Tips for Beginners

WILDLIFE AND NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BEGINNERS

We are all beginners when we start something new. When I started with photography Internet didn’t exist, so I could not consult forums, blogs or other specialised media. I did not even know the names of the local birds here flying around! But that has changed dramatically. If you don't know something there is always online help available about any topic. Maybe I can convince you to start also with this fantastic hobby.

Camera with money

IS WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY EXPENSIVE?

You don’t need expensive gear to shoot beautiful photos. In a way, this might be true but for wildlife and in particular for small animals like birds, the basic requirements are not that cheap. Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, in fact, all DSLR/mirrorless camera brands make beautiful photos today.

Size-wise, with sensors, we have two formats to choose from, FX (Full Frame) or DX (APS-C). Most hobby photographers use the DX-format, mainly because of the price tag (although this difference is fading in 2019).

If you are going to buy a camera, choose your brand wisely and stick to it because in the future, you will be certainly buying lenses and if after a while you change to a camera of another brand, the whole replacement can get very expensive.

THE LENS IS MORE IMPORTANT!

Beginners in photography underestimate the power of the lens! Most of the time they have a kit-lens that came together with the camera. But what they don’t realise is that often it is a cheap lens put in the box to keep the costs down.

For me, the most important element of the camera is the lens. It’s that part of the camera where everything starts, if you have a cheap/bad lens you will never get good pictures, no matter how good your camera is. Particularly for small animals, you will need to invest in a good zoom or prime lens. A good telelens can cost 2, even 10x times more than the camera. A focal length of minimum 300mm is required to shoot close-ups of small animals, but then you need to stand close to the subject! A better focal length is 400mm or even 600mm. The lesson is, the more the better!

A collection of lenses

SHAKE BABY SHAKE!

Because your lens is most of the time zoomed in, you will have to be careful with shake or vibrations. Even the slightest touch on the shutter-release button can cause blurry photos!

Most wildlife photographers use a tripod (1) with a gimbal head (2). This head is made for long telelenses to move the camera quickly in all directions.

Keep in mind that carrying a heavy tripod with a gimbal head (3) during a field trip is not fun! A carbon version of a tripod can take the weight away. As a last resort, there are also monopods (4).

NOW YOU SEE ME, NOW YOU DON'T

Wildlife & nature photography requires silence, a lot of patience and sometimes you need to make yourself invisible.

I use two kinds of camouflage: when waiting on a spot for a long time I use the Stealth Gear Extreme One man Chair Hide M2 (1,2). For more portability, I use the Lenscoat Lenshide (3). If needed you can cover all your equipment/lens/tripod etc. And if you are going extreme then there is even snipers clothing (4)!

Photographer carrying heavy equipment
The less weight you carry the more fun you have

WEIGHT IS A PROBLEM!

A disadvantage of having all that equipment is weight. Doing wildlife and nature photography usually means that you need to walk long distances and the less weight you carry the more fun you have.

So I needed a solution for myself without compromising “image quality”. My goal was A.S.A.P. (for me, not an abbreviation for “as soon as possible” but “as small as possible”), not big Nikon or Canon 600mm lenses or heavy DSLR cameras that together can be 5Kg, a burden to carry while hiking unless you want a power gym session.

Tripods with a big gimbal head are also a “no” for me, again they are too heavy and time-consuming to set-up, instead, I prefer a good monopod, it’s a real time saver! If you are curious about what I use please read my What’s in the Bag?

SOME ETHICAL MATTERS

The best wildlife photographers are masters at getting close to the animals they photograph, while also keeping their distance and respecting nature. It’s a tricky balance that can feel like a contradiction.

If you’re photographing lions and tigers, avoiding disruption can be a matter of personal safety. However, when it comes to most animals, it’s the photographer who poses a larger threat. It’s all too easy to damage habitats or frighten your photo subjects, even when you have the best intentions.

Taking steps to make sure that your wildlife photography practice is as ethical as possible is important not only for the animals you photograph but also for your work. When done right, wildlife photography can be a great tool for raising awareness about endangered species and environments in need of conservation.

On a simpler level, wildlife photography also lets you create exciting images of animals and places that not many people might see otherwise. If you’re able to enter a natural habitat and photograph the wildlife within it without impacting your surroundings, you’re more likely to capture authentic images of how animals live.

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ABOUT DIRK BECKERS

I am a hobby wildlife, nature, travel, bird and landscape photographer living in Antwerp (Belgium). Professionally I have worked with different broadcast TV stations as a camera operator, video editor and vision mixer. At present, I am primarily doing graphic marketing, online graphic content creation, prototyping and UX design for websites and applications. Click here for more…

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COPYRIGHT NOTICE

Maybe you already noticed that I don’t use watermarks on my photos, because they are distracting and after all, they are easy to remove with Adobe Photoshop. For non-commercial uses, my photos are free to share but if you are interested in using one of my photos for commercial purposes in a legal way, please contact me. If you use my photos for commercial purposes without my consent, please be aware that I do reverse image search on a regular basis!
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