If you are interested in pursuing this type of photography, here’s some of the stuff you’re likely to need:
Full Disclosure: I have linked to Amazon so that you can see the prices of the various items, but I cannot recommend something I have not used. If you do end up purchasing a product after clicking on a link, you help to support this site.
1. Big Heavy Lens (BHL) – well it doesn’t have to be big and heavy, however no company has yet been able to create a light super telephoto prime lens (there’s physics behind that). You’re looking at dropping over $5000 (Nikon 500mm) to get you in close to far away subjects. Thom Hogan suggests that the 500mm is the most reasonable choice for his wildlife shooting and traveling (scroll down to the section titled “exotics”).
2. Smaller Heavy Lens (SHL) – if your subjects are close you can get away with a smaller lens like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II (I own the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VRI and I love it), or if they’re small and close a macro like the 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens.
This photo was taken with my 70-200mm f2.8 lens:
I was only a few meters away though. In the majority of cases the koalas are so far up the tree that I can’t fill the frame even at 200mm.
3. Tripod to hold your BHL – unless you have muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was on steroids, you’re going to need some help holding up such a heavy lens. I’d suggest something carbon fibre as it is (relatively) lightweight for the load it can carry. Gitzo has a number of carbon fibre pegs available. I own a Series 2 Gitzo, but I would be pushing it to hold a BHL. You would need something more like the Gitzo Series 4 Tripod. A monopod might work too depending on your shooting style. I have never owned one and can’t speak to their effectiveness in the field.
4. Gimbal head to move your BHL or your SHL – most animals (if they’re alive) move. Some move very quickly. A Gimbal head allows you to swing those heavy lenses around and track and animal as they move. I do not own a full-sized gimbal head – mostly because I don’t own a BHL ;-) – so I cannot give any advice on different brands.
5. A Camouflaged “Hide” – I think this where most aspiring wildlife photographers miss out – I certainly do. No matter how long (and heavy) your lens is you’re likely to disturb any potential subjects with your presence long before you get close enough to get the shot, especially with the SHL. Also, you should take into consideration that if an animal feels your presence, they might not engage in their usual, natural behaviour; robbing you of the award-winning shot you wanted to get.
6. Flash – What happens if you’re taking a photo of a beautifully coloured bird out in the open on a bright sunny day? Harsh shadows, that’s what. Use a flash to fill those shadows. What about when you’re taking a photo of a monkey hidden in the shade of the trees. Use a flash to help you get the correct exposure while minimizing motion blur. The Nikon SB-910 Speedlight Flash gives you great zooming abilities. I own the Nikon SB-700 Speedlight Flash which I love. It is cheaper, lighter, but in terms of wildlife photography it doesn’t have as much power and zooming abilities.
7. Flash Extender – Flash works great, but only up to a certain distance. If you own a BHL, you’re likely going to have to get a flash extender to give you the power you need to reach that monkey! Flash extenders work using a Fresnel lens to concentrate the beam of light to make it go further. Better Beamer is one of the known brands here.
8. Patience – oh boy! More than any other type of photography I’ve experienced, wildlife photography is an exercise in patience. Animals don’t do what you want them to do. They might spend hours hidden away. They might run off. They might do nothing. They might do something and you miss it. Be aware that it takes a certain level of commitment to excel at wildlife photography. But I suppose that’s the same for any other type of photography as well.
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