In Plain Light 09.17 – The Wildlife Photography Issue

Welcome to this month's newsletter!

In this issue:

Gentoo penguin chick, AntarcticaCuriosity • Gentoo penguin chick, Neko Harbour, Antarctica

This is the first newsletter whose topic was suggested by a subscriber, and I am quite excited about the fact!

The topic – how to photograph wildlife – is not necessarily what I practise a lot, but that's exactly why it may be of interest to you. Namely, we are going to talk about how to use average equipment (think yours) in order to achieve best results possible.

Ready?

The best vs good enough

The best gear to photograph wildlife would usually mean:

  • A fast long (telephoto) lens, say, 300mm f/2 at the very least. The more – with both focal length and aperture – is definitely the better.
  • Another fast long lens with a different focal length, or a teleconverter to use with your main lens above.
  • A sensor capable of high ISO and good image quality when applying it.
  • Fast and precise predictive autofocus in your camera.
  • Speedy continuous shooting mode, and rapid write times.
  • An all-weather camera body.
  • … Anything else you can think about: camouflage tents or covers for every environment you can land in, beanbags to support your lenses, etc.

Count all together, and it can easily add up to a freightening bill – and a heavy package to carry, too!

On the other hand, my film-loaded XPan camera crafted in 1999 has none of the above features.

My longest lens is 90mm f/4. I shoot on ISO 100 film, and with manual focus. The continuous mode – which the body is surprisingly capable of – would reach 3 frames per second, top, in theory (never tried it yet).

Reindeer in Recherchefjorden, Southwest SpitsbergenIn the mist (crop) • Reindeer, Southwest Spitsbergen

Fortunately, this doesn't mean I am not able to photograph wildlife. Rather, it implies I have to try harder when the opportunity arises.

How to photograph wildlife with any gear

Use these simple tips to get most out of the equipment you already own.

Use your longest lens. If you only have one zoom lens, zoom it in to the limit.

Polar bear on ice in Lancaster SoundHunter (crop) • Polar bear in Lancaster Sound, Canadian Arctic

Open up. Set your camera to shoot with aperture priority, and your lens to wide open.

Crank the ISO up. Animals tend to move (surprise!). In order to reduce the exposure time and increase the chance for sharp results, combine the large aperture with a high ISO setting. ISO 800 seems like a good choice, since it would also retain reasonable image quality with the majority of modern cameras.

Blue whale, North SpitsbergenTone-on-tone • Blue whale off the coast of North Spitsbergen

Use exposure compensation. This is probably not the first thing to think of, so it often gets forgotten. It is a good idea to check lighting conditions and your position relative to the sun before the action starts, and adjust for them.

For example, if your expected subject is going to appear against a bright background (e.g., birds in flight), underexpose by 0.5 to 1.5 EV to prevent highlights from burning out. Overexpose by 0.5 to 1 EV for subjects in front of a dark background, such as animals on the forest edge.

Get as close to your subject as possible. While at this, be cautious as not to bring either of you in danger. This latter part is essential—no picture is worth dying for.

Crabeater seal, AntarcticaNot amused • Crabeater seal, Andvord Bay, Antarctica

Be prepared. Follow your subject through the viewfinder, and use continuous shooting mode of your camera to record action sequences.

Focus on the eyes. Just like when photographing people, aim to focus on the eyes. Even if animals don't have soul – I wouldn't be so sure, but just in case – their eyes tell stories well worth capturing.

Young striated caracara, Falkland IslandsBird watching • Young caracara, Falkland Islands

Pay attention to what's in frame. Composition still rules! I know from my own experience, this is hard to observe in the heat of the moment. Resort to postprocessing for correction of blemishes and tidying up. If necessary – and the resolution allows for it – crop the image to strip it of unwanted elements and/or emphasize its subject.

Walrus, SpitsbergenComing home (crop) • Walrus colony, West Spitsbergen

As you can see, this is not that different from dealing with any other subjects in front of your lens. It's just about knowing what to expect and how to react to it.

NB: To see the image examples from this page and elsewhere on the site full-screen, click the Slideshow button on the far left.

Tags: #inplainlight #wildlifephotography #anygearfits

Destination: Antarctica
One of the best places on the planet to photograph wildlife is Antarctica. The icy continent, together with its surrounding waters and islands, is home to immense population of animals unafraid of man. This guide describes your options of getting there, what to expect, and how to prepare for a possible journey of a lifetime.
South
This is a vast gallery of my images from a trip to Falklands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula in 2015.
Specialized wildlife photography tours
If you are interested in wildlife photography and strive to enhance your skills, check out the following links to find a tour with a small group under professional guidance to achieve just that:

Wild Images
A British company with tours and clients the world over. Their philosophy resonates with me: "We firmly believe that the person behind the camera is more significant when it comes to taking great images than the type of equipment they use."

Aaron's Photo Tours
Small group and private tours led by professional wildlife photographer Aaron Baggenstos to Alaska, Yellowstone, Canada, Costa Rica, and Africa.

Previous issue

08.17 – The Game of Thrones and Northern Ireland issue
Embark on a journey to Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland, and find out more about both the show and the country.

Following issue

10.17 – The online security and Internet privacy issue
Being connected can have its downsides, too. The more time we spend online, the more tracks we leave there. These are being collected and evaluated to tell things about us which we wouldn't want to disclose. Be aware.

Other photography tips

Photography composition
Your mastery of photography composition is what ultimately makes your images. Read here how to excel at it in order to engage your viewers!
Black & white landscape photography
Black-and-white photography is very much alive, and landscapes in black and white still look as stunning as in Ansel Adams' day. Be sure to check the article if you'd like to try your hand at this classic and fascinating technique.
Landscape photography equipment
Looking for a new camera or another piece of gear? Find answers to your questions, along with some advice and recommendations!
Fine art photography prints
And now for something completely different… My thoughts and advice on choosing and using fine art photography prints.
How to photograph waterfalls
If your waterfall images are not up to the expectations of your friends, nor to your own satisfaction, try these easy to follow tips to make them shine!
Marketing fine art photography
This newsletter issue is about creating your brand and marketing your work, told by those who've been there and done exactly that.
What is legal to photograph outdoors
Ever thought about copyright laws having two sides? Your photography can violate them, too. Be sure to know what to photograph, where without getting into trouble.
Photoshop basics
In a dedicated newsletter issue, join me as I scan my images and edit them in Photoshop, and learn some funny facts about the application while at it.
How to photograph wildlife with any gear
No purchase necessary: Learn how to photograph wildlife for best possible results with your usual equipment.
Art seascapes
As November closes in, we take Ishmael's, of Moby Dick, advice and get to sea as soon as we can, led by some highly inspirational examples.
Winter landscape photography tips
"Winter landscape" may not sound as exciting as, say, "summer beach", not to everybody, for sure. But if it does to you, there is much to discover outdoors in this time of the year, too. Dress warmly and come on outside!

In Plain Light, 09.17
How to photograph wildlife

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