Tutorial #2 - The Wildlife down under
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013
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Wildlife photography has always brought me great joy whether it was in my own wonderful forests of British Columbia or hiking in Yellowstone National Park. After spending two and a half months in Australia I have definitely seen some of the most interesting animals in the world. Most serious wildlife photographers lug around large and heavy telephoto lenses to very specific planned destinations to shoot wildlife. They usually have a specific animal in mind and will spend a lot of money and time to capture the amazing work they do. However many of us like myself are not dedicated wildlife photographers but we love to travel and usually bump into some exotic animals along the way.

Today I am going to give some tips and tricks for the traveling photographer to get better wildlife shots in their travels. I will talk about some basic gear you will need and tips on how to take better shots by getting into a good safe position to photograph animals.

Equipment:

Essentials:

 

Camera Body - SLR or Point and shoot with zoom lens

Telephoto lens - The longer the lens the larger your subjects will be in your frame. The larger lenses go up in price quite drastically and if you don't plan on using a 600mm lens too often then a $10,000 price tag is a little difficult to justify. Also keep in mind with longer lenses you may require a tripod to keep it steady which also keeps you from being mobile or stealth to your moving objects.

Optional:

 

Teleconvertor - These are attachments between your lens and camera that multiply the focal length. Common teleconvertors multiply by 1.4x or 2x. The drawback of using a teleconvertor is that with each multiplication you lose about 1 stop in your aperture ( ie. if you put a 2x teleconvertor on a 200mm F2.8 lens you end up with a 400mm F8 lens) I would only recommend putting a teleconvertor on a lens which is already fast like a F2.8 otherwise the lens will be too slow to get clear images.

Tripod: When longer lenses are used you will notice that every movement in the camera is magnified, therefore camera shake with a zoom lens is more likely to create blurry images. Tripods are useful to keep your camera stable in these situations.

Monopod - This can be used instead of the tripod but you are sacrificing stabilty for more mobility.


JUST THE TIP: When shooting wildlife without a tripod or if the subject is moving shoot with the fastest shutter speed possible to avoid blur! I reccommend 1/500th of a second or faster for anything that moves!

Shutter Speed: 1/320s     Aperture: F10    ISO: 320   Focal Length: 200mm    Coober Pedy, Australia

This Red Kangaroo caught me off guard while I was taking morning landscape shots in the outback. It came from over a dirt mound and darted across the street. I panned the moving object the best I could but you can notice the blur around the edges. If I was shooting at a higher shutter speed there would be less blur.


Shutter Speed: 1/640s     Aperture: F8    ISO: 200   Focal Length: 200mm    Pelican Waters, Australia

You can notice immediately in this shot the sharpness of a faster shutter speed even with the fast movement of this pelican snapping its beak.

Approach:

When dealing with sensitive wildlife the approach on your subject is very important not only to get close enough for a good shot but also to not disturb or stress the animals. Using proper approach and some common sense will reduce any unwanted encounters or scaring the wildlife.

From a vehicle: This however unromantic it may seem is probably the most common way a traveler will see and capture wildlife. Even though the experiences and photos I get on foot are much more rewarding I cant deny the fact that you can cover a lot of ground in a car and most times by chance you will spot something on the side of the road. I will give you a couple of tips to safely get animal photos from a vehicle. With a fast moving car and the loud engine most times animals immediately get scared off and you will see their cute little bums as the scamper off into the bushes. Sometimes animals who are grazing or are used to passing vehicles wont even budge. This is also a situation that happens often on a scenic tourist drive in a national park. Places like Yellowstone park will have many safe pullout spots designed for this type of photography.

WARNING IF YOU ARE THE DRIVER:
- wait until you pull off the road and completely stop the car before you reach for your camera
- watch for vehicles behind you before you stop
- obey all signage (ie. no stopping signs)
- obey all local traffic laws and speeds
- USE COMMON SENSE

The advantage of being in a car is that most animals see the passengers and the vehicle as a single unit. They don't reconize that you are a person inside a vehicle. If you approach slowly and stay in your vehicle animals will usually go on about their own business. If you immediately jump out of your car most likely they will run off scared. When dealing with potentially aggressive animals the vehicle will prevent you from being exposed to a dangerous situation.



Shutter Speed: 1/800s     Aperture: F5.6    ISO: 800   Focal Length: 200mm    Mission Beach, Australia

This family of grazing wallabies were on the side of a quiet side road. I was able to see them from a distance and plan ahead for my approach. I pulled my vehicle into the gravel shoulder out of traffic and I slowly crept my car up until I was lined up for my shot. Because I crept up slow I did not startle the animals. I parked the car and turned off the engine to reduce noise and shaking. I then reached for my camera with a 70-200 F2.8 lens and set it on my open driver side window. I sometimes place a soft object like a sweater of beanbag under the camera to balance and stabilize it on the door. In this case I had neither so I placed the lens on my left hand which rested on my door.



On Foot:

The most rewarding way of capturing wildlife may be during a quiet naturewalk or hike. Depending on what animals are in the area or which environment you are in, different safety precautions may apply and it is best to always read carefully the advice given at the beginning of most trailheads. For example the timid looking Bison may be in mating season and in this case approaching this animal at all is a huge risk.

When hiking in the bush you may reconize prints on the ground and maybe even a worn in trail in the grass of dirt. You may be on an animal expressway! Animals like humans prefer to take the easiest route to go along their daily business and often take the same route repeatedly. These animal trails may be used by several different kinds of animals and with practice you can spot these trails more easily. If you are interested in Animal Tracking I would research the plethora of information out there as the same practice is used by the hunting population. Figuring out where the animals hang out or are going is the first step in getting your shot.

When you see an animal you may often be too far away to get a decent shot. This then requires a safe approach to the animal. Depending on what type of animal it may react differently to your approach. Most herbivores have very good periphiral vision as their eyes are set to the sides of their head allowing them to see you coming form all directions. A bird for instance may have almost 360 degrees of vision. Humans have our eyes set forward to see things far away, which is also they way eyes are set on most predators like a mountain lion. So when a grazing deer sees us stalking towards them with our eyes set forward on them, they often percieve us as a predator based on our gaze and movements. We are in fact stalking these animals to get a photograph and the natural instinct for the deer is to run for the hills. Here is a technique I use quite often but require a LOT of patience. If used correctly, herbivores will not consider you a threat and get very close for a shot.

NOW YOU SEE ME NOW I DON'T TECHNIQUE         DIFFICULTY 9/10   

When we move towards a non preditorial animal it is very likely its highly sensitive senses will detect us long before we can get in for a shot. Our most natural movement to get in for the perfect shot is also the exact movement of a predatorial animal moving in on its prey. I can tell you right now that the average clumsy photographer carrying 20lbs of camera gear is not a very stealthy or nimble predator. So we need to change our instinctive behavior to stalk the animal and let the animal feel comfortable with us. This is a technique I use to get closer to my animal subjects when i'm on foot.

Step 1: Always move very slowly

Step 2: never directly gaze at the animals, like a herbivore use your peripheral vision and look down. animals are very sensitive to gaze. If you stare directly at the animal it will reconize your forward set eyes as one of a predator.

Step 3: Anticipate the animals trajectory, and move to position yourself to shoot where the animal is going instead of their current location. Moving directly at your subject will appear as a threat.

Step 4: If you think you can sneak up around a bend or hill take a moment to examine if you are upwind or downwind, they may not see you but they may be able to smell your scent.

Step 5: While keeping you gaze down move slowly and stop often towards your desired shoot location

Step 6: If you see the animal stop what it is doing and look at you, play stupid, stop and get low, maybe ruffle the grass to make yourself look like perhaps you are a herbivore too eating some grass.

Step 7: Once the animal passes you on his predator check and goes back to grazing, you may repeat step 5 until you are in position

Step 8: Once you are in position you wait for the animal to move into your shot, this may take a long time or not even happen in this case you will have to repeat step 5. If you are lucky like I was in Yellowstone the elk I was photographing was so convinced I was grazing on some delicious grass, it came over and had a taste of the grass within 2 meters from me.

Step 9: Bring your camera up to your face slowly and frame your shot and happy shooting! btw dont use flash in case you were wondering


Shutter Speed: 1/500s     Aperture: F7.1    ISO: 320   Focal Length: 200mm    Byron Bay, Australia



Shutter Speed: 1/200s     Aperture: F4.5    ISO: 1000   Focal Length: 24mm    Clairview, Australia

Please be aware that some animals may not feel comfortable with you being near them and may injure themselves to get away. I found this beached sea turtle that got caught out on low tide. I got this wide angle shot and then noticed the turtle struggling to get away. I had to back off from the wide angle and switch to a telephoto to avoid stressing the already exhausted turtle. I kep shooting from a safe distance and the turtle went back to its own business.



Shutter Speed: 1/640s     Aperture: F6.3    ISO: 320   Focal Length: 200mm    St. Helen's Beach, Australia


Shutter Speed: 1/250s     Aperture: F2.8    ISO: 400   Focal Length: 200mm    Hunter Valley, Australia

Wildlife photography can be a very rewarding part of travel photography and I hope you guys enojoyed the Tips! Happy shooting and send feel free to post your best wildlife shots on my facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/KEVINSUPHOTO.

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