Wildlife photography can be both one of the most frustrating, but also most rewarding, genres that this art form has to offer. Having patience is often more important than the kit you have, as you scout wildlife hiding spots and hotspots while waiting for an animal to appear – then hoping that the lighting, your camera settings and the focus is perfect!
When you only see the end results on sites and apps like Instagram, it can be easy to romanticize wildlife photography and forget the weeks, months, and even years that can go into planning and editing. waiting to get the perfect photo. Wildlife shoots rarely go as planned and the weather often doesn’t play along.
• To photograph stunning wildlife yourself, check out the best lenses for bird photography
Reader PhotoPlus: Canon magazine, Thomas Lechthaler, is based in Manchester and is currently retraining as a truck driver. Photographing landscapes is his main passion and he uses it to relax in his free time when he is not working.
Although he is a very skilled landscape photographer, he loves all things outdoors and wanted to learn more about wildlife photography, which he sometimes struggles with. We paired him up for the day with professional wildlife photographer Paul Fowlie at his wildlife hideaways in Yorkshire to show him the ropes on an unusually rainy summer’s day! Sometimes that’s just the way it goes, so here we’ll go over Paul’s top tips for taking great wildlife portraits, even in a downpour.
1. Manual mode
Tom shoots in Manual mode when photographing his landscapes and Paul recommended he stay in that mode for wildlife photos as well. The weather was rainy and overcast, so light levels were fairly consistent throughout the day. He suggested starting with an aperture of around f/8 for good sharpness with owls and increasing the ISO until you get the shutter speed you want. Usually 1/2000 sec would be good for wildlife, but with more stationary subjects around 1/400 sec is usually pretty fast.
2. High Speed Burst
For landscapes, you usually have the luxury of taking your time and doing just one exposure. Wildlife photography can be much more fast-paced and frenetic, so a high-speed burst, like the 20fps continuous modes on Tom and Paul’s Canon EOS R5 cameras, is ideal. A faster burst rate gives you a better chance of capturing the best moment and hopefully multiple images will be crisp and clear too.
3. It’s a sign!
Paul installed signs, logs and tree stumps in front of his hiding places. This is a convenient place for birds and wildlife to perch, and also allows for more interesting and photogenic photos. He has screwed plastic containers to the back of his perches where he can add food so it doesn’t show up in photos. Any small pieces of food or bird droppings can then be easily removed in post-production. Why not try placing some photogenic logs in front of your bird feeders at home and give it a try?
4. Pop-up Wildlife Hideout
Although Paul has dedicated wooden hides to birding at many of his sites, he also uses these one-man pop-up style hides from Nitehawk. They come in different colors and camouflage options and easily fold into a backpack for easy transport. These were handy for photographing the little owls in the rain, as they allowed us to stay out of the drizzle and remain hidden so as not to spook our skittish subjects. Check out our guide to the best portable covers for wildlife photography
5. Autofocus case
Canon professional cameras like the EOS R5 allow you to fine-tune the autofocus to be more or less responsive. You need to go to your AF menu and change the AF cases in the third menu. The camera can be more or less sensitive when tracking, or ignore foreground elements – for example when tracking an animal. Paul uses case 3 for wildlife with tracking sensitivity and acceleration/deceleration tracking at +1.
6. Animal Eye Subject Detection
Until recently, Paul shot with a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III DSLR, but switched to mirrorless with the Canon EOS R5. One of the biggest benefits of the new system he discovered is the animal’s eye subject detection mode, which makes it much easier to lock onto an animal’s eye and capture it. keep in focus even when you follow your pet or it moves within the frame. If your Canon EOS has this feature, you will find it in the AF menu under “Subject to detect”.
7. Battery Grip
Paul paired his Canon EOS R5 with the BG-R10 battery grip, making it feel a little more like his old EOS-1D X Mark III, which had a built-in grip. Using a grip makes it easier and more natural to shoot with the camera in portrait orientation because it has an additional shutter button and control dials on the grip. This also means he can use two Canon LP-E6NH batteries to power his EOS R5, allowing him to run longer without having to change batteries, making him less likely to miss that magical moment.
8. Short telephoto zoom
Paul and Tom use short telephoto lenses such as a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, Tom uses his with his EOS R5 via the EF-EOS R mount adapter. A zoom range of 70 to 200mm is ideal for larger animals so you can get closer – used for red squirrels in the reflection pond hideout.
When used with a Canon EOS body with an APS-C sensor, they will appear even more “zoomed” due to the 1.6x crop factor. The wide, constant f/2.8 aperture in the zoom range is ideal for blurring the background (and foreground) of animal portraits and helps draw attention to your subject with this Shallow depth of field.
9. Wait for the right moment
Patience is the key to taking great wildlife photos. So it’s often helpful to frame and wait for your subject to strike an interesting pose or turn to face the right direction. For this photo of the red squirrel, Tom framed a shot across the heather, but the squirrel was initially facing away and looking out of the frame. He stood still and waited for the squirrel to turn around to make eye contact with the camera, which created a much stronger composition.
10. Keep your lenses dry
Although professional Canon cameras and lenses should be weatherproof and sealed to some extent, it’s certainly worth taking extra precautions when shooting in a heavy downpour. A rain hood for your lens is a great idea to keep water out, and a lens hood will also help prevent rain from falling on the front element of your lens. You may need to regularly wipe your lenses with a microfiber cloth to remove any water drops that could cause soft spots, and be sure to carefully pat your lenses with a towel once you get home so that they can dry properly indoors.
Check out our guide to the best rain shields for cameras
If you’re really into wildlife photography, you’ll want to take a look at the best lenses for wildlife. Paul uses a Canon EOS R3.
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