The final workshop for this year was something a little different to my usual travel/ street or photoshop and lighting sessions: an introduction to basic wildlife photography techniques. Five curious photographers (including one who flew in from Hong Kong) discovered that wildlife photography is actually quite serious physical labor, and that rain isn’t the most pleasant environment to shoot in – but it does yield rather pictorially interesting results.
We covered basic long lens techniques, tripod and monopod use; stalking birds and getting close; dealing with troublesome lighting and high contrast situations; animal portraiture; getting the right AF settings, and finally touching on species behaviour and what constitutes an interesting animal photograph. I even shot with a compact at one point to prove that you really can get close with the right technique – no more than 100mm. The session was split into two half days – between rain, exhaustion and other commitments it seemed like a smart thing to do – and in-between, images were reviewed and critiqued for feedback and general compositional good-practice reminders, which apply to all subjects.
Ultimately though, wildlife photography is polarizing: you either like it, or you don’t. There are plenty of things about it that most certainly aren’t fun – hauling heavy equipment around and being eaten by mosquitoes, for instance, or being ‘blessed’ by the birds from above – I think we all got bombed at one point or another – even physically handling the lenses requires some practice. However, the biggest challenge is inevitably patience: in the real world, you might well spend days, or weeks, on location and not see the particular species you’re looking for; the making of ‘Planet Earth’ is highly recommended for a taste into the world of the wildlife photographer/ cinematographer.
We shot at a ‘safe’ location where the birds are captive in a large open-air aviary and relatively tame; they’ll still fly away if you get too close or move suddenly, but at least they’re still in the general area; it’s understandably completely useless to try and teach in a situation where there is no subject material! That said, if you’ve ever been curious, taking a trip to the local zoo or bird park with a decently long lens – say rent a 400 or 500mm – will tell you very quickly if wildlife photography is something you want to pursue farther or not.
For the curious, I was using an Olympus OM-D with a Nikon 500/4 P generously loaned to me by one of my students on the first day (1000/4 equivalent, and an old familiar lens of mine – I used to do most of my wildlife work with one) and the Panasonic 100-300/4-5.6 on the second day (200-600 equivalent). I have to be honest and say that whilst having that much reach was great, it could often be too much; manual focusing is a lot easier than you’d expect on such a combination because the depth of field transition is quite fast. The second day was liberating from a weight standpoint; I was not envying David with his 1Dx and 600/4! That said, in a fast moving environment with say charging buffalo, I’m pretty sure I’d want the latter combination. MT
By popular demand, I will be doing a US tour over late March/ early April, stopping at San Francisco (two sessions), New York and probably Boston. Please send me an email if you’d like more details – things are still in the planning stages, which means plans can be kept a bit fluid. Thanks!
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