Wildlife photography — an unhelpful guide
The thing about photography is, it works best when your subject is big, nearby, and standing in beautiful light. The thing about wildlife is it tends to be small, distant and running around in shadows. Welcome to the joys of wildlife photography.
This Silvereye has absolutely no intention of making my job easy
Compact vs SLR
I’ll start with the camera, because experts agree that photography is more difficult without one. Shown below is a pair of wildlife photographers out taking photos. The one on the left has an SLR and the bare minimum number of lenses he thinks he might need. The one on the right is using a compact.
Hawk-eyed observers will notice the difference. Where the compact has all the functionality you need built into the one pocket-sized unit, the SLR user has to keep changing his lens to suit the moment. So if some rare species of bird lands on a branch nearby and starts striking a series of never-seen-before poses, the one with the compact would have fired off a card full of shots before the SLR user has found his 400mm lens. By the time he’s fitted the thing and pointed it at the branch the rare bird is half a mile away being digested by a python.
SLRs are also bulky, heavy, expensive and complicated. So why do photographers bother with them?
One reason is responsiveness. While digital SLRs respond pretty much immediately to the shutter button, compact digital cameras have an annoying pause between when you press the shutter button and when the camera finally gets around to taking a photo. I think the picture of the wombat at right illustrates this problem. You see, I pressed the shutter button when the wombat was facing me. Yes, seriously. I’ll let the picture finish this story …
Finally, perhaps the main reason why people still buy SLRs is because the compacts still don’t quite match the image quality of the SLRs with their specialist lenses. Which kind of makes sense when you think about it. Because it’s easier to make a lens that does one thing well, instead of one that does everything well. Of course, if you’re not wanting high-resolution prints then chances are you won’t see the difference and the compact will do just fine.
GREAT MOMENTS IN NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY: No 1: The Indian Mynah
Film vs digital
Digital is instant-gratification photography. Why wait two days for a ‘one-hour’ photo lab to ruin your pictures when you can ruin them yourself at home on your computer? But more likely than not you won’t ruin them at all. In fact, some of the new compacts are producing amazing pictures and are really easy to use. So your photos could look great.
No, I’ll go further than that. In my opinion, the ability to take lots of digital shots and experiment without wasting film/money has improved the standard of photography among many enthusiastic amateurs (and perhaps some of the pros as well) and I think that’s a good thing.
Small furry/feathered animals might look cute on-screen but they tend to make reluctant photographic models. Arm yourself with a large camera, approach a critter and you’ll see what I mean. If you’re lucky you’ll get a shot of it fleeing to the nearest dark place and you’ll end up with a photo similar to the wombat pic above. That’s why nature photographers often use a long lens.
Bird photographers are big fans of the long lens
Faced with this situation I finally forked out for one. Well not a really long lens — they cost too much. But longer than my 100mm lens. So the first time I got outside to use it I’m thinking I’m finally ready to get that award-winning shot of some rare bird way off in the distance. And what happens? A bird lands on my shoulder. I swear this is true. Who said birds weren’t capable of irony?
Photographers love fast lenses. In case you’re wondering, a lens is called fast if it’s good at capturing light, meaning it can get a pic of that critter in the shadows with a faster shutter speed than a slow lens could. I’d argue these lenses are also fast for the speed they send you broke buying one.