Friday, March 4, 2011

To Photograph Wildlife 1

Once we have found an interesting wildlife subject, many of us are interested in preserving our memory of this moment with a photograph. We all have different reasons for making pictures.We may want to have a reminder of when we saw our first bear, we may want to remember a magical moment with friends, prove that we actually saw a certain creature, some of us use the picture as a model for a future painting or myriad other ideas or reasons. I do understand some of the reasons for getting a photograph but I always remind my guests to take their eye from the viewfinder to better understand the ambiance around them. I often catch people who are so excited to see a beautiful bird that they will finally get a picture of that they miss the environment, the song, and the pure beauty of this subject that they are so excited to see. If you get a sense of the weather, the song, the smell or the forest, lake or light and the actions, inter-actions and the total space both you and your subject are in, at this magical moment, your photos will have much more meaning. Even if the picture does not come out as you remember, you can keep it as a treasured keepsake of a wonderful experience long ago.
What kind of camera should you buy, is a question we have all asked. These days, there are so many choices to make that it is difficult to choose just one model. Do you want something light and compact or are you willing to carry a huge monstrosity wherever you go? Do you want to take video or stills, or both? When my wife and I take a trip, we each carry our own choice. I carry a DSLR with a couple of lenses while Fay carries her little compact digital. Both cameras take very good pictures, if you use them properly. For flighty birds, jumpy animals and kids you need a DSLR. These cameras use inter-changeable lenses that have the ability to focus very quickly and continuously. Many of the compact cameras need time to focus, so it is almost impossible to get a clear picture of moving critters. There is nothing more annoying than clicking the trigger and the bird flies away before the camera can focus and trigger the shutter.
Brand names are people's own choice just like people's choice of vehicles they buy. Do a bit of research on the Internet and you will find the equipment that will do a good job for the right price. I enjoy many discussions with fellow photo enthusiasts about Nikon, Canon, Sony or Pentax. I have taken great pictures with two of that list and of course seen great pictures from all of them. I think the key is to get to know your own camera, play with it in different situations, practise with it before you go on your first holiday and carry the manual with you. These cameras are getting very complicated with more settings than many of us will ever use, so read and practise before you need it.
Some of my best photos are in my mind; fleeting times that I did not have time to get the camera out. I have missed many photos in the past because I did not have my camera with me or did not have it ready to shoot. Last summer, I left the lodge in the boat, early in a beautiful morning, with my camera snuggled securely into it's protective case. I had not yet arrived at a place I was expecting to see anything worthwhile to photograph, when just a few meters away, out of the ocean depths, popped a River Otter with a Dungeness Crab meal in it's paws. It paused for about 8 or 10 seconds to see if I was a threat, plenty of time for me to get off a few shots, if my camera had been out and ready to go. Helplessly, I had to enjoy the moment with the otter, which I enjoyed anyway, but was sorry that I had missed such a valuable shot.
How many times have we all gone out, taken 2 pictures and the battery goes dead? I always carry 2 or 3 batteries with me. I always try to keep them charged right up. The batteries that come with modern cameras are very good; they can be charged up without running them right down. They will take many pictures between charges, I think mine can do several hundred. If you go to another country, make sure to carry a electrical power converter. They are cheap but invaluable.
Carry extra memory cards with you. These cards hold many pictures and are good storage units, so carry a few along. Airport x-rays don't hurt them. It is always a good idea to download your cards onto your computer or other storage device after a great day of super pictures, so don't forget the downloading cord or a card reader.
I use a water resistant, padded backpack to carry my equipment in. It has room enough for a couple lenses, a couple camera bodies, laptop, spare batteries, cards, tissues, cleaning kits and identification. All my gear has my name printed onto it in case of theft or loss as well as business cards inside the bag with my contact info. My backpack is the size approved as carry on luggage for the airplane, so I am carrying all my valuable electronic gear with me. Don't forget to insure your gear with an insurance rider on your household insurance plan. It helped me pay for an expensive repair to my large lens after I dropped it and broke it in half. It did not pay for an expensive camera that got wet in a rainstorm.
I do have a monopod and a tripod, which I confess, I rarely use. I find that with most of the situations I am in, there is little room or time to set up and use them. Boats don't bob still enough to provide a stable support, even if there was room. Birds are very quick as they flit through the underbrush or scurry about for worms. I compensate for my shakiness with camera settings that I will explain later.
To be continued...

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