Breaching Humpback whale

010 – Recommended Equipment

There are a number of different photographic accessories that are invaluable when photographing wildlife. Hand-holding a large lens can be quite difficult and tiring, especially for long periods of time. If your subject is stationed in one spot (the subject could be preening, displaying, bathing, feeding etc), then using a tripod with some type of gimbal, such as a Wimberley, is highly recommended. A gimbal lets you move the camera and lens in all directions quite easily, without getting sore arms and shoulders. If your plan is to walk a reasonable distance with your camera and heavy lens, searching for wildlife, then a carbon fiber monopod with a dedicated monopod head is the way to go. Much lighter than a tripod and allows you the freedom to move around. Another important piece of equipment to own is a photographer’s beanbag, used to stabilise heavy lenses. Beanbags can be filled with rice, birdseed or beans and can be placed on car bonnets or half-opened car windows, rocks or fence posts. You’ll be amazed at how much beanbags help minimise movement of your camera and lens, allowing for shots to be taken at quite low shutter speeds. I recommend using some sort of neoprene covering for your lenses and tripods, to protect them from scratches and bumps, dust, rain as well as minimising reflections caused from the sun bouncing off the metal. The most well-known and popular brand used by wildlife photographers around the world is called ‘Lenscoat’. I also suggest some type of rain cover for your camera and lens, especially if you are a wildlife/nature/outdoor photographer.

011 Shoot Closer, Shoot Further

For many photographers, it seems the most important aspect of wildlife photography is purchasing, and using, a lens with the longest focal length. As much as it is beneficial to own a lens with a longer focal length, especially when trying to photograph smaller birds/wildlife, many a great shot can also be taken of the animal as part of a larger landscape. You might be in a place like Antarctica, photographing a stunning, icy vista, with a penguin just visible in the foreground. The viewer’s eyes naturally go for towards the penguin, then at the rest of the scene.   Rather than a close up-image of an animal, photographed with a long lens and wide aperture (which creates a smooth, blurred out background), an image of an animal, taken with a wide-angled lens also gives you a sense of space. It clearly shows the environment the animal lives in and gives the image a sense of scale.

012 It’s All About Light

One aspect of wildlife photography that I have always deemed very important, is photographing, where possible, in decent light. Rarely do I head out in the middle of a sunny day to photograph birds, as it’s the post-dawn and pre-dusk light that is the most subtle and evocative. No harsh shadows and over-blown highlights, just even, diffused light on your subject.   It may not always be possible to photograph pre- dawn or pre-dusk. You may happen to be in an environment, with lots of wildlife around to photograph, and it’s the middle of a bright, sunny day. In these instances, I suggest you photograph with the sun behind you (or to the side), if at all possible, rather than directly in front of you. In these circumstances, I like to move around and take my wildlife shots at various angles to the sun, eventually settling on a position that works best.  

013 Think Outside The Box

One of the joys of photography is that there are so many different ways to take images. You can try different types of composition or experiment with lighting, but there are also many ways to take the same subject, simply by using different lenses. Sure, most photographers think of telephoto or zoom lenses with wider focal lengths as the way to go when photographing wildlife, but why not try a wide-angled lens really close? If your subject is really tame and used to people, such as an individual in a zoo or wildlife park, then try getting down to eye level, very close and getting a totally different perspective. It’s a lot of a fun and you may well be surprised at the results!     I hope the photographic tips and techniques mentioned in this article, as well as the pitfalls to avoid, will help you take your wildlife photography to another level.

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

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