks is a breech. Unfortunately these are hit and miss on the best of days. If you do see one try to get to the spot as fast as you can because they tend to repeat it at least two times. Other things to look for in whale photography are spyhops where they stick their head right out of the water, Tail flicks, side lunges and bubble netting... all feeding behaviours. If you are shooting humpbacks it is always fun to catch pictures of the underside of a whale tail as these are like finger prints for humpbacks. Many times local ministries are looking for these photos to help suppliment their catalogue of whale ID shots. We photographed 17 humpbacks total last year on our outing to Haida Gwaii which were previously never recorded being there. Helpful news for sure for the scientist monitoring humpbacks.

Classic whale behaviors include spyhopping, tail flicks, breaching and lunges during bubble netting.

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Sometimes shots become available which may not have a lot of meaning to anyone but you and when these occur don't let them pass you by. We were lucky enough in the following picture to have a whale blow a part of the wall of its bubble net right beside our boat. To anyone else it is only a picture of bubbles but knowing we were close enough to actually witness this behavior is something really special and to capture it was amazing.

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The underside of a humpback tail is like a finger print. It has become a classic shot for the species and it is always fun to capture it in an image. It is also the signal of a deep dive and the whale probably will not resurface for up to 13 minutes or so.

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As said at the outset regarding whales, everyone wants to photograph them... with that being said if you are serious about whale photography, or any animal species as this will apply to any species you are out to photograph on a specific outing, and want to set your pictures apart from others out there you need to decide early on what exactly you are looking for and this comes into play with any animal you are serious about shooting but because whales are so popular and also because I have spent a lot of time photographing them I will choose to use them to discuss this topic. Setting yourself apart from everyone else is always going to be a challenge and its always better to have an idea of what you are looking for before you head out. Here are my three secrets to what, for me, will set a whale picture apart from everyone else. It is easy to capture one and even two of the following points on a week long outing but if I ever capture all three aspects in one shot I know I will have a once in a life time shot... three words... power, grace and size. This is what I want the picture to show. Size will come from angle as I want to be shooting up at the whale which means I will need to be in a small craft low to the water and close to the animal. Power and grace can be shown in different forms. The obvious picture which will show all three is a breach but for me that has been done too many times before but it is a picture I am always looking for. That being said a breach at close range where you are shooting up at the animal would definately fit the bill but that would be awefully close to a whale when it is doing a drastic thing and I'm not sure I want to be that close when one breaches. But it is a goal and it gives me a fairly clear visualization of what I am looking for which really helps when the moment happens. If you plan ahead and do this on outings where you are after a specific species it will help in your results. Just pick three words which to you define the species and see if you can capture an image showing all three. If you can there is a very good chance you will have gotten yourself a shot you will treasure for life. It's an approach I use on all serious outings and even though you may not succeed, as mentioned above, it does give you a clear goal and definately increases your odds.

Whales for me equate to power grace and size. To capture all three in one image is always a challenge. I do not feel the following two images capture all three the way I would like but they are close. Taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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One other thing to touch on is intertidal life. This is always an exciting time for me if in a productive area. I`ve been lucky enough to be in several places where I could have spent days on small islands no larger than 100 meters in length on low tide with an absolutey astounding amount of intertidal life including crabs, starfish, and all sorts of other small sea life. They truely are amazing areas in my mind and I love spending time there. I`ve already made it clear with an outfitter I go with that the next whale outing I go on I want to be dropped off on a specific small island on two days. He can drop me off in the mornings and pick me up in the evenings on their return from the whales that is how interesting I find these areas.

Photographing intertidal life is always an interesting way to spend a few hours. The first picture shows a starfish trying to pry open a clam for lunch while surrounded by batstars. The second shows batstars clinging to a small ledge during low tide.

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Photography here is always interesting as it changes with the tides. There is never such a thing as been there and seen everything. It changes with the tides all the time and minute to minute. As the tide goes out more and more photo-ops come into play as you can catch things just under the surface that may have been too deep just a hour before. Then a hour after that you can catch it completely out of the water. Being aware is the motto when shooting intertidal life. This is also a place where a macro lens comes into play as there will be many chances to use it. Lastly, this is one of those rare times and environs where the wildlife can be as close to static as it will come so do not let this pass you by. Be creative and use your imagination. Angles, macros of crab mouth parts, seaweed drifting in the tide... the possibilities truely are endless.

The following were all taken with a 100mm macro lens.

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One cannot discusss intertidal life without talking a bit about tide-pools. These are holes carved into rock, created by tidal action, which hold water all day long even after the tide has dropped below the pool's level leaving the pool on dry land. These pools vary in size and for the most part contain all sorts of marine life. Spending some time exploring and photographing these pools is always worth the effort.

Tide-pools contain all sorts of marine wildlife and as such are always fun to explore.

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All marine environs are environs where personal comfort really needs to be taken into consideration. It does not matter what the weather is like when you leave or what you think the day will be like. Be prepared especially if you are on a charter or tour. These outings will not turn around if you forgot something. Even if the day is nice and expected to stay nice dress in layers. A raincoat is never a bad idea. If in a small boat and there are possible shore landings bring sandles if the weather is nice or rubber boots if the water is too cold. A hat is always a good idea when on the water and above all have a good sunscreen on hand. Sunburns happen a lot faster on water and a few hours on the water with no protection may well result in several days of agony. If on a charter or guided tour find out if they have raincoats on board. It will save you bringing yours if they do.

Underwater:

I had the chance to talk to a friend who gave me some brief tips on underwater photography. The first thing that comes to mind is that this again can be broken down into several fields. I had the chance 20 years ago or so to go on board the Altantis mini-sub in Barbados. This of course is one way to photograph underwater wildlife and it is a somewhat easy and accessable way to do it if on vacation in an area which offers tours in one of these. Glass bottom boats or boat with underwater viewing windows in them would create the potential for some underwater photography as well. Next we have snorkeling which again does not require a huge expense in gear and lastly we have scuba-diving.

Cameras as well break down into three groups; small waterproof pocket cameras, DSLRs with a custom underwater housing and cameras specifically designed for underwater photography. Small waterproof pocket cameras may well be the way to go if you only do this type of photography once in a while and they really can produce good results. DSLRs in housings will produce amazing results but costs can run high for these housings with many costing more than $1000.00 and a few reaching prices of $5000.00. I've often thought about buying a small underwater pocket camera to include in my kit just so I have something to reach down in the water with and attempt to capture basic underwater images. Again... my theory here is it is better to get a simple average shot than no shot at all.

Photography in these environs should only be done by those experienced enough to do so. Make sure all safety precautions are in place and make sure you are diving or swimming with a buddy. Check your gear at the outset and make sure everything is in working order.

One of the most important things to remember in underwater photography is that water magnifies and as such wider angle lenses are the choice of the day. Water also reduces contrast and sharpness so auto-focusing will become more difficult at times. Add to this that depending on light penetration under the surface colors such as yellow and red fade quickly turning everything blue and it becomes pretty obvious that shooting at close ranges becomes the order of the day. If you can get within a meter of your subject all the better and all the more reason for wider angle lenses. Location will also play a large role in your success as that will bring into play water clarity. Shooting in the waters around Hawaii or in other tropical areas will for the most part bring crystal clear waters whereas shooting in the more fertile waters off either of the coasts of Canada may well prove to be very difficult due to plankton and other small marine life which drops visibility to next to nothing on certain days or times of year.

Unlike most other forms of wildlife photography underwater photographers get the best results at mid-day when the sun is at its highest. This is one case where the more light penetration you get the better your results will be.

Using a flash underwater can greatly help in bringing out the natural colors of underwater life if shooting at greater depths than 5 meters or so. Above that natural light may well be enough but always consider using your flash as colors fade fast especially if you are more than a meter or so away. If you are using natural light try to make sure it is behind you just as in any other form of photography. If you are serious about underwater photography using a flash arm to get some seperation between the flash and camera is a good idea. Most underwater environs contain a lot of small lifeforms such as plankton and reflections off this may well ruin a picture. Creating some seperation between your camera and flash may well reduce a lot of this reflection.

Shooting in aperture priority mode is again the setting of choice in a lot of instances from what I understand and you want to be looking for shutter speeds greater than 200 if at all possible. Because of the difficulty focusing on objects using center point focus is your best bet as well. As with all wildlife photography focusing on the eye is usually the best but it is especially so in underwater photography because contrast is reduced and the eye will often give your auto-focus the best contrast point for a quick focus lock.

When in underwater environs you are in a fragile environment and as such be cautious where you place your hands or what your equipment rubs against. Coral reefs for example are very fragile and damage comes quickly if you are not careful. As with all wildlife photography having a basic understanding of the animals you will be encountering as well as the environs you will be working in will give you a great advantage in getting the results you want.

While writing this I remembered one of my first outings to Haida Gwaii. At that time I still carried a superzoom and another pocket camera with me as I didn't have a second DSLR body yet. Seeing some interesting underwater creatures I decided to experiment and what I ended up doing was placing my camera in a ziplock bag, stretching the plastic smooth over the the lens, and then using tape to secure it. It may sound like a fly-by-night rig but it was the only way for me to get the camera underwater to a depth of a meter or so. As mentioned above sometimes any shot is better than no shot at all. The following are the only two underwater shots I have to date and after some post processing, and a lot more post processing today, I think they came out OK. I am actually rather proud of them considering with what and how they were taken.

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I think it is safe to say that shooting in underwater environs can be some of the most dangerous photography one does. Not only because of the hardships the environ itself creates but also because of the animals one can encounter. Any underwater environ has the potential of encounters with a dangerous species. Many of these species are dangerous due to their venom and extreme caution needs to be taken even though the species itself may not be aggressive towards humans. Many dangerous or fatal encounters with these creatures are the result of accidental contact or the animal trying to protect itself. This is one environ where understanding the wildlife and the environs in which it lives goes beyond getting good shots and may well save you from serious injury.

Lastly this is a realm where you will truely be working in three dimensions and as such a lot more angles will present themselves. Although shots from above may at times result in amazing images shots from the side or slightly below are the angles you want to be focusing on.

Odds & Ends:

One of the most basic things in wildlife photography is to always keep the sun at your back where possible when approaching any animal. Not only does this make it harder for the animal to see you but it also gives you the ideal light. More often than not this will not be an option but when it is always keep it in mind. If at all possible staying in the shadows also helps. Lastly keep in mind that most wild animals are most active just after dawn and just before dusk. Looking for shots at mid day more often than not will prove to be less than successful.

Approaching with the sun at your back not only makes it harder for the animal to see you but also gives you great light. The two shots below were taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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You will hear many speak of the golden hour just after sunrise. Here is an example of a Mule Deer caught in this light.

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Many of us, myself included, need a little more encouragement to get out when the weather isn't quite right. That being said these can be some of the best times to get out and shoot when you want to set a different atmosphere. Several examples for me come to mind... A picture of an eagle on a cloudy, dizzly day in the fall on the west coast is the perfect setting for a temperate rainforest shot with a classic icon of the northwest. A bison or a muskox in a blizzard covered in snow. A mother guarding its den with the young looking out in a heavy rain. Pearing through the fog to catch a glimpse of a moose in a swamp on a spring morning. As you can see one doesn't always need bright sunny days to get out and shoot. Just this morning it was 48 below with the windchill. A great morning to catch any large animal as the breath freezes on its nose and whiskers creating some amazing shots. All this being said there are some things to keep in mind when out on days like this. Chances are lighting will not be ideal on these days so to keep up your shutter speed you will have to bump up your ISO. Don't be afraid to go as high as 1600 or even more if needed. At times this high ISO may very well give the picture more feel. Tripods and/or monopods come into play more at this time as well. These are also times when you may not want to freeze all the action. A little blur can enhance the picture as well under some circumstances. This is really a time where you can let your imagination fly and really use some creative approaches so keep an open mind and experiment.

Bad weather is no reason to stay at home. It may well set a unique mood ideal for a particular species. The two shots below were taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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This shot was taken at 3200 ISO on a rainy, overcast day so don't be afraid to play with settings. The shot shows a classic icon of the west coast with feathers soaked from a light rain on a cloudy drizzly fall day in a temperate rainforest. For this image I actually left some of the noise created by the higher ISO on purpose as I felt it added to the overall feel of the moment.

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Winter and cold temperatures also create a few issues for wildlife photographers the obvious one being the cold. Good winter-wear is obviously needed. Always beware when heading out on winter days of weather conditions and always be sure to take the windchill into account. -10 may not sound bad but add a 30 kph wind and next thing you know your temperature feels like -35 and in weather like this you really do not want to be out photographing unless you are completely prepared for these temperatures. It may be hard to find but with today's materials there are gloves out there made of thin materials which allow you to still use all the functions on a camera without your hands or fingers getting frostbite and these will prove to be essential as well as a good pair of boots, winter parka, hat and pants. Along with this, as mentioned above, there are several covers out there for lenses designed for camouflage and made of neoprene which also offer a bit of insulation for the lens. When temperatures reach -20 or lower you may well find your lens stiffening up. In extremely cold temperatures I have also had the auto-focus become slightly less reliable. With this in mind one helpful hint is to keep the camera inside your coat next to your body until you are ready to shoot. It may not be comfortable but it does keep your camera a bit warmer even though it will inevitabley create more cold drafts for you. If you are driving a lot don't have your car heater set on too high as this may cause some condensation when leaving the car or re-entering it. I usually keep my window open a crack to eliminate this.

One of the downsides to wildlife photography in the winter is how short the days become the farther north you get. Where I am located now, in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, we seen the sun rise on december 21st at 9:13 and set at 16:56. That only gives you 7.5 hours of sun that day and if you have a day time job there is a good chance you will not see the sun while you are off work for several months of the year except on your days off so get out when you can. This same situation however does have an upside. During winter months the sun never rises high in the sky giving you decent shooting conditions for most if not all of the day.

Snow also adds a new element to your photography outings. Some -EV will definately come into play at times so be sure to experiment under different lighting conditions. All that being said winter settings can result in some amazing wildlife shots.

Winter settings can create beautiful backdrops for wildlife as seen below. All shots were again taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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Summer as well offers some unique challenges to wildlife photographers. Days become a lot longer meaning the golden hour happens a lot earlier. Where I am in Saskatoon that can be 5:00 in the morning or even a bit earlier. Sunlight can become so harsh around midday that photography endevours in direct sunlight can be futile. I know several serious wildlife photographers that do not go out between the hours of 10:00 and 14:00 because of the sun's intensity. Along with this foliage also becomes very dense due to new leaf growth and high grass. This again can create very challenging photography conditions with harsh light and harsh shade right next to each other. Experimenting goes a long way under these circumstances as does getting the right angle when possible. Focus on what you want to be in focus and do the best you can with that. Some post processing will hopefully allow you to adjust all other content to acceptable levels. Lastly, animals become a lot less active at midday due to heat so morning outings as well as evening outings become more productive.

Summer also brings with it humidity and this can play havoc on photography gear... especially if on multi-day outings where nights are spent in tents or campers. Anyone who has experienced this knows how damp things can become in the morning and these conditions only become worse in rainforest and tropical envirns. Making sure you have a quality pack with good zippers resistant to moisture is a must. Hard-bodied cases are even better even though they may not be as portable. Many photographers place their cameras into large ziplock bags when on outings like this as well.

With summer come insects and with insects come eritating bites. A good insect repellent will go a long way in helping but keep in mind that insect repellents can destroy lens and filter glass so be very careful when applying it and when handling your gear.

The following picture was taken around 11:00 and lighting was harsh to say the least. Today's softwear however can go a long way in overcoming some of the effects. In the original the baby's side as well as the mom's face were blown out and the sky was way too dark. A few minutes of post processing and the following is the result.

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Something I am noticing more and more of late while out on eco-tours or other expeditions with other photographers is tunnel vision. This is a cautionary point for all of you. When on these types of outings we are usually after one or two specific species. All too often lately I have been noticing photographers missing other encounters because they are so intently focused on the species we are after. All sorts of wildlife is ignored for that one shot everyone is waiting for even if it doesn’t come and then when back at camp for the night they are amazed at some of the pictures taken by a few of us that were all but ignored by most. Be aware is all I can say. Nature has a lot more to offer in any environ than just one or two species and any pro will tell you that. Your best shots on these types of outings may well be of a species not actively looked for on that specific outing.

Always be aware of your environ and look beyond what you are shooting for. These images may prove to be some of your best.

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Along the same lines, when on these types of outings with multiple photographers, you will learn quickly when back at camp for the night and reviewing your pictures that for the most part you all have the exact same pictures give or take a degree in angle here and there which really isn’t even noticeable. This especially holds true when there is some intense action. Always look for an angle or line of site that may give you a different perspective from the others. Chances are on these outings many of the photographers will be out to sell their images after the outing is done. The ones who will sell the most are the ones who get their images out first and/or the ones whose images stand out from the others. To give you an idea about how aggressive this can become I have been on several outings where photographers had satellite phones with them to send out processed images at night and have them available for clients the next day. The competitive part of this I ignore for the most part and find it rather amusing as these people tend to become rather secretive about their shots from the day but the aspect of getting a unique angle or line of sight different from everyone else I take very seriously. If you keep this in mind when out on your own as well it may prove to be one of the keys to success as far as wildlife photpgraphy goes. Most people shoot animals in the same way... we see something, we raise the camera, and we shoot. Not many think about things like should I lay down and get a ground level shot? Should I climb this tree a bit for a different angle? Should I wait for it to turn and capture it from behind? You get the idea. Always think about different angles or lines of sight.

Intimate angles and different lines of sight can make all the difference. The shot below was taken with a 100-400mm lens.

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Taking eco-tours geared towards photography are always a fun way to encounter wildlife in remote pristine settings which may not be accessable any other way. When on these tours always be considerate towards those in your group. Guides will do their best to ensure everyone gets their shots when possible. The other great thing about these types of outings is that more often than not there will be semi-pro or even a pro photographer along with you. Don't be afraid to ask them questions if you are unsure. Many times these tours will also have a pro along as part of the tour to give advise and there may even be an evening presentation about wildlife photography. Many tours like this are put on by photographers using tour companies to supply the tour while they offer their advise and lead the group. The whale tour I took last spring was a test tried by an outfitter and a photographer exactly for this reason. The tour after ours, supplied by the outfitter last fall to the great bear rainforest, was also a photography tour put on by Brian Hill and offered on his website as a photography tour. These tours are a great way to not only encounter wildlife in untouched areas but chances are you will come away a lot more knowledgeable about wildlife photography itself.

All that being said these tours tend to be expensive so make sure to check out both the tour supplier as well as the photographer putting on the tour if there is one. I have heard nightmare stories about photographers who were not completely educated or lacked field experience on the species or environment and put their clients into some dangerous situations. I've also been on a tour where the guide was more interested in getting his shots than the shots the clients were getting. Check out the suppliers carefully and look for testimonials. Find out how long the supplier as well as the photographer have been operating in the area as field experience here is definately a plus. Both do not need to have extensive experience but it helps. I would hope that at least one has several years of field experience however. If you are lucky enough to have a guide who has spent a long time in the area you may well be in for a treat. Watching these individuals interact with wildlife is amazing. One guide we had on a bear tour in the remotes of British Columbia had an amazing way with bears. While slowly approaching them he would talk softly to them at all times in clear sight of them. He would never make direct eye contact and always looked from one side to another. It was amazing to see how close he got, and subsequently how close we got, to these amazing animals. Not that I would ever try that on my own but it was definately a learning experience for me.

Photography based eco-tours can be a fun and exciting way of seeing wildlife in pristine settings and also sharing photography experiences and techniques with other photographers.

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Wind can play a role in photography on several levels. The obvious one is that extreme wind usually means animals will hunker down and not move as much. Small birds find it diffficult to fly under these circumstances as well. If on the water not only can wind create unsafe conditions but it can also play havoc on photographic attempts. I've been out on rough days and thought I had a whale centered in the frame only to have a swell lift the boat and end up with a picture of open water with no whale in sight. It can become very frustrating. Lastly wing direction can also effect the approach you take towards land animals. Many animals, especially prey animals, have an acute sense of smell which in many cases warns them of danger long before sight becomes an issue. Although with all the other variables which come into play in wildlife photography wind and wind direction may not become one of your priorities it should always be kept in the back of your mind.

The Ideal Lens?

Now that we are at this stage I think it is pretty obvious that a good all around lens would be a zoom with a reach of 400mm. It will cover most of your needs under most circumstances. But as always there will be times you will be wanting something more or something different. With that said both of the two main camera makers give several options in this regard. Both offer zooms to 400mm for the average person with an F stop of 5.6 and very shortly both will offer 200mm-400mm zooms with an F stop of 4. The 200mm-400mm are priced a lot higher and are aimed at the pro/semi pro market but they are both amazing lenses and as such should be considered by any wildlife photographer who has the financial means and is serious enough about photography to get the best results possible.

Other Settings:

In regards to other camera settings I usually change them as needed depending on light and other factors. They vary so much under different circumstances that to try and explain them all would be futile. Settings like ISO and WB I set manually and the settings vary depending on circumstances. I always keep my cameras set on high speed continuous shoot seeing I never know when I will need that burst for any number of reasons. My focus is always on center point but it may vary to another single point on the rare occasion for a unique setting. I also always shoot RAW + the largest jpeg file the camera offers. I do this as I only process my best images using RAW. The rest of my keepers I process using batch processing of the Jpeg files. This is just a personal quirk of mine and honestly I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It’s just something I have done and it now has become habit. Exposure compensation is another thing that gets adjusted when needed depending on circumstances. These are all personal preference so I am not going to spend a lot of time on them as everyone’s opinion will vary as to how important any of these become and which should be set manually or which should be left on auto. All I can say is play with them and see what is best for you both in getting results and as far as in the field practical use is concerned.

Camera Bodies:

Camera bodies again would be a personal choice. Go with what feels best to you and which camera functions in the most organic way for you. If it comes with a bit of weather sealing all the better. A semi pro body should be seriously considered seeing it hopefully has weather sealing and also will be constructed of more durable materials as no matter how careful you are your camera will get banged around and dropped now and then. The choice of full frame or a crop frame body are again personal preferences and as such the choice should be made by the individual suffice to say both have their place so never feel you need one or the other to succeed in your endevours.

More Stuff:

Bags, backpacks and/or cases are also personal choices. I personally lean towards Pelican cases or any hard bodied case for the overall protection they offer, everything from completely waterproof to impact resistance. Most people out there however lean towards quality backpacks or bags for their needs. Once you have ascertained what your needs will be in regards to a pack for outings ask yourself the following questions. Is access to my gear fast enough and comfortable enough for me? Does it hold everything I want? Is there room for some unforeseen extras? Is it tough enough and durable enough for my needs? Does it come with an all-weather covering of some sorts? If you fly a lot does it meet carry-on restrictions or are you comfortable with checking it in as a piece of check-in luggage?

Tripods always make for interesting discussions... this is one area of many where I suggest you don't go the cheap route. Many companys make good carbon-fiber tripods and I would suggest going this route along with a quality head system. Go as light as you can for the gear you have without comprimising stability if possible. A good tripod goes a long way under less than ideal lighting conditions. Also don't forget about monopods... if out on extremely long outings a tripod may not be practical to carry along. Carrying a monopod which doubles as a walking stick can come in very useful and if you have a quick mounting head system it still stays very functional without becoming top heavy while walking. Lastly keep in mind some minipods out there like the gorillapod as an example. They too have their place especially on extended outings with rough terrain. I personally always carry a monopod which doubles as a walking stick on any hike I take. Not only for photography and stability while walking but also as a last line of defence against any unwanted attention from any animal big or small. It may be futile at times but it may also be useful other times. I know in my case it has proven useful several times. The one that stands out is when I was approached by a rabid fox. The walking stick made this encounter much less complicated than it would have been without it. Even when I take along my tripod I also always take along my monopod.

Camera straps should also be discussed as they really can make or break an outing. Many times when on multi-day outings it may be easier to work directly out of your pack but there may well be times when you want your camera at the ready during part of the trip. Straps also play a big role on day long hikes. It is my opinion that the old neck straps just do not cut it on these outings. They become very uncomfortable very quickly especially when supporting larger lenses. Several companies these days offer shoulder straps which suspend the camera at your hip. These, in my opinion, are ideal for long hikes or any type of wildlife photography. You can carry your camera all day long on these straps in a very comfortable way. It is also a very smooth and natural motion to bring the camera to your eye in a very fast way. They are without a doubt more expensive than traditional neck straps but are well worth the expense.

Do not forget the little things. Will you need a flash? Do you have enough memory? Many times I have been on extended outings only to hear someone say they have run out of memory and have no place to back up their pictures. On extended outings it is actually a good idea to carry a small laptop for exactly this reason and also to be able to backup your pictures daily just in case the worst happens and you loose a camera. Not to mention it is also a handy item to have to review the shots of the day and imediately delete those ones which obviously do not meet your standards. Camera cleaning materials, everything from microfiber cloths for lenses to supplies for cleaning sensors and everything in between. There is nothing as frustrating as having something happen in the wilderness and not being equipped to deal with it.

When on multi-day outings it is never a bad idea to carry a second camera body if you have one. Not only does it cover you if one breaks but it also makes you more versatile by not having to change lenses quite as often and having two bodies ready to shoot at any time.

Once you have all of the above in place don’t forget all your non-photography related items. You can have the best camera gear in the world but if you do not have the proper clothing/supplies to make your outing comfortable you will have a miserable time and it may very well cut your outing short. Even on day outings make sure you have properly layered cloths, water or fluids to get you through the day and some snacks as well. You never know when the worst will happen and a day outing may turn into several due to an accident or an unforeseen turn. Be prepared.

Urban Wildlife:

Let’s touch a bit on the other two categories of wildlife photography starting with urban wildlife. With urban wildlife you may well not need the long lenses you need for wildlife photography. In many instances a 200mm lens is more than enough. There will always be exceptions however as when shooting small songbirds or the like. A 400mm is almost always needed in cases like this to get consistant results. Urban wildlife tends to be more used to human activity and is a lot more tolerant towards it. This will allow you to get much closer to wildlife. Within this category I would also include wildlife on some animal preserves and national parks. Some of North America’s largest national parks receive more traffic daily than cities do. Wildlife in these areas is used to traffic and human activity so is much more approachable. This however does not mean it is any less dangerous… a mistake many have made in the past. Always respect wildlife both for your own sake and for its.

Urban wildlife a lot of times will let you circle it in close proximity to get the best lighting angle. As said above it will more often than not let you approach much closer as well being used to human activity… sometimes to within a few meters. Your approach can be a lot more casual and you can take a lot more time getting to exactly the right position for the best shot available.

When shooting in National Parks there are a few suggestions and hints to keep in mind. Number one would be is if you see a lot of cars pulled over to the side of the road slow down and stop. Chances are a wild critter is roaming near by any everyone is stopped to observe it. Unlike wildlife in its natural state wildlife in these areas as well as urban areas live on a different clock. Wildlife in the wild is usually, for the most part, most active early in the morning and towards evening with midday being slow. In urban settings as well as larger National Parks wildlife tends to be active all day. There may be a little bit of a lull in the afternoon but encounters are still a good possibility. Be aware of this as you are out and about. The most important thing however is still to respect the animals. Just because you can approach them closer and at times may even seem tame this is not the case. The same cautions should be taken as with any wildlife. Always be ready for a worst case scenario.

Zoos:

Shooting in zoos takes us one step closer to wildlife and a 200mm lens will suffice more often than not. Depending on the exhibit your view may be limited but good shots should be readily available if you are willing to put in the time. Shooting through fences can at times be difficult but if you get as close as you can to the fence then focus on the animal inside more often than not the fence becomes invisible. Try not to get over anxious and put your lens through a hole in the fence. Animals are fast and if they react you may well loose a lens in the process… it has happened many times in the past. Also, try not to climb over fences to get closer to the animal fence in which the animal is encaged. Doing so may well provoke the animal to attack which may prove dangerous for you and may well put undue stress on the animal.

I personally do not have much experience in shooting in zoos so hopefully others with more experience may have a few more tips.

Forgotten Wildlife?

I'm not going to spend any time on this at all except to say do not forget about our plant kingdom when it comes to wildlife. Images taken in the wild of trees, plants and flowers may well turn out to be some of your most stunning work. Macro lenses can come in to play and tripods as well can play a vital role. Experiment and I am sure you will get some stunning results. Lastly... the plant kingdom at times may well save your day if legged, winged or finned wildlife turns out to be uncooperative.

Trees, plants and flowers are some of my favorite things to photograph and can result in stunning images.

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Post Editing:

This is one area where I will break away from my practice above and I will speak about specific products.

I do all my post editing of pictures in Adobe Lightroom and try for the most part to keep it to a minimum. I firmly believe in letting the feel of the day come through in the photo and try not to edit out any of this feel unless I really need to. A gloomy day I leave at that because that is what I want to convey. Even if I can "brighten" it up often I don't because that is not what the day presented. Minor adjustments are made to brightness however to bring some detail to shaded areas or to reduce some washed out areas. Sharpening is adjusted as needed and noise is removed using Neat Image. The odd time I may want to remove a manmade object I do it in Lightroom if possible. If not I bring the image into CS5 and do the repairs there. CS5 however is rarely used... far less than 1% of the time. I perfer not to adjust Temperature, Tint, Saturation or the like that much because once again it is not what the day presented but I will play with it from time to time. For myself personally I really do like keeping the image as natural as possible. By far most of my time editing a picture is spent on deciding the proper crop.

All that being said Adobe Lightroom will allow wildlife photographers to make all the corrections and/or adjustments they will need to under all but the most extreme circumstances. It is a program I highly recommend and is well worth the money spent on it.

In Conclusion:

One last thing I would mention to those who sell their pictures or exhibit their pictures is to carry a waver form with you just in case you capture an amazing image with another individual in the frame. To date it has never happened to me but I do carry the waver with me just in case. It basically states that the person in the picture has given you permission to use the picture as you seem fit. Is it a minor legality? Yes but some day it may prove very useful.

In re-reading the above it is obvious to me that this post is more about understanding animals and animal behaviour than it is about photography. This was my intent at the outset. Much has been written on the gear in the past but far less has been written on the actual animal encounters which in the end are the most important factor in getting the shots you are looking for and keeping the encounter as safe as possible for both yourself and the animal and in the end I think that is what we are all looking for.

I know for some of us the above is very basic but that being said it is nice to see it all in one place summed up and that was my goal and as said at the outset… I know I have missed a lot of information. Hopefully others will add their insights to this as well. One category I know I missed for a fact which could well devide into two sub-categories is underwater wildlife and it could be divided into underwater wildlife and aquarium wildlife. If anyone has experience with this it would be great to see some material added on these topics.

True wildlife photography is an amazing field within photography for many reasons and one which could use a few more photographers. It’s not easy and requires a lot of time and effort not to mention financing. But that being said I do feel it is one of the most rewarding because it cannot be staged. You need to be in the right place at the right time and everything needs to fall in place. It doesn’t happen often but when it does there is no feeling like it. And even if you do not capture the event in pictures having been there to witness it is reward enough for most of us. Get out and give it a try.

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Last edited by Wolfsong on Tue Mar 01, 2011 11:30 pm, edited 74 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 3:27 am 
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Thanks for taking the time to put all this down Wolf. I think you gave some great info. I have some questions that maybe if you have answers you could add in.

1. do you use a neck strap or have you found something better for hiking around. I just hold the camera because I hate wearing the neck strap, but sometimes I need both hands.

2. I find that most pictures I take are under-exposed, I shoot in raw so it's fixable but I'm always trying to get it right and never do. Do you use a different metering mode? I've been slowly just increasing the exposure, especially when there is a big bright sky behind the subject. I'm not sure what the best way to do that is.

Also I'd like to add a tip, but it only works if your not alone....which I am 90% of the time I'm shooting. However if you have someone with you, get out of the vehicle a ways before the animal. Then have the other person drive slowly up to and past it while you walk up to it. Almost every time the animal will keep it's eyes on the vehicle and you can sneak right up on it :-)

I'm sure I have more.....

Good info as well Popo, I am planing a zoo trip in the spring.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 3:53 am 
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Thanks Kev... never tried that.. sneeky :twisted:

In regards to metering... nope.. If needed I make my corrections in Lightroom.. Popo or someone else may be able to help you out more in this area though.

As far as straps... I use the black rapid straps... I have both the single and the dual. I love them cause your camera(s) are at your hips and if needed you can run without supporting them and it isnt uncomfortable at all. Its also a really smooth natural action to bring the camera to your eye.. I know they advertise they are the fastest strap out there and I know it sounds corny but they are right. The dual strap is great for 2 cameras. When I was on the bear trip in the fall several of the others were really impressed with both the dual and the single straps. I know 2 guys from the states bought the single straps and I know the guy from National Geographic bought a dual strap. LOL the first time I put on the dual strap on that trip everyone was looking at me like what the heck is he putting on... 3 hours later several had asked to try it out and several asked if they could use the single strap for the next day seeing I was using the dual. I have no issue hiking all day carrying one or two cameras on these straps and in no way have they ever become uncomfortable. Its a great rig for all day outings with camera(s) and I highly recommend them. I've exposed mine to saltwater environs, have worn them in the rain all day, through rough back counrty, rain forests... you name it and they have never let me down.

When driving around in the car I just keep the strap on all the time and if I need to jump out its a quick motion to lock the camera on to the strap and get on your way.

Here is their site...

http://www.blackrapid.com/

There are other brands out there using the same idea but I cant speak on them but I am sure some of them would meet up to the standards of the Black Rapid models. I know several people who have been interested in them kinda backed off when they found out the price but I'm one of those guys who says if it helps me when out hiking all day or for several days and makes my outing more comfortable I dont care much bout the pirce.

Thanks for adding your tip and please add as many as you like... I think if others do the same this thread will help a lot of people when it comes to wildlife photography tips and that was my goal in starting it.

I just know kpr will have some thoughts :twisted:

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 5:45 am 
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awesome info guys.
Do you ever find that a Flash is useful in outdoor wildlife photography, if you can get close enough to use one that is. Can see it handy when taking photos of small wildlife or birds, if it doesn`t disturb them too much.

I appreciate that it can be useful in indoor enclosures and in a zoo environment, but would you take a flash with you when going on a trip?



Spot focus and spot metering may fix those exposure issues.

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Nice write up, one that I think I'll need to look through more than once to get the full amount out of.

If I may, I'll fill in on zoos and captive wildlife since that is an area I do dabble in a lot. I'll add at this point I'm only familiar with those in the UK. Regulations in other parts of the world may offer different layouts and access to animals.

For zoos, I'll concentrate on larger animals for now, say, big cats or larger animals.

Firstly, look at the enclosure. How big is it? What views do you have into it? What is in the background? The best looking shots will be taken with a natural looking background with no unnatural objects in view like fences, climbing frames or other toys. What are you shooting through? If you can find unobstructed line of sight, that's best and easiest.

Next best is generally glass. Try to look for a clean patch. Also, the display glass can be low quality and cause distortion, particularly if you're shooting through it at an angle. Move around to find spots which are better or worse than others. Reflections are also a problem. Try to wear black to minimise your own reflection, and carry a cloth to wipe the outside of the glass of the worst grime. If lighting is cooperative, a polariser will also help control reflections from the glass.

And finally, there is the wire fence. Get as close as you can to it and try to shoot through a gap. If the fence is different colours/reflectivity, try to find a dull black part, or part in the shade. A big aperture will help blur it out, but it can show up as funny bokeh. If you have a small lens that is smaller than the fence hole, of course this wont be a problem. In the UK, for dangerous animals, you are not even allowed up to the fence in public zoos and are kept further back from it by a secondary barrier. Photo events at private collections will usually let you sign a waiver after a safety briefing to get up to the inner barrier.

Large enclosure example shows two shooting paths here. I'm standing over a moat so there is no photographic obstacle in the way. The path along the left side is another possibility. You can see a barrier outside the fence keeping you away, so you need to lean over quite a bit. From either, you can find angles where the background is natural looking.

Small enclosure example shows a relatively compact enclosure with glass front. Reflection control was the key here. There isn't much to work with for the background.

The usual advice of getting to the eye level of your subject also helps a lot, but you might skip that one for giraffes. On a typical trip like this, I'll have dirty knees by the end of the day.

Lens selection depends very much on the enclosure. Large ones will typically require as long as you have (300 or 400mm zoom). Smaller ones, particularly if they have glass, you can be practically rubbing noses with them and a wide angle will be needed. If you have the kit, I'd recommend a two camera approach which will cover 99% of the usage. Have a standard zoom capable of wide angle on one camera, and a long tele zoom on the other. For me that's the 15-85 and 100-400 on crop sensor. A fast aperture is usually not required, as you will be struggling to have enough depth of field. A macro lens might come in handy if there are smaller indoor displays, typically of smaller reptiles or insects.

Even if they're in captivity, they still have their daily behaviours. It can be useful to learn what the animals behaviours are. For example, big cats tend not to be active if it is too hot or too cold. If animals are active, see if there is a pattern in their behaviour you can use to anticipate a shot. They may walk often on specific paths for example.

Check if the zoo has a daily events schedule. Most will have a feeding schedule, which guarantees to get the animals out. You usually want to get there a bit early to get a good spot. There may be bird flying displays or smaller creature features too.

Not directly photography related, but it might help your wallet. Food at these places is generally decent quality but expensive for what you get. Bring your own lunch if you need to save the pennies for more photo kit. Most have picnic areas for this purpose.

The time you visit will also affect both your experience and the animals behaviour. Visit outside a weekend if possible as that largely gets rid of children. Avoid going during school holidays. Winter is usually very quiet, and if travelling isn't too bad, snow gives a different backdrop. And a final warning... at busy times, expect children to get everywhere. Like between you and the display. On one occasion one snuck under me when I wasn't looking, so when I lowered my lens, she got 400mm on the head. Doh!


As a mainly jpeg shooter, I generally get the exposure pretty close but not necessarily perfect. For my style, I tend to use centre subject composition and crop afterwards. As such, a centre metering function will help get the subject right. Still I have to manually compensate depending on the subject. Negative for bright subjects (swans, gulls), positive for dark subjects (crows, coots). I rarely go more than 2/3 EV in this case.

Flash isn't something I use normally, but sometimes I use it for macro. It's interesting for some butterflies, as I've found some that fly away on flash. The interesting thing here is, they react on the pre-flash, not the main flash, so they're already flying when the shot is taken. I think there is potential for butterfly-in-flight shots from this technique if I can get the framing right... but I haven't found a cooperative subject since I made that observation.

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Last edited by popo on Fri Feb 25, 2011 7:45 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 5:38 pm 
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Good info, Wolf when you use your 100-400 with the black rapid strap do you have to lock down the tension on the push-pull zoom so it wont fall down. I like the look of the straps, I'm going to order one today.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 5:46 pm 
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I forgot one other strategy for exposure. If the lighting doesn't change, the exposure doesn't change. So if you're in a stable lighting environment, find the right exposure in manual mode and you can leave it fixed until something does change. Remember to check now and then! If the sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds, this method isn't usable, but if it's constantly overcast or clear, you can make use of it.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 7:11 pm 
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I always lock down the 100-400 kev... its second nature and I do it without even realising it. I think you will enjoy the strap. should make your outings a bit more comfortable

Max.. I use a flash for fill when needed but it doesn't happen too often. I am the first to say I should use it more often though. I find myself using it more on small critters, like song birds in heavy cover like trees in the summer which have dense leaf cover, than on larger ones. One item I purchased a while back which may prove to be very useful to extend the range of your flash is what is called a better beamer. It was made specifically for wildlife photography and many people swear by it. I know when I have used it I like the results compared to what the image would have looked like without it. I do not use it often though so even though it is not that expensive I'm not sure if it is worth the price for some people depending on how much they would use it. It also takes some time to learn to use properly.

If you find yourself in situations where something like it would be useful I do recommend it. Personally, more often than not, my pop-up flash works well enough when I am in these situations. I do carry the beamer with me all the time though and it did prove useful on my whale outing last spring when trying to get some light into the whale's mouth so it definately has its uses in the right situations.

I remember a time last summer when I seen a beautiful little yellow bird in a tree about 10 meters away. The sun was right behind it and the tree was dense with leaves. My pop-up flash did a great job at giving me the right fill for that shot. Also the shot I posted a bit back of the owl attack markings was taken using the pop-up flash to create more of a shadow for the print in the snow making it stand out more.

There are many uses for the flash in wildlife photography... its just a matter of trial and error. As mentioned above it is a great tool to help create shadow effects when trying to take shots of markings or prints left in/on objects to make them stand out more.

eVolutioN had mentioned Austin Stevens in the Oasis channel thread. When you watch him photograph reptiles in the wild many times you will see him use his pop-up flash for fill when shooting at close range with amazing results.

*A Quick Add-On*

Forgot to include this when I wrote this about using a flash. When I do use a flash I almost always shoot in shutter priority mode for wildlife.

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Last edited by Wolfsong on Mon Feb 21, 2011 6:27 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 1:37 am 
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Great info Wolfsong, Popo.

Cheers

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 6:41 am 
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Quote:
I just know kpr will have some thoughts


:lol:

I just noticed this thread.
It's grown a bit from "basic" I think?
Lotta reading here and it's late.

I shall return :wink:

AWESOME stuff so far.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 7:06 pm 
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I'm hoping Zack may have some input as well in regards to his style of wildlife photography that he uses in his area as it is a pretty unique setting as well and many of us travel to those types of environs so any tips would help a lot I am sure. :D

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 12:10 am 
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I've expanded my original post in several areas based on some of the questions asked above for those interested... look for additional paragraphs under small animals and animals as well as a blurb on tripods/monopods as well as straps under more stuff.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 1:32 pm 
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That's a great read Wolf, and a nice addition by popo.
Wolf, When you state that 200mm is often enough for Urban Wildlife I tend to agree but only if you photograph Mallards, Geese, and Swans close to shore. For other birds such perching birds like sparrows and such a 400mm+ is a must.

As for the BlackRapid strap I have one my self and love it. I, like you when driving is always on me. When getting out of the car It is very easly attached.

Not sure what else I can add as you have just about covered everything.

Once again great read.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 1:40 pm 
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Repeat after me: remember to check for enough depth of field, particularly when there are multiple subjects in shot.

Yes, it means I didn't do that earlier today... more later.

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