Simple Tips For Photographing Wildlife On A Budget

Over the last while more and more people have been asking me questions about the pics I take, so I thought I'd throw together a post that I hope might be of some use to someone ... somewhere.

Before we get into it - let me begin by saying I'm not a wildlife photographer (wildlife photographers wear interesting hats and lots of beige), I do take pics of wildlife - but there is a world of difference.

DISCLAIMER
This isn't a post about how to use a camera (I'm not sure I know how to use a camera), - anyway, the interwebnet is bursting at the seams with info on ISO use, depth of field, shutter speed and what camo gear is right for your complexion ...

This post is all about how I manage to get the pics I get and what I've learnt on the way. I'm not an expert - but after watching morning T.V, it's clear that knowing nothing about a subject is no impediment to speaking about it at length.

I use fairly rudimentary gear (a compact digi and an entry level, slightly dated and worn 10 Megapixel DSLR). I don't own a tripod, uber flash lenses or expensive lighting equipment.

Still, every so often I manage to snap pics that I like, such as this fly ...


Sarcophagidae




So, how'd I get that shot?. Obviously I didn't just walk up and take it ... wait, sorry, actually - that's exactly what I did. But here's how.

Ever since I was a little fellah, wildlife has fascinated me - being raised in a cold to temperate climate, the most abundant animals were insects. So I would arm myself with a glass jar and magnifying glass and seek them out.

I quickly learnt that animals don't like swift movements, shadows passing over them, or earnest renditions of Michael Jacksons 'Thriller' (these days when I'm out looking for critters - I tend to hum ... quietly).

Eventually, I became pretty deft at sneaking up on all sorts of animals (I didn't mind getting wet, cold, stung, dirty or growled at by my Mum - prerequisites for any budding wildlife botherer IMO ).

So with the fly, I simply approached slowly taking care not to break the beams of sunlight pouring into it's compound eyes. Rested my hand and camera (the compact digi) against the edge of the wall the fly was on, leaned in as far as the cameras limited focusing abilities would allow ...

'click'.

I've been told that some people 'pose' insects. When I first heard this I laughed - how the hell does one go about that? - Australia's next top beetle?

After thinking about it - I suppose it's possible (I haven't googled it - but I might after writing this post lol).

Let me just say - I don't pose the critters I snap (Well, there are some shots of a dead centipede - but I made that clear in the post at the time - the exception that proves the rule and all that eh?).

I don't use insect traps either. I do take advantage of having the outside lights on - and while I don't consider this a 'trap', I suppose it is an enticement.

The wildlife I photograph come and go as they please. I shoot what's here (which would explain why we don't see too many politicians round the joint).


Leaf Katydid


The other night I was feeling god awful. Just ill you know?. But I wandered outside to see what could be seen and Jo spied this Leaf Katydid being stalked by a gecko. The gecko wasn't anywhere near the size of the insect (my guess is that the Katydid was around 70-80mm T.L). But the game little bugger was most definitely weighing the odds.

In the end, the katydid slowly moved away - much like a thief who'd nearly been rumbled. The gecko watched it's departure with what seemed to me frustrated consternation - I grabbed the camera (the DSLR) and snapped the pic.

The point is that I rarely let the opportunity for a pic go by. And in this case the insect certainly knew I was there, but so long as I gave it enough space that it didn't feel threatened, I was fairly confident I could get some pics without it flying off.

Experience has taught me how close I think I can get to a critter before it'll take flight. But there are always surprises.


I've got loads of Blue Moon butterfly pics, but hey, why not one more?


Otherwise engaged critters - use their distraction to your advantage


Snap everything


Film geeks will know this is an 'over the shoulder' shot


Getting half decent pics of flighty animals is always a bit of a challenge. But a little bit of patience and some understanding of animal behaviour can give you the edge.

Plenty of animals (including some insects) are territorial. Dragonfly's will often use the same vantage point to survey their surroundings - warding off rivals and hunting from it, sometimes for quite extended periods of time. If you're patient you can get in nice and close, focus on the perch and wait. When the dragonfly alights again - refocus ... 'click' Job done :)

The same can be said for butterflies, frogs/reptiles and even birds come to think of it. Of course this is where having a tripod/mega zoom lens would be ideal - but I don't and this is a post for those of us who are squeezing every little bit of juice they can out of the gear to hand.

Another suggestion - is to remember to frame your subject. No, I don't mean uploading to instagram and adding a filter (although they're your pics - do what ya like with 'em). I mean in the context of the image.

If you have a tiny insect and try as you might - it's simply out of the range of your cameras ability to focus - step back and instead take in more of the surroundings using the animal as the focal point. The texture, colour and/or detail this provides can sometimes really make the critter pop.


If you can't move in - step back


Over the weekend I was hanging out with some really top people, one of whom is a professional photographer (not wildlife, but still - the man gets paid for taking pics), so obviously we started taking about photos and we both agreed that an important rule of thumb is to delete nothing from your camera until you have seen it in post production. Once you're looking at it on your puter - you will have a much better idea of whether or not it's come up to scratch.

Now, as I said - I'm not an expert. But if asked (and I have been), I would say the number one requirement for taking shots of anything - is to have a passion for your subject. Surely, if you really care about what you're shooting - it'll transfer itself onto the pics, irrespective of how much your camera costs or the amount of khaki you wear.

At the end of the day - patience and persistence are your best teachers. As for all the fancy kit, if you can afford it - great. But if not - start out with what you can afford. And play about with whatever settings your camera has, don't just leave it on 'auto'. Take a few risks and experiment - the same for lighting ... some very cool effects can be had by using candles (it's a bit tricky, but give it a go).

Well, that's about it - if you're interested I did a post a while back about where/how I find the critters I snap - you can have a shoofty at it here: Where To Find Wildlife In Your Own Garden

As always, I hope you got something out of this post. Till next time ...

Take Care :)


It doesn't have to be a 'perfect' shot - have fun, I do



I intended to talk a little about post-production. Unfortunately, I'm out of time ... but I promise to do a post on that in the future. In the meantime, if you can't afford photoshop - don't despair.

There is an alternative that is free and actually pretty stable/capable.

It's called GIMP and you can check it out here. Gimp.org



Comments

  1. I have a small compact Olympus digital camera and I have done some pretty awesome photos qith it on Super Macro setting... I just love it. Thanks for posting this, I always get frustrated when I go somewhere and see those photographers with HUGE lenses and everything... :)

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