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Page 3 Ashley Hockenberry

Written By onci on Tuesday, January 19, 2010 | 6:50 AM


Wildlife Photography – Getting Closer by Ashley Hockenberry Part 1

One of the foremost challenges we face in photographing wild birds or animals is getting close enough to capture a clear shot, which is in focus and reveals sufficient detail. Since most wildlife are notoriously skittish and difficult to approach, it can be an exercise in frustration trying to get worthwhile images. The quick and “easy” solution to this problem is simply to purchase a long zoom lens of 500mm or longer of decent quality. This most certainly helps but it is hard on the pocketbook and somewhat difficult to justify the expense if you are not a professional.

1.) Closing the gap

So what are the alternatives? One of the best tips I ever received from a fellow photographer was a very simple one and it should have been very obvious to me but sometimes the most obvious things are what we overlook. I asked someone who was getting excellent bird photographs what his secret was and he told me to go to the places where birds are at least habituated to people so that the site of human being does not send them into an extreme panic as you approach from 100 yards away. Instead of chasing wildlife and birds, you take the approach of going to a place they naturally frequent and letting them come to you.
I have had great experiences in Yellowstone and Jasper, Alberta using this approach. While these animals are not tame by any stretch of the imagination, they are much more approachable than animals which are completely in wilderness and perhaps have never seen a human before. Some areas to consider are places where birds and animals feed or where they are fed, where they roost or Provincial or State Parks. These can be great places to photograph deer, raccoon, hawks, songbirds and other wild visitors.

2.) What about focal length?

There are a couple of aspects to this which should be considered. One aspect is what can lens can you afford and another is investing in the right lens which will provide the best functionality for the type of shooting you do. Having a 500, 600 or 800mm lens is great but oftentimes you become anchored to a tripod and your mobility is hindered. It is difficult to shoot handheld with big, heavy lenses, which makes it very challenging for birds in flight or a quickly moving deer which only allows a narrow window of opportunity for a shot.
It is possible to use a 400mm lens and get decent shots. There are also relatively inexpensive zooms which are in the 100-400mm, 200-500mm or 50-500mm range, which is all substantially cheaper than the longer, earlier mentioned prime lenses. I also use a 1.4x Tele-converter with my 400mm zoom for extra distance. What I have found is this – yes, there are some situations where I would have benefitted from having a longer lens but perhaps not as much as I thought. Focal length solves part of the problem but not all problems. There is a trade off to everything. I like mobility and ease of use.

Part 2 coming up next issue

Ashley Hockenberry
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