Have I ever told you how I learned photography? I used to visit the zoo. After spending far too much money on my first camera, I realised I had better figure out how to use it and the zoo was the perfect location.
It had a variety of animals all with different behaviour, only half an hour drive and, most importantly, it was safe. No need to scale the nearest tree if the king of the jungle decides he doesnâ€™t want his picture taken. Of course, what I learned in there I wanted to apply in the wild. Wire cages and smiling tourists crept into the frame once too often and, after all, itâ€™s just not the real thing.
There is wildlife everywhere if you look for it. Even in a cityâ€™s outer suburbs there are foxes, snakes, lizards, wallabies and kangaroos, possums and a variety of birdlife. To help an image shine there are a few things worth considering.
Lets start with the equipment. Modern compact cameras now feature high power optical zooms optical zooms – which is great to get in tight and capture detail. Because I have a DSLR, I prefer to attach a 300mm lens and -depending on how sensitive the animal is – a 2x teleconverter is often added to take the focal length up to 600mm.
This usually means an increase in exposure of around one stop but your cameraâ€™s TTL meter will probably take care of this. Another option are lenses like the Tamron 200-500mm zoom. These lenses arenâ€™t exactly cheap but they are designed for this purpose and they are very sharp indeed.
Because they are zooms they also give you some focal length options â€“ just in case you are closer to your prey than you thought you could be! A quick shutter speed is going to help keep the image sharp and freeze any action.
In bright daylight conditions this isnâ€™t going to be a problem. However, much of the wildlife you enjoy photographing prefers to come out at dusk or early morning. Apart from that, bright midday light is not usually the most beautiful to capture your subjects in. If you are battling for faster shutter speeds, the easiest thing to do this is to select a faster ISO.
Keep going up until you reach a workable shutter speed at your widest aperture. Remember that
your subject could spring into action at any time, so try to keep your shutter speed at around 1/500th of a second if you can. With a long telephoto lens attached, not only can you get in close
enough to capture expression, you can also do so without being noticed. This means two things.
One, itâ€™s likely the subject will behave naturally rather than with caution and, two, the photographer
can relax a little, ensuring a safe return.
Stealth is the tact to adopt here. You will certainly develop your patience photographing wildlife. As we know, to exist successfully in the wild , animals have highly developed senses which cannot be compared to our own.
From experience, nine times out ten the animal will know you are there well before you think they do. They observe the behaviour of other animals, suchas small birds, and know right away something is lurking in the bushes, camera in hand. They can rarely be fooled. The only exception to this rule I can be sure of is my border collieâ€¦
But, because this is the case, itâ€™s best to really slow things down – drastically. Move a few steps
and then sit still for a while before moving closer. This technique is great if the animal has actually
seen you because it offers it the chance to adjust to your presence and understand you are not a threat. While you wait, watch. A little study will help you begin to predict itâ€™s behaviour â€“ the very thing we want to capture.
Camels, for instance, will generally run toward a vehicle and try to cross in front of it. This is strange I know, but it provides a closer encounter. Emus do exactly the same thing. Leave an egg on the ground and if there is a goanna in the neighbourhood, heâ€™ll find it. For those who want to photograph the underwater wildlife, dive to the bottom and sit still for as long as you can.
Larger fish will become inquisitive and eventually come over to check you out. Every animal has itâ€™s own character and with the right equipment and a little time spent observing, your images will improve dramatically.