The Joys Of Wildlife And Nature Photography
Since I got hooked on photography, my camera and I are rarely separated, especially when on any visits, excursions or holidays. I’m at that stage of sheer photo devotion and quite likely to make the odd rash decision about whether to buy this gadget or that lens, whether I need it or not.
But when one has a love as deep as this, aren’t we allowed to indulge ourselves just a little? Of course we are. In 2010, I bought my first digital SLR camera, a Nikon D90 and two lenses. The next year, I added another two lenses, a flash unit and various accessories – oh yes, accessories in photography are too numerous to mention. Then in 2012, I hunted down three little devices called Pocket Wizards, I’ll tell you what they are for later.
Armed with my camera bag of tricks, and of course a sturdy tripod, I’m ready to show you in more detail my world of nature photography, so let’s go and see the birds and bees, and flowers and trees.
A Photographer’s Roving Eye
rob hemphill Any camera enthusiast will tell you that they soon developed and eye for detail. Rather than hurriedly taking a shot, they’ll scout around the location for the best angle, best light and ultimately the best composition for the picture.
On any walk or drive around, I find I’m always looking for that next good shot or location or sunset. In fact, ones eye becomes so fine-tuned, that a walk with anyone uninterested in taking photos, turns into a snails-pace meander and inevitable complaints of “come on, hurry up”!
There are good and bad things about that. The bad is that photographers should really go shooting with like-minded people, i.e. other photographers. The good is that nature seems to come closer as your beady eye scans every nook and cranny for creatures or any abstract or non abstract beauty.
A Bit About My Camera – Nikon D90 DSLR
Great mid range camera for digital beginners
Nikon D90 camera Before I chose the D90 I had little idea of what I really wanted out of a camera. My research was fairly basic and ended up being between the two old rivals, and both excellent camera makers – Canon and Nikon.
I was on a trip to North Carolina, and with some time on my hands went into a Best Buy shop to have a look around. At this time I wasn’t actually in hot pursuit of a camera, but the display of all cameras immediately caught my eye.
There were Canon and Nikon, Sony and Olympus as well as a few other brands. This was my chance to see them all face to face, and hold them to get the feel of which ones were more comfortable than others. It didn’t take long, as inevitably the bottom line was the price. The Nikon D90 digital SLR camera won the day, and I got two lenses in the kit rather than just the one.
A Variety of Lenses
Zoom, wide angle and macro
The camera came with what they call kit lenses, these are general purpose all round zoom lenses.
1. The first lens is an 18-55mm wide angle zoom.
Optimized for use with Nikon digital SLRs for superior performance with quiet autofocus operation.
A Hybrid aspherical lens element minimizes certain types of lens aberration.
Lens accepts 52mm filter attachments.
Separate zoom and focusing rings provide the smooth operation preferred by professionals.
2. Second lens is an 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens
Also with the fantastic Vibration Reduction (VRII) which minimizes the effects of camera shake so you get sharper images.
It has 2 Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass elements which deliver superior contrast and resolution performance.
Internal Focus (IF) system which provides fast and quiet auto-focusing; 4.9-feet close focus range.
This is fantastic for those long range shots of birds and other animals that its hard to get close to. As long as you have a tripod, this lens produces some remarkable results.
Ironically, the first ever photo I took with my new camera and this lens was this one of a house martin feeding its young. I did everything wrong from a photographic point of view that I didn’t know then, and most importantly I failed to use a tripod. I balanced myself on top of a 6 ft ladder in the corner of a stable and waited for the martin to fly in. I had already pre-focused, so the shot worked OK – for a beginner!
3.Third lens is a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor Lens.
Designed for macro photography and versatile enough for almost any other photographic situation.
Vibration Reduction (VR II) technology is superb with a high spec lens like this.
Enhance overall image quality by using Nano-Crystal coat and ED glass elements which help to reduce flare and chromatic aberrations.
Has an internal focus, which provides a fast and very quiet auto-focusing without the need of changing the length of the lens.
Birds of a Feather…
…are challenging to photograph
robin in snow Photographing birds is quite a challenge, but that is what makes it all the more rewarding when you DO get a decent shot. They don’t stay still for too long which means you have to be ready and focused, in more ways than one.
With bird photography, the important thing is to always get the nearest eye to the camera in focus, this sounds easy, but in practice it’s quite tricky especially if you are shooting in manual more and having to continually re-focus as the bird moves.
Shooting in automatic mode might be easier, as the focus will be constantly updated, but you have no control over the aperture shutter spped or ISO settings.
Why have control over these settings if it’s harder?
1. You might want to freeze the movement if the bird is in flight or about to fly, therefore you’d need to set a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion.
2. Perhaps you want to blur the background to clearly separate it from the bird – set a lower aperture value, i.e. open the aperture setting to say f5.6 rather than f22.
3. Get creative and introduce some form of artificial blur or movement of your choosing.
The Birds and the Bees on YouTube
Bees and birds – relaxing bird and bee noises
Wren in a Hurry!
wren bird f 4.8, 1/800, ISO 2000
Photo by Rob Hemphill
Having recently bought a set of three Pocket Wizards from Amazon, I’ve been having fun learning how they work.
If you’re a keen wildlife photographer and want to try and catch those difficult shots whereby you need to be closer to the animal or bird without frightening them off, then these little gadgets are what you need – and they’re not expensive for what they do.
This photo was the very first I took with the Pocket Wizards. I set the camera up about 12 feet away from the birdbath in my garden and sat indoors (20 yards away) keeping watch on the activity. The camera was set on high shooting mode to take up to 5 shots per minute, so I rattled off an impressive 200 images in only and hour. I wanted to show you only the first image so you can see how easy it can be – I got better and better as time went on. I’ll soon have some of those pics on a new lens.
Did You Know Bees Love Caffeine?
They feed on caffeine-containing nectar!
These fascinating insects never keep still for long as they busily go about their feeding. I have found taking photos of bees quite tricky at times, the good old bumble bee is larger and therefore a bigger target, but getting the focus accurately locked on to his eye is not easy.
When taking photos with a normal lens rather than a close up one, it is straight forward enough to set the camera to auto mode, then track your target as it moves around. The camera will then keep re-focusing using its continuous focus mode, and you can just point and shoot when ready. Like I said earlier, auto mode is limiting!
Shooting little insects requires stealth and guile, and once you gain their trust they usually co-operate by staying still and starring at you, giving to time to take a reasonable photo. My favorite insects for carrying out this type of behavior have to be dragonflies and damselflies. I have been reminded many times of the ‘relationships’ I’ve had with these inquisitive insects.
Bees Buzzing on Caffeine
Bees may possibly crave a buzz or two. Scientists have recently found that some plants, such as the coffee plant (Coffea), use caffeine to manipulate the memory of bees. The nectar in their flowers contains low levels of caffeine that pollinators find hugely rewarding.
Bumble Bee on a Chrysanthemum
Bumble bee approaching a colorful chrysanthemum flower.
How To Get Even Closer To Your Flowers
Must be calm weather – no movement!
When I first bought my macro lens, the subjects that attracted me the most were flowers. Being able to get in close and capture the petals and stamens in fine detail was addictive, especially when I saw the results. The colors of flowers are the first attraction, but it is in natures detail that has us photographers, among others, in awe.
I remember seeing flower images that my father had taken in Kenya, East Africa more than 40 years ago, and was struck by his composition. What helps is that you have a flower of stunning shape and color, but what he did was to photograph these flowers after a rain shower, or deluge as it was there! He captured such freshness and beauty that I wanted to emulate, so my quest began soon after I got my camera – and I’m still at it.
Below is a selection of just a small sample of my flowers taken using a macro lens, but for all of these photos I had fixed a teleconverter to the camera body, then attached the lens to the teleconverter. This allows me to get just that bit closer still (depending on the ratio – mine is this one, the TC-14E II or 1.4 magnification). This means that I’m able to get nearly one and half times closer than by just using the macro lens on its own.
There are two other Nikon teleconverters in the series, the TC-17E II (1.7 multiplier) and the TC-20E II (2.0 times multiplier). Before buying you must check the compatibility with other lenses on the Nikon website.
Yet More Flowers!
I feel like a bee as I flit from flower to flower with my camera and trusty macro lens. Looking into the depths of the flower head is like discovering something new, as they are so many new views to the eye.
The tapestries woven within nature are divine, from the folds in flower petals to the textures in bark, the makings on creatures to the shape of all things; and having my camera with me makes me appreciate of our beautiful world all the more.
The Energy of Trees
Majestic and embracing
I have written about trees before, I find them absolutely fascinating. What captured my attention while I was researching the tree lens (link below), I was staggered at their diversity, the tallest, the widest, the oldest as well as extraordinary circus trees – if you’re not sure what they are, do pop over and take a look.
Trees are majestic on their own, in winter, in summer, in the fall, and most photographers will at some stage spend time capturing trees either in forests, woodland or on their own.