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A Beginner’s Guide To Wildlife Photography

Photography can be daunting sometimes… Especially if you’re new to the field and have little to no experience on your own. All the information, rules, tips and tricks, and just general guidelines can feel overwhelming and leave even the most seasoned photographers with a headache.

Wildlife photography can feel especially complicated, what with all of the intricacies of getting your camera to just the right settings, making sure your gear is set up properly, and battling mother nature in the process. Then, of course, there is the wildlife itself, which does what it wants, not what you want.

Not to worry though, you’re in the right place. In this article, I’m going to shed some light on what you need to look for and learn about so that when the opportunity comes, you’re ready.

You’re Going to Need Gear You Can Count On

\We’ll start off with the big one: your gear. On average, the best wildlife photography shots you’ll catch last anywhere from 5 to 25 seconds, but usually no longer than that. Mother nature moves quickly, and if you can’t move with her, you will miss that once in a lifetime snap. You need to be able to pack only the gear you’ll need, and nothing else.

First and foremost, you are going to want a good camera. This doesn’t need to be anything incredibly expensive, but it does need certain specs. A good burst mode, for example, to capture that fleeting shot before you miss it forever. Other specs you’ll want to look at for your camera include: an efficient and accurate autofocus, a decent lens range, and a suitable buffer depth.

My recommendation for a camera that provides all of these qualities and more is the Nikon D850. While its burst rate is not as fast as the flagship Nikon D6, the image quality from this camera is stunning, and it’s much less bulky than its D6 counterpart.

So, now that you have a camera, let’s look at choosing a lens. Your lens is something that can make or break your shot, even if you’re photographing with the best, most cutting edge camera available.

So what does your lens need to succeed? Well, for starters, you’ll want it to have a quick focus, much like your camera. Wildlife photography is all about speed, and your gear needs to reflect that. Your lens also needs to provide you with exceptional range without sacrificing that sharp as a tack quality.

In my experience, the best budget lens I’ve found that reflects both of these qualities effortlessly is the Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary. This is a dynamic lens, capable of quick focus and close-ups, as well as distance shots.

In fact, the only downfall to the Sigma I’ve discovered is that it isn’t exactly light-weight, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Nobody’s perfect, after all.

Know Nature’s Rules

Any wildlife photographer will tell you: Nature is merciless. She does what she wants, and it’s your job as a photographer to predict what she’s going to do next, both for your shot and your own safety.

Ultimately, animals are unpredictable and even small ones can be dangerous. If you can get the shot from further back, do so. The last thing you want is for your gear to be all that’s left of you.

Additionally, be sure to take at least basic survival gear with you. Small kits are available at most major retailers, and usually includes standard items such as flint and steel, a small knife, a compass, some sort of water purifier, and various first aid products.

If it isn’t included, you’ll also want to bring a whistle. Whistles are incredibly useful if you get lost, as the shrill tone carries much further than your voice could hope to, and your chances of being found are much higher.

To Sum It Up

If you want that perfect shot, you’ll want to come prepared in every sense of the word. Making sure you have the correct gear with you is paramount to both getting the shot, and getting home so you can show that shot to others.

Most important of all, though, is this: don’t assume you’re safe just because you can’t see the danger. Keep in mind that the wildlife you are photographing has evolved over centuries to be perfectly suited to the environment it currently in, whereas you are not.

Staying safe isn’t difficult, though. All you need to do is adhere to nature’s cardinal rule: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

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