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12-31-2010, 05:40 PM   #1
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Shooting wildlife...

My dad, who is an avid hunter and owns 80 acres off a wild life refuge in MO, was over for the holidays. As he told me of his latest hunting trip, I realized that I had never taken my camera into the woods to shoot wild life. Here he has this land teeming with deer, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, coyotes and more... and I have a great DSLR.

I really must spend some time in the woods. I could even use his stands/blinds. They are located on well used game trails.

Those of you that shoot animals, what kinds of lenses do you se?

I assume that a fast, quiet autofocus is required. 200mm minimum?

Any tips on capturing great shots?


12-31-2010, 06:08 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by mediaslinky Quote
200mm minimum?
I'd say 300mm minimum. I like the DA*300mm, often with the AF 1.7x TC. It's a able and very portable combo. Once you go longer &/or faster, things can get big & heavy fast.
12-31-2010, 06:44 PM   #3
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I use between 200-300 depending on how close you can get. I occasionally use a 500mm mirror lens when the lighting is right (quite surprised on how well it does too).
12-31-2010, 08:02 PM   #4
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While I do not shoot wildlife especially, I do a lot of bushwalking in hills, forest and coastal zones, and I like to take my camera with me. I occasionally shoot some wildlide incl. wallabies, koalas, birds, insects. I like to take with me my DA18-250mm mounted on the camera: that is a single lens and single body system. Very easy to use and quick to point

The lens is very versatile and I can shoot landscape as well as wildlife, ranging from insects to birds. The long end is about right for shooting in the forest for example.

The only downside of the DA18-250mm, in my opinion, is low lights, and I use a fast prime for 'dusk and dawn'.

Hope that the comment will help...

12-31-2010, 08:37 PM   #5

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QuoteOriginally posted by mediaslinky Quote
Those of you that shoot animals, what kinds of lenses do you se?
I mostly use the DA* 300. It's really quite superb for capturing medium size to larger non-aggressive mammals, like Elk, Moose, seals, etc. With a blind, you might be able to get close enough to shoot smaller critters. Although the DA * 300 is small compared to the big, fast supertelephotos, it's still a two and half pound lens, so when I need to travel lighter I take an old K 200/4 lens, and wing it the best I can. But 300mm really is the optimal starting point for wildlife; and while it would be nice to go longer to get some of the smaller and more bashful critters, there are severe trade-offs in terms of cost, size, and weight.
12-31-2010, 08:40 PM   #6
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Kinda in my neck of the woods too, Im a Mo. boy.
Focal lengths mentioned sounds pretty good, in a blind or tree stand
good chance of close encounter, makes a zoom with longer range towards
lengths mentioned very handy, get that stuff close in too.

myself, would rather shoot from ground than tree stand, their are advantages
to being 'airborne', certainly cant discount it.
If you do climb,bring a tag line with you so you can raise/lower gear safely
Bet your Dad has some good advice.

Dont present yourself from top of ridge , you'll be a silhouette against sky
drop down to whats called 'military crest' , a liitle bit down from top.
animals notice slightest anomally, you'll be seen by turkey 800 meters away
against skyline.

Wouldnt worry about camo clothes too much, our deer season goes till end
of january, keep that in mind, Dad can fill you in.

Shooting over a run or trace, fine time to put "catch in focus" to good use.

Probably want to 'layer' regarding clothing. In transit, you dont want to break
a sweat, only to sit stationary afterwards.

Something Ive found handy is kneeling pad, to sit on. Cold, wet butt will make
you miserable,quick.

Sure your Dad has a ton of good advice.

Deer and Bears poop in woods, we shouldnt.

Speaking of Bears, they're here, rare, but here. Nothing to be afraid of.
Love to see you get a shot on one, if one would get too close for comfort
make alot of noise, you'll be fine, Dad can fill you in.

Coyote and turkey hardest challenge, amazing what a quietly,whispered "pssst"
can do to birds to draw them close.
Try kissing back of hand, quick,high-pitched,smacking sounds like a squirrel cracking
acorn to another squirrel, have brought them in close before doing it.
12-31-2010, 10:41 PM   #7
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MO photog

Check here for a Pentax-using, Missouri-based, pro outdoor writer and photographer. His longest working lens is the DA* 200.

Ron Kruger - Fine Art

QuoteOriginally posted by BillM Quote
Try kissing back of hand, quick,high-pitched,smacking sounds like a squirrel cracking acorn to another squirrel, have brought them in close before doing it.
Cup a half dollar (or even a quarter) in the hollow palm of your hand - sort'a make a drum head of it. Then tap and/or scratch on it with a quarter. You can reproduce many of the squirrel sounds from shelling acorns to chattering with a little practice.

You may not find auto focus as efficient as you'd like in the woods - check your results for miss-focusing on intervening limbs, etc; especially while panning. Manual focusing on pre-selected target areas and the use of hyperfocal methods can be extremely effective and it opens the door to using some less expensive but excellent MF long lenses.
01-01-2011, 02:49 AM   #8
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+1 for the DA*300; it is a great lens, and gives excellent images even wide open; for mammals it should be enough; beware of the shutter noise of the Kx though.
For small birds a longer lens is required but here you get into the area of big, heavy, costly and difficult to handle lenses

01-01-2011, 08:43 AM - 1 Like   #9
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I have been shooting wildlife since the 90s. More than 90% of my wildlife pictures are shot with three lenses: FA*80-200/2,8, Sigma 300/2,8 and Sigma 500/4,5. There are pictures with each of them in my gallery on this forum.
When shooting animals you often have to freeze motion. Animals also have an annoying tendency to show up when the light is bad, at dusk etc. Therefore there is no substitute for lens speed in this kind of photography. As other people have mentioned, the downside is that size, weight and price go up very rapidly. It is a tradeoff, and you can very well get started with somewhat slower glass.
No matter what lenses you use, getting close enough to the animals is vital. A blind would definitely make this easier. Especially if you use the same location frequently. Anyhow, it often takes a lot of patience to get the animals close enough.
I have noticed that people are surprisingly often concerned about AF and shutter noice. Over the decades I have not had a single incident where the target would have been distracted by AF noise. Most of my lenses have screwdrive AF, and I have been shooting from a distance of 2-3m ( 7-10 feet) !
01-01-2011, 09:02 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by PePe Quote
No matter what lenses you use, getting close enough to the animals is vital. A blind would definitely make this easier. Especially if you use the same location frequently. Anyhow, it often takes a lot of patience to get the animals close enough
01-01-2011, 09:39 AM   #11
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As PePe has noted, I find my DA*200 much more useable than the 300 under most conditions but especially during those low light times. Blinds are a blessing and close is the most.
01-01-2011, 11:15 AM - 1 Like   #12
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I shoot birds a lot, other wildlife when I can. Mostly I use a 90-230 and 75-300. I'd use a 400 or 500 too, and will once I can afford to get another lens, that's at the top of my wish list.

I can't add much to what's already been posted, but can confirm what they are saying. Still and quiet is the main key to getting birds and animals, and get as close as possible. Layered clothing is a must in winter, I like camo but don't wear it every time. I'll go out in jeans and a mild colored shirt just as often as in camo. But avoid white and other bright colors, I think solid black may not be a great idea either. Stick with browns, greens and mild blues. Several thinner layers is a lot better than one thick one. I wear long sleeve t shirts, flannel shirt over that, jogging suit type vest over that, then a heavy jacket. But I get cold easier than 99% of you folks...A cap or hat is mandatory for me, I'm bald and my head freezes, or sunburns, and you lose 90% of your body heat from the neck up. The flip side is if you use a flash, the brim gets in the way, so I wear a knit cap.

Look into older manual focus lenses, quite often they will be faster than newer ones. I never use auto focus, the few times I did with my kit lens I wasn't impressed. Birds in flight proved very difficult...My lenses are all manual, but I'm accustomed to manual focus, having used it near 30 years.

Whoever it was, nice tip to avoid the top of a hill or ridge, I hadn't thought of that but I've spooked plenty water birds at my favorite local spot, because I have to climb the levee to get there. No way around it, and when I top the levee, a heron or two almost always flies away croaking. Yesterday a Kingfisher was sitting on the pier, no way to get even near close enough for a good shot, soon as my head cleared the levee he might as well have been already gone...*POOF*

Find a good spot to sit, preferably with some low brush around you, and wait. When you think you've waited long enough, wait some more...I take a folding stool with a shoulder strap most of the time, one of the best things I ever bought...



OK I don't turn it completely off, I set a ring tone of a bullfrog croaking so it doesn't sound like a phone, it sounds like a frog. If it's something I need to answer, fine, oitherwise I'll call back either turn the phone off or set a quiet, natural ring tone that won't alarm them. My bullfrog works fairly well. You can also set on vibrate and keep it in a shirt pocket. You'll know of it rings...

For small birds, walk along pretty slow. Kinglets, Chickadees, Sparrows and Gnatcatchers will often stay fairly close. I get loads of shots of Kinglets walking along the tree line beside the lake. Sparrows will spook, but move a little closer and sit still, they will gradually come out of hiding but don't expect to get too close, they are pretty wary little fellows.

When walking follw the animals' example. Watch a deer sometime...half dozen steps, stop and look around, browse a little, several more steps, stop and look around repeat ad nauseum. Animals don't walk constantly like people usually do. That is one of the hardest habits I ever tried to break. If you walk non stop, they know something is wrong, they can hear you for a long distance, and they start watching out for whatever it is. That's the number one reason they normally see you and disappear long before you know they are there. If you walk like they do, just a few steps and stop, you have a much better chance of shighting them.

Egrets and Herons...forget about getting close. If you show up pretty regular, Egerts will get accustomed to you and let you within maybe 30 feet, forget about the Herons, close shots are rare and lucky. Herons are the watchdogs of the lake, always the first ones to fly, and if they stay, everything else will. If they bail, plenty other birds will be on the lookout for why. A little motion and they're gone too.

Ducks - Even worse than Herons, if I get within 30 yards I figure I'm lucky, unless in a good blind. Wood Ducks are the most wary critters I've ever seen...just the click of the camera gets their attention, when shooting 35mmm they would fly when I tried to thumb the film advance. That little motion sent them packing. And that was in a photo blind... A blind is a must for ducks. Deer are just as wary as ducks, the few times I've been able to shoot deer the first click of the shutter got me spotted. Squirrels are almost as bad, but once you sit still and quiet for a while they should come out but may not get very close.

Avoid shiny objects. Watches, large rings, highly reflective jewelry are a no no. Any flash of light will get you spotted 300 yards away or a lot more. Keep the sun to your back as much as possible, unless going for backlit shots. If it's behind you, it's in their eyes and they can't see you as well. Over one shoulder works too. They still have to look toward the sun to see you.

Find a good spot and go there often. Once you've been there a few times, you will probably start seeing more wildlife, they get accustomed to your presence and gradually realize you aren't a threat. But they will still be very wary, patience is a very good thing.
01-01-2011, 01:45 PM   #13
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Go for it!

For the aspiring wildlife shooter, Id recommend highly this Nikon D3x + 600mm f4 setup. Add in the gimbal and heavy duty tripod, and it will only set you back a mere $25,000 USD.
Sherpa and wheeled transporter not included.

Why mess around with anything else

Happy new year!

01-02-2011, 11:48 AM   #14
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Thanks for all the tips. Very helpful.
01-02-2011, 02:53 PM - 3 Likes   #15
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I appreciate Pacerr mentioning my website, but there are many more wildlife shots on my Photoshelter website. Just Google Ron Kruger and click on any link to Photoshelter.
My standards may be higher than some, because I shoot for publication and 30X40 prints, but this is how I approach wildlife photography.
Generally, the closer you can get, the better the shot. For real wildlife, I think it is more important to be a good hunter than to be a good photographer. Have your father teach you all he can about hunting. Use the clothing, blinds and methods hunters use. Learn as much as you can about the species. Learn to read deer signs and call turkeys. If water is nearby, use a kayak, belly-boat or someting you can float in with a low profile. Animals and birds are less lery of you when you're in the water.
Photgraphing with a 200mm requires getting as close to deer, for example, as during bowhunting (within 30 yards), but you won't be happy with shots from tree stands. If possible, shoot up at wildlife, not down--much more dramatic. But hunting, or photographing, from the ground is even harder than from a tree. Not only are you on their site plane, so is your scent. The direction of the wind is most important, and while you can easily shoot a bow into the shadows (where deer often stand), a camera doesn't work as well. I use spot metering most of the time.
If you can afford 25-60K for a good, super-long lens, go for it, but the longer you go the more atmosphere (or the physical distance from the subject) will degrade IQ. Generally, the closer the better. 200mm is the longest lens I own, and sometimes I use 100. I saw a documentary some months ago about the best Nat Geo images of the past decade. Every one of the wildlife pics featured were under 50mm (most from film cameras, about 35mm crop sensor equivilent).
If you are shooting real wildlife, many (if not most) of your best opportunities will come during low light, so the faster the lens the better. The Pentax 300 f-4 is a great lens, but it's just not fast enough. Sigma 300 f-2.8 would be a better choice.
For maximum quality, I shoot most everything at 100 ISO and never above 400 ISO (K20D). Not just noise, but everything is better at lower ISOs. I'm hoping to get a K5 to boost that to a max of 800, maybe even 1,600, which means an f-4 lens would be more usable, but because I often find f-2.8 not fast enough, I'll probably stick with f-2.8 and shoot further into the fading light. When the light is good, I use 100 ISO and stop down. Even lenses that are good wide open, are even better stopped down a click or two.
I've learned the hard way that AF can't read my mind, so I use MF at least 80 percent of the time to control the focus point, especially in the woods. AF is good for simple, uncluttered scenes where the subject is the only thing in the foreground, but not for a deer standing in foliage. Most people, I suspect, don't realize that a twig, leaf or even a blade of grass just in front of the subject is where the focal point is centered. I always concentrate on the eye for the focal point. I even use MF on BIF.
Even if you know the habits and habitats of your intended species, plus know a lot about where and how to set up to avoid being smelled, seen or heard, patience is the main ingredent to good, close wildlife shots. I often read a book while waiting.
If you don't have that all-important patience, go to zoos, semi-domesticated fenced areas or on an African jeep ride.

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