Basic Wildlife Photography


So I have a friend who I haven’t seen in a few years but he is a professional wildlife photographer and happily spends days in a hide waiting for those awesome shots of kingfishers hunting or puffins courting and I’m not suggesting you get into that league but you can have some fun taking wildlife shots all the same.
Now we were in Norfolk last week and as I mentioned in my last post we visited the sea front at Sheringham. I would call it a beach but with some of you living in exotic locations, you’d laugh at our beaches along the east coast of England!

Anyway, before I took those blurred beach shots I was standing with my dog waiting for my wife and kids to come out of the Amusement Arcade… I know right, classy! I wandered down to the ‘sea front’ and as I watched all the seagulls swooping around overhead, I remembered that I had packed half a loaf of gone off bread to feed the ducks. ‘Ting’, lightbulb moment, I tied Bella my dog around my ankle, get out my camera and started throwing chunks of bread into the air to see if the birds would come to me, and of course they did. Now this wasn’t so easy throwing the bread with one hand while holding my camera in the other and not forgetting my Golden Retriever strapped round my ankle!

I decided to wait till the family joined me and then I put them to work.

Now let me rewind a little and explain something about my camera settings and how I’d suggest you go about this if you (and you should) fancy a go yourself.

I am using my Canon 5D but any SLR will do here, what’s more important is that I had a zoom lens attached. Ideally you want something that will go to 200mm and with your crop factor that will actually mean you’re shooting at over 300mm so that’s more than enough, my point is just that a 50mm prime lens or your 18-55mm kit lens won’t be enough here.

… That’s half of you just closed the page lol, no I hope not, it’s good to read even if you don’t have the lenses yet.

So what did I do? Well first, I had to set up my camera. There’s no need for tripods or filters, just you and your camera. Ok, well I needed to make sure I was on continuous shooting mode so i could keep my finger on the shutter and snap away, I needed to make sure I was spot focussing in the centre of my viewfinder (I find it’s slightly quicker at focusing), not leaving the camera to automatically guess what I want to focus on. You can read how to make these settings on the videos here.

Then I needed to set my exposure didn’t I, so how do I do that? Well, I had to be on manual else the results would be all over the place. This is exactly the kind of situation where you have to go manual, but as I’ve said before that’s far easier than people think. What I did, and it’s a shame I deleted this image, i wasn’t thinking when i was on site, was to look at a neutral wall to the side of me, in the same light and environment and see what the gauge in the viewfinder was telling me. I know I wanted a pretty fast shutter speed so selected 1/500th of a second and a wide aperture to let plenty of light through. I wouldn’t go too wide as you’re loosing your depth of field and will struggle to focus on fast-moving birds but unless you’ve got an £800+ lens you’re unlikely to get much lower than 5.6 anyway, and that’s exactly what I was on. So again, as those two settings were fairly compulsory and my needle was telling me the shot would be too dark, I used my ISO setting to lighten the image. I ended up with a good exposure with this at 400 and in good daylight like I had I knew I would have no regrets with that setting.

So I had the camera all locked down on manual:

  • Shutter speed : 1/500
  • aperture : f5.6
  • ISO : 400

Now that really wasn’t hard or technical, just a logical process to work out the settings.

From there I simply asked Jamie to stand a little way in front of me and throw the bread nice and high in the same spot over and over while I snapped away.

I haven’t done a lot with the images when I got back to my laptop, I cropped in tighter, added some sharpness, vibrancy, definition, pulled the highlights down and being honest deleted 75% of them as they were out of focus or just rubbish. And what I was left with was this little lot:


Now hopefully I’m demonstrating how easy this is to get acceptable results, and I know they’re only seagulls but hey, it’s fun. Another time I do a similar thing is when we go to Center Parcs as a family. They have squirrels come right up to your lodge and with a bit of bread again as bait I can sit in my PJs on the sofa and get results like this:

Maybe you have a patio door at home and a bird feeder you could bring just in front of it, or maybe you could wander to the local park with a bag of bread, whatever it is I really encourage you to get out there and have a go.