Keys to Wildlife Photography
By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, www.TRMichels.com
I’m often asked what the keys to wildlife photography are. The answer to that is quite simple, but maybe not so easy to implement. The first key is to have a good camera, and good lenses. If you are not selling your photos to a magazine, you can probably get by with a point and shoot camera with a zoom lens. I get fairly good photos with my Canon Power Shot S3 IS, which has 10 power zoom and video capability. The video is good enough that it looks fine on You Tube, but not good enough to sell. The photo s are good enough for home display up to 8x10 inches, or even for making calendars, post cards, note cards etc, for you self, or to sell. If you want to sell photos to a wildlife or hunting magazine, you’ll have to step up to a digital camera that has the ability to use interchangeable lenses.
I can just get by selling photos to the hunting magazines I write for, by using a Canon Rebel XTi with a Tamron 70-300 mm zoom lens and a Tamron 2x converter. I know you are not supposed to use a converter over about 1.3x because you lose a lot of light. But, I’ve found that these two Tamron products work well together, and I can lighten up the photos by using PhotoShop. If you want excellent, National Geographic type photos, you’ll probably have to step up to a Canon D body or equivalent, and drop a thousand or more dollars on a 200-500 mm zoom lens. And a zoom lens is essential to getting close enough to your subject to produce quality photos. One of the biggest assets a photographer can have is patience.
When you are shooting wildlife, you have to wait for the shot. Wait until the light is right, wait until the general setting is right ) so your subject is in a nice setting, and wait until there is nothing in the frame that will take away from the general theme of the shot, or make it look artificial. When I am shooting songbird, I first try to position myself where I know birds are, or will be, with the sun at my back. Then I try to get close to the bird without alarming them. I may have to close in on them slowly, or move in when they are not looking, or move in on a tangent – so I do not appear to be trying to get closer. Then I wait until the subject is in the open, with no twigs or branches between it and me, and wait until there is sunlight and not shade on it. I’ve waited as long as an hour – for everything to be just right, before taking the shot.
I also try to take several shots of the same subject, one the first time I see it, in case I do not get a closer shot, or to take home and use it for identification. As I move closer to the subject, or it gets closer to me, I take more shots, until I get as close as I think I can for the final shots, which may include close ups of the head, or eye, or particular pattern s or colors on the subject. You can get close to many birds and animals by wearing neutral or camouflaged clothing or by using a blind to conceal your movements. I often use the car as a blind, especially in urban, suburban settings and in parks and refuges, because many of the birds and animals are accustomed to seeing cars. When you see animals close to the road, slowly decrease your speed (stopping suddenly will often alarm birds and animals).
Once you are stopped, take your first photos. Then slowly creep forward, stopping every 5-10 yard to take more photos, until you are as close as you think you can get, or until your becomes alarmed and leaves. One other asset a photographer needs - is to know where to find the animals on a regular basis, or at the times they want to photograph them. Many birds and mammals inhabit the same areas in the morning or evening, on a regular basis. If you know where birds and animals are being fed, they are great areas to photograph wildlife. If you have a backyard that is attractive to wildlife, with a few trees or shrubs, you can put out your own bird and animal feeders. But, check to see if you can feed deer where you are at. Many municipalities now prohibit deer feeding within city limits.
Many parks and refuges have bird and deer feeding stations where you can sit or stand nearby to photograph wildlife. Eloise Butler Wildflower Gardens and Nature Center has several feeders near one of their buildings. Some parks even have enclosed viewing areas adjacent to their feeders. Lebanon Hills and Hyland Park in the Metro area have feeding stations right outside the main office building. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault has an enclosed viewing area. Several Interstate Wayside Rest Stops have viewing areas looking out on bird feeders. Find some of these areas near you, take several hours, and go there and sit, watch, learn, photograph and enjoy nature with a friend. Or meet new friends while you are there.
Remember, if you see anything interesting in nature, I’d like to hear about it. E-mail me at TRMichels@yahoo.com, and I may include it here.
God bless and enjoy the great outdoors,