Wildlife photography. It’s not exactly my area of expertise, but when I was recently on holiday in Tanzania, I had to learn fast in order to make sure that I came home with more than just photos of animal’s backsides.
I’m not completely new to this type of photography, but it is definitely a departure from my usual work. For one thing, there’s the kit that’s required. Normally, I use a tripod and a wide angle lens, but wildlife photography requires a long lens, usually hand-held or supported by a monopod. Then, there’s the unpredictable, and uncontrollable nature of wildlife photography. With landscapes, I worry mostly about light and composition. If the light’s not right, I don’t shoot. With wildlife, however, waiting for perfect light or trying to arrange the perfect composition were not luxuries that were available to me; I largely had to work with what I had. To further complicate matters, I was limited to 15kg of baggage (total!) for a three week holiday, due to internal flights in small, light aircraft. I was essentially limited to one camera and one lens.
As I say, I’m not completely inexperienced in this sort of thing. I have photographed kite surfers in the past (hand-holding a long lens), and I did venture to zoos on a couple of occasions to work on my technique before I set off, and I’m glad that I had that sort of experience to draw upon because those experiences taught me a few things. For one thing, hand-holding a long lens means having to use faster shutter speeds than I usually use. Much faster shutter speeds. (An often quoted rule of thumb states that when hand-holding you should not use a shutter speed any slower than one over the focal length of your lens. For example, for my 300mm lens, I should not use anything slower than 1/300s. In reality, I have found that I can get away with slower speeds, especially with the vibration reduction feature on my lens, but this rule is a good starting point for experimentation.) I’d learned with the kite surfers, that I needed a shutter speed of around 1/500s to freeze water droplets, and I’d learned that for shooting a fast moving animal splashing in the water (e.g. a white shark biting at bait), I need to go even faster than that. A shutter speed of 1/1000s or faster might be necessary to freeze a small bird in flight.