Wildlife photography requires patience and finely tuned approach. In our new Shoot Like A Pro series on wildlife photography we’ll show you a series of simple techniques that will help get you closer to the animals you want to photograph and never miss a shot.
Winter is the perfect time of year to try your hand at wildlife photography. Without the cover of trees and bushes, it’s easier to see wild animals and birds in their natural habitats. As there’s less food available, it’s also easier to tempt them closer to your lens.
Crucially for photography, although the days are shorter, you can photograph for a much longer period than you can in the summer, and the angle of the winter sun makes for more interesting light throughout the day, with the glorious colours of sub-zero sunrises and sunsets giving your pictures an interesting edge.
Cold weather does bring its own set of problems, though. For instance, metal tripods become painful to the touch – use padded leg wraps or switch to a carbon fibre tripod instead. Batteries also drain faster when temperatures drop.
This problem is exacerbated by the use of image stabilisation, which is an essential feature on the telephoto lenses required for sensor-filling images of distant wildlife.
However, you don’t have to spend weeks shivering behind a £10,000 telephoto in a tiny hide in order to take nature images. Follow our guide to take brilliant pictures everywhere, from your garden to your local park and beyond…
How to photograph garden wildlife
You don’t have to travel far to capture creative shots of wild critters. In fact, plenty of nature pros cut their teeth on garden bird photography – and continue to make a decent income with stock shots of ‘little brown jobs’.
As with other types of wildlife photography, you’ll need a telephoto lens and a decent tripod to support it. Backyard birds are small, and unless you can attract them close with feeders, you’ll be looking at a focal length in the region of 300-500mm for frame-filling shots.
This is where the smaller APS-C sensor found in most DSLRs proves advantageous. An APS-C sensor captures a smaller area of the image projected by the lens than a full-frame sensor does, so the subject appears larger in the picture.
It’s for this reason that you need to apply a ‘focal length multiplier’ of either 1.5x (for Nikon) or 1.6x (for Canon) to arrive at the effective focal length.
So, a 300mm lens on an APS-C camera gives the equivalent field of view as a 480mm lens on a full-frame camera.
In addition to giving you more reach, a telephoto lens gives you more control over the background; the longer the lens, the less of it you’ll see through the viewfinder.
Gardens can be full of clutter, so being able to pick out a clean backdrop is absolutely essential.
Also, the further that trees, hedges and fences are from the bird, the more blurred they’ll appear in the image, allowing the creatures to stand out clearly. Choose a wide aperture to make the most of this effect.
As well as photographing birds on branches, get low to take shots of species that feed on the ground.
Eye-level shots that feature both a distant background and foreground detail that’s close to the lens work best here, allowing you to throw both out of focus with a wide aperture and sandwich the animal between two layers of blur.
Rest the lens on a beanbag to give you the necessary low angle and make yourself comfortable, as you might be there for some time…
PAGE 1: How to shoot garden wildlife photography
PAGE 2: Best camera settings for garden wildlife photography
PAGE 3: How to set up a feeding station
PAGE 4: Choosing the right wildlife photography location
PAGE 5: Look for frozen water
PAGE 6: Getting the best results from long lenses
PAGE 7: Why you want to get close to animals
PAGE 8: Key techniques for getting close to wildlife
PAGE 9: How to set up a hide
PAGE 10: How to shoot from a car window
PAGE 11: Wildlife photography in iconic locations
PAGE 12: Don’t forget the basics of wildlife photography
PAGE 13: How to protect your gear