For many, the natural environment is the inspiration that draws them towards a DSLR. From the bugs in the garden to the rhinos of the African savannah, wildlife photography provides an incredible opportunity to interact with the world around us.
However, for those just starting out, the choice of equipment can be daunting. While most photographers will tell you that it’s almost impossible to have too much gear, there are a few essential basics you’ll need. This article looks at five of the most important things any budding wildlife photographer requires to get up close and personal with any creature you might come across.
It goes without saying that you are going to need a lens or two if you want to take some photos. For wildlife photography, there are two essentials: a telephoto lens and a wide angle lens.
The telephoto lens is by far the most common lens in a nature photographer’s armory. It is what you will use to zoom in close enough to get meaningful images of many animals. If you have ever marveled at photos of a roaring tiger or a swooping eagle, this is the sort of thing you can attempt with a telephoto lens.
However, it is by far the most expensive piece of kit on the list, so it is worth shopping around and grabbing a decent secondhand lens if you can. To cover all bases, you will need to go up to a focal length of around 400mm (or bigger) if you can afford it, but a 300mm lens will still offer you excellent opportunities to get the images you want; you just might miss out on a few of the longer range photos.
While the telephoto is the ‘go to’ lens for many wildlife photographers, there is more to nature photography than zooming in as close as possible. With many subjects, you can get close enough without disturbing the animal to get fantastic shots using a wide angle lens as well.
Remember, the animal’s habitat can be just as important as the animal itself, so with a wide angle lens, you will be looking to show the environment as much as the subject. A standard 35mm lens will fit almost any occasion and will also be perfect for any landscape photography you might stumble upon if you are on a nature walk.
Spare batteries and memory cards
There is possibly nothing more annoying to a wildlife photographer than to have traipsed your way to your spot and set up the shot correctly, only to find your battery is dead, or you have already filled up your memory card. There is a simple solution to this; make sure you have spares, and that the batteries are all fully charged before you go out. If you don’t, there will almost certainly be a time you regret it, no matter how well prepared you are.
A lightweight tripod can make the world of difference to your shots, particularly when you are using a more cumbersome telephoto lens. When zooming in on a target, any slight movement of the camera is magnified, making it incredibly difficult to get the photo you intend. Using a tripod completely negates this problem, by keeping the camera fixed in position while you take the shot.
Normally, you will be doing quite a bit of walking when you are in the field, so when it comes to picking a model, a lighter tripod will help save your weary legs. You don’t want anything too flash to start with; just something to hold the camera steady. You can always upgrade at a later date if you feel you need some of the fancier features such as a gimbal.
There are times when the environment means there is no way to keep a tripod firmly in place. For these occasions, a small bean bag can be just what you need to get the shot you want. The bag provides a stable base for you to place your camera and means you don’t have to keep such a steady hand when you are taking the photo. Just rest the camera on the beanbag and wiggle it around until it is aiming correctly.
It is inevitable that at some point you will be out taking shots and the heavens will open. Sometimes, you might even plan for it if this is the type of shot you want. If you have spent all that money on a beautiful telephoto lens and a DSLR, it would be foolish not to look after them, so a specially designed rain cover is the best bet to keep your camera and gear safe. It also gives you the chance to take some brilliant ‘stormy weather’ photos to add to your portfolio.
With these items in your camera bag, you are ready to get out into the wild. If you are going to splash money on any item, spend it on the telephoto lens, as it will be the most used of all the equipment. Make sure you have all the other gear though, as there will almost always be a time when you need it. A fancy lens is no use if you can’t use it.