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  1. #1
    OllyB's Avatar
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    Wildlife photography on a budget

    I am looking for some advice and know this is the place to go for level headed responses.....

    I am trying to spend as much time as possible concentrating on wildlife photography but am finding it difficult to get results on anything other than common garden birds and captive animals. This is mainly due to me being 'larger than the average bear' (height wise although the trousers do seem to be getting tighter lately!) and therefore not overly blessed with stealth. In my mind the alternative is to go for longer range lenses (I'm currently using a Sigma 70-300 telephoto on a Nikon F80) but the credit card shrunk at the sight of the price tags.

    I've done the usual trawling through Ebay but still cannot find anything that falls into a reasonable range. Has anyone got any tips or tricks for overcoming this ?? I've looked at hides but most of the photography is to be done on common land so poses the obvious threat of removal by our light fingered friends. What are peoples thoughts on teleconvertors ??

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    Olly
    "Take nothing but Photographs, leave nothing but footprints"

  2. #2
    Dave Parker's Avatar
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    Hi Olly,

    I do a lot of Wildlife work, and it takes big glass! That said, I use teleconvertors, one thing you want to make sure, is get the best quality convertor you can, you want APO glass and one thing to take into account on most AF camera systems, you will most likly have to manual focus due to the light loss, I use a 300 f/2.8 with a 2x Kenko pro convertor for most of my work, but also have a 600mm f/4 that sees it share of time on the tripod, a great many use 300mm f/4 lenses for their work, they are still small enough to hand hold, and not quite as expensive as the really big glass, I guess the most important thing is technique and patience, and lots of practice. But again, if you want bigger glass on a budget about the only way to do it is with a teleconvertor, and of couse anytime you introduce extra glass surfaces, you run the risk of lower quality images, but a great many of us, that do wildlife use them. A great place to practice technique is a local zoo, that way your shooting the subject matter and can develop what works for you, birds in the backyard are always good for practice..

    Dave

  3. #3
    Troy Hamon's Avatar
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    Are there specific animals you are trying to photograph? For birds, a 300 mm lens is considered pretty short, but you still need to be fairly close even with a 600 or 800 mm.

    You state that you are not blessed with stealth. Often the only stealth required is the time and patience to sit and wait a long time. Sneaking up on animals for photography is often not very feasible (and for many species not particularly safe...but hopefully you've considered that already).

    I wouldn't recommend teleconverters unless you're starting with a fast lens. A maximum aperture of 5.6 is pretty difficult to use with a teleconverter as the viewfinder gets very dark and the exposure is very constrained by the additional loss of effective aperture. Better to make use of the lens as is, or concentrate on getting a used manual focus 300 f2.8 (not as expensive as the latest AF versions...) to start out. A teleconverter on that will be more useable. But I wouldn't do any shopping until you get some real sense for whether your technique is going to be successful and you are interested in this type of photography for the long haul. Fast lenses are heavy and make exorbitantly expensive paperweights if you don't plan to use them...

    My two cents.

  4. #4
    Travis Nunn's Avatar
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    The most important thing to do is research your subject. Find out when and where they are most likely to be seen. If the subject is not birds, learn tracking methods. Learn how to call game. Most public lands that I know of do not allow game callers, but with practice, you can call some animals in using your own voice (Barred Owls, for instance are pretty easy). If the places you go do allow game callers, use them, but remember your ethics, using game callers too much causes undue stress on some animals. You can learn a lot about getting closer to wildlife from hunting guides. The more you do to improve your chances of getting closer to the wildlife you wish to photograph, the better the chances are youíll get better pictures.

    Longer lenses are ideal, but if you canít afford one, a tele-converter can help, but youíll lose a stop or two. Iím not familiar with Nikonís gear, but check to see if they have a converter that allows the older manual focus lenses on the newer bodies. Older lenses are still good and usually a lot cheaper. KEH has some BGN 400 f5.6 lenses for around $400. Use a good, sturdy tripod all the time. Especially with a tele-converter, chances are you wonít be using a shutter speed slow enough to hand-hold and get sharp pictures. Spend lots of time outdoors shooting. Itís difficult to get great shots just by chance.
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  5. #5
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    I'll echo Travis' thoughts here. The first things are patience and knowing your subject.

    Older manual focus lenses are the way to go. For birds it's better to have a 600/4 manual focus lens than the latest 300/5.6 with image stabilization and autofocus, which will still cost more than the manual 600/4.

    1.4x converters are usually more tolerable than 2x converters.

    The tripod will be more important to sharpness than the lens in most cases. Most complaints one hears about someone's new super-tele have more to do with not having an adequate tripod and head and technique to use them than with the optical limitations of the lens.

    Shoot a lot of film. Even if you think you got it, there are all kinds of chance and random factors that can get in the way--subject movement, camera movement, wind, etc. Don't be afraid to toss half of your slides for technical reasons, and half of the ones remaining for aesthetic reasons.
    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  6. #6

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    Not to quarrel with any of the good advice you've received, but I still remember a Joe MacDonald (spelling? With or without "a"?) workshop in which he made the point that long lenses were a mixed blessing and that it was usually better to get closer than to get a longer lens. This is somewhat cold comfort when my 700 is too short and there are obstacles that prevent a closer approach.

    But there are non-photographic gadgets, especially portable blinds, that are supposed to help solve the problem of getting closer. They seem to work for hunters.

    All kidding aside, there are books on wildlife photography. I have Joe's, haven't looked at it for quite a while or compared it with the competition so hesitate to recommend it or any other. But you'll learn more from a leisurely read than you will from semi-random comments on a bulletin board. Get a good book and read it.

    Good luck, have fun,

    Dan

  7. #7
    Travis Nunn's Avatar
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    Dan is correct, you don't need big glass to get good shots. A friend of mine has a blind in her back yard and she regularly sets up a dead tree/log not too far away from it and slathers peanut butter and bird seed in some of the holes of the tree and she can fill the frame with the woodpeckers that visit it using only a 200mm lens. Strategically fixing limbs onto or near birdfeeders are great in that they give the birds a place to perch before and after hitting the feeder which is a big plus in that you have a good idea of where to focus so that only small adjustments need to be made and you have a natural looking scene as opposed to a bird feeder in your shot, unless that is what you are going for.
    ____________________________________________
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  8. #8
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Blinds are certainly useful. I don't own my own portable blind, but I've often used permanent blinds at parks and wildlife reserves. Look at the L.L. Rue website for some portable blinds that usually get good reviews.

    For birds though, even with a blind and good technique, a long lens will give you more chances to get good photographs, because many birds are not approachable even with a blind (unless you are also building a scaffold for birds that avoid the ground or are willing to make floating blinds for water birds that avoid the shore, presuming that such things are permitted and possible in the location where you are shooting). Another reason to use a long lens is to prevent wildlife from becoming too accustomed to human presence.
    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  9. #9
    Travis Nunn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb
    ..Another reason to use a long lens is to prevent wildlife from becoming too accustomed to human presence...
    That's probably the best point made. Getting close is important, but getting too close can be not such a good thing. Of course its rare that I'm too close to my subjects.

    Leonard Lee Rue is a great place to look for equipment. I can vouch for the Groofwin Pod, its really nice for when you can shoot from your car.
    ____________________________________________
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  10. #10
    Dave Parker's Avatar
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    A good book to pick up about wildlife, mainly birds, but can be used esentually for all wildlife species is Arthur Morris "The Art of Bird Photography" he is mainly a bird photographer, but as I said, the techniques and information in this book can be used for all wildlife shooting.

    Dave

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