Capture wildlife subjects

Alpha Tutorial :20 - Capture wildlife subjects

Photo by Yasushi Ohnishi.

Photo by Yasushi Ohnishi.

Wildlife photograph is especially challenging because it can require you to get out of your comfort zone in several areas, least of all in your photographic technique.

Patience is Key

Stalking your wildlife subjects isn’t the way to go; they’ll detect your presence and flee, or in the worst case scenarios, they’ll charge towards you. In these instances, patience is key. Pitch a tent in the wild, park your car in a safari, or if you have a guide who can show you how, set up a hide. The point is to remain concealed for long enough that the animals regard you as part of the natural environment and relax.

Know Your Subjects

If you’re trying to shoot an animal, you’ll get better shots from understanding its behavior. Read books, talk with experts, listen to other photographers or get a guide. When do they mate? When do they hunt? How does a change in weather affect their movement patterns? Knowing what animals do, when they do them and why they do it will help you nab images of animals in action doing things, instead of animals just standing around.

Set Shutter Speeds First

It’s likely you’ll be shooting at very high shutter speeds to capture your subject, unless you want to intentionally blur motion. To get to as high a shutter speed as you can, you’ll need to rely on the other two legs of the exposure trinity – aperture and ISO sensitivity. Fast lenses are essential, and so is a camera which can handle high ISO settings without introducing too much image noise.

Photo by Hiroaki Nakajima.

Photo by Hiroaki Nakajima.

Use a Tripod or Shoot Hand-held?

The longer you zoom out, the harder it will be to keep the lens steady, because even a little shake of your hands will be translated into bigger movements and result in a blurry image. It makes sense to use a tripod so you can maintain stability and get sharp results. It also helps take the weight off your shoulders (literally) when you’re using a large zoom lens and need to wait at a fixed location for a long time.

On the other hand, a tripod may limit your range of motion, in which case you can consider using a monopod, which is less stable but lets you move around more easily. If you need to track an erratically-moving subject, you can try shooting hand-held, but you will need to take extra care to stabilize yourself and not jerk the camera too much while you’re shooting. You can stabilize yourself by leaning against an object, resting your elbows on something, or failing that, keep your elbows in tight and pivot using your hips.

Survivor – Outlast & Outshoot

Lastly, if you’re heading out into the wilderness, it’s more important to prepare for survival than photography. If you’re not familiar with the area, look into hiring a guide. Since telephoto lenses, tripods and DSLR cameras are heavy, you’ll need to be fit before your trip to nature. You’ll also need the proper gear, not just the clothes and shoes to keep you warm and functional, but also for your photographic equipment.

Ideally, you’ll want to keep them protected, but also have a way to keep them close at hand and easily moved. Rain covers can be used to keep rain and dust off your camera, and blowers can be used to blow dust off your lenses. You can look into camera straps which wrap around your body and are more comfortable than the ones which came with the camera, or even camera straps which attach to your backpack so your shoulders can more easily take the weight.

Which Lens Should You Use?

Many animals are shy and easily frightened. Others are too dangerous to approach too closely. Your best bet to catch them on camera is to use a zoom lens, also known as a telephoto lens, with a long focal range and a wide aperture.

Long zoom lenses also have the benefit of decreasing the depth of field in a photo and making the subject stand out sharply from a blurred background. If you can get even closer, you can zoom in on various parts of the animal rather than trying to fill the entire frame with its body. To get even more reach with your lens, you can fit a tele-converter on it.

Because you’ll be shooting from far away, you’ll need a long telephoto lens like the 500mm F4.0 G SSM.

Because you’ll be shooting from far away, you’ll need a long telephoto lens like the 500mm F4.0 G SSM.

Wide aperture lenses, also known as fast lenses, open up wider than slower lenses. This allows more light in at a time, and lets you shoot at faster shutter speeds, helping you freeze the action. Fast shutter speeds are essential to freeze movement and get a sharp picture of your subject. You should be shooting at 1/500th at the very least, preferably at 1/1000th and above.

The longer the lens you’re using the higher the shutter speed you’ll need to hold the lens steady and get a clear shot. While the golden rule is that the length of the lens dictates the minimal shutter speed you can use – a 200mm lens equals to 1/200th of a second for instance – improved image stabilization means you can shoot handheld at lower speeds.

Recommended Lenses:

SAL70200G2
SAL70200G2

With a constant F2.8 maximum aperture throughout a versatile 70mm medium telephoto to 200mm telephoto zoom range, this lens is well suited for Wildlife photography. Along with dust and moisture resistance, it delivers outstanding sharpness and clarity throughout the zoom range.

SEL70200G
SEL70200G

This compact, lightweight telephoto zoom lens is ideal for full-frame E-mount bodies, delivering superb G Lens image quality throughout the zoom range.