So you have had a look at the idea of a Backyard Safari and have been out and had a go. Hopefully you have enjoyed the experience and that is why you have come back to find out more.
Over these next couple of articles, I will try to give a few pointers to what can be achieved with various types of wildlife photography so that your preference is covered somewhere.
As everybody’s equipment will differ, from small compacts to full SLR systems, I have tried to divide it into three groups, those of lens coverage. There will, of course, be anomalies that can be covered by more than one group, but please bear with me.
We will start off with the standard lens in the area of 50mm equivalent at 35mm. This is possibly the most versatile area in general photography but you may think of it as restricted when it comes to Wildlife. Not so! Standard lenses, especially on compact cameras, are capable of focusing quite close to the subject and filling the frame. They can also be faster than longer focal lengths and are therefore good for low light situations. The perspective they give is similar to that of the human eye, so pictures can look very natural.
So what subjects are we looking at here? Well, during the Summer months, there are wild flowers in all their glory just crying out to be noticed. In Autumn there’s fungi in abundance, (remember the low light ability?) In Winter, the starkness of the habitat begs to be recorded and in Spring the whole countryside is bursting into life.
If you camera’s lens has the ability to focus at half a metre or less (18”-2ft) then the world of wild flowers and fungi is open to you. A tripod or bean bag will be of great help, but if you don’t have one you can still improvise. Find something that you can use to help keep the camera still. Use a cable release or the self timer to trip the shutter. With flowers, the slightest of breezes can make the blooms sway, so a hank of garden wire is an idea to keep in your pocket. Used to steady a flower out of shot, it can save a lot of frustration. Many wild flowers are protected, so take care not to damage them and don’t pick them, leave them for others to enjoy!
Reflectors are also a good way to improve shots. Suppliers will sell you a bewildering array, but again, you can improvise. White card, silver foil and those gold reflective carrier bags that you get at Christmas are my favorites but I have even been known to use the inside of a biscuit tin lid! The larger reflectors can have a use also. I carry a Portaflash 5 in 1 that is 40” opened and use it in difficult situations to throw light into an area that is in shade, a scenario often found with things like fungi.
The standard lens is also good for habitat shots without distorting the perspective. Look at identification books of trees. Most are illustrated with drawings because it is difficult to get single trees without others encroaching on the shot. The best way to do it is with a standard lens! There is a demand among the Photo Agencies for good shots of individual trees. If you go down that route, be sure to identify them correctly.
Standard lenses also have a place in Wildlife Parks and Aquaria when you need to shoot through glass. The close focusing ability and fast apertures come into their own here and, along with a small piece of black cloth and a bit of masking tape, give a good chance of capturing a decent image. (Wipe fingerprints off the glass with the cloth, then tape the cloth to the glass and put the camera to the glass under the cloth. Result, no reflections from lights/sun!)
A ‘standard’ lens is on that gives approximately the same perspective as the human eye. Therefore, as a 50mm is considered ‘standard’ on a 35mm or full frame digital sensor, a lens around 30mm, i.e. Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX HSM would be considered around ‘standard’ on an APS-C sized sensor.
Many cameras are supplied in ‘kit’ form with a ‘standard’ zoom of around 18-50mm (Sigma make two!) and the use of this type of lens also stands good for the advice in this article.
One last tip for this time. Get to know your camera intimately. Get to know how to change the settings without getting the manual out. The techniques mention here you can take your time over, but it is when you are out doing this type of photography that you will see that once in a lifetime shot that you don’t want to miss!