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A Few Lessons Learned About Shooting Wildlife
Posted By: acbees, 05-06-2008, 05:13 PM

Was taking care of one of our beeyards near a pond in the woods. Saw some turtles through the trees and thought I'd get some pictures. Rule #1. Don't take your dog. She headed off through trees and the turtles disappeared. I shut her up in the truck and headed down through the trees. Rule #2. A very large fish can jump clear of the water and splash down 5 feet away from a turtle on a log and it won't move, but a twig snapped 50 yards away... they disappeared again. So I just sat and waited. Rule #3. A 300mm is not quite long enough for some wildlife. Rule #4. If the bird your shooting finally flies at you and lands very close it will do it in 1 of 3 ways: a)Land just behind you or in a spot you'll have to change positions and scare it away, b)If you don't scare it away it will stay on the other side of the tree from you where you can't get a shot, or c) If there is a wide open view except for one limb, it will land directly behind that limb.
Managed some shots anyway. K20D


Tamron AF 28-80mm

Poison Ivy. Super Macro Takumar 50mm

Tamron 70-300mm

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05-06-2008, 05:22 PM   #2
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A few pics of the critters. All hand held or kind of resting on a half fallen tree. Rule #5. Always take your tripod.

This is one of my favorites. Disappointed it didn't get out of the thick brush, so had to pick a tiny spot through the limbs to focus. Ended up rather liking the effect. What do you think?

Tamron 70-300mm

Not quite close enough. Severely cropped.

Finally the turtles. That big ol' softshell was about 14 inches across

05-06-2008, 06:05 PM   #3
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Welcome to the very..."trying" world of wildlife photography
It's challenging, but I actually really enjoy it. There's something to be said for having the luck/skill/knowledge to be able to get that perfect shot of some rather unwilling subjects.

That said ::

First birdy shot -- Doing a stylish shot through the branches is really, really hard to do. To me, blurry foregrounds are almost always a distraction, especially if the body is covered in any way.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but foreground objects seem to work when the follow a bit of the "pattern-interrupted" rule -- Example : A bright white bird in a thicket of brown reeds, most of the reeds being in focus. There's a lot going on in the first birdy shot, so to me it doesn't work as well as a clear bird shot would work. Great, great technical effort though, as those shots are very hard to pull off.

#2 is my favorite -- It's almost as though the near grey branches are creating a symmetric pattern that the bird is interrupting. Cool stuff!

#3 is also good, but unfortunately you're running into a limitation of your lens -- I'm assuming that's at 300mm at cropped at or almost 100%?

I have the Tamron 70-300 Di LD and (unfortunately) have found you have to be very cautious with your cropping at anything above 220mm or so. I don't care how fast the shutter is, the lens simply isn't sharp enough (for me at least) to support cropping anything above 50%. Of all the shots I've ever taken with the Tamron, only one has even been close to respectable at a 100% crop at 300mm

But, it's a very cheap lens that also doubles for macro. Nowadays, on birds, I use it like a 220mm prime and keep it at F/8.0 unless absolutely neccessary...that's about the longest distance you can get while still having sharpness.

Assuming the resolution *doesn't* bother you, I really like #3. Great post, great composition, good bokeh to drown out the background. Assuming you want more sharpness in the shot, you could attempt a ~220mm shot (trying to mind composition of the surrounding forrestry) to go for a less "birdy only" and more "birdy + woods" shot. Some of them work surprisingly well I definitely know the feeling of wanting all birdy though. I compare my shots to a guy using a $2000 400mm Canon lens and I felt bad at first, but once I work with the limitations of the Tamron it gives good results.

#4 -- Good patience with the turtles! I tried to capture some just last weekend -- Wow you aren't joking about hearing something small and fleeing! Those guys are quick to dive and will scare at the slightest whisper....Kudos on your patience!
05-06-2008, 06:32 PM   #4
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Thanks for the tripod reminder. I almost forgot to pack along it's accessories

Here's another rule.
While in a boat with an electric motor you'll spook those turtles.
Whereas they'll often (not always) let you row right up to them.
If they spook while rowing up to them try drifting in. And don't forget to raise the electric motor before hand

05-07-2008, 02:23 AM   #5
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Nice shots acbees. I think cputeq has said it all. My favourite is the heron shot. You have me dreaming of drifting on a canoe on a BC lake Stu.

05-07-2008, 07:29 AM   #6
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They be some good lessons, very funny. I like the cropped birdy with the red head. Are you able to run it through noiseninja or like program?
05-07-2008, 07:40 AM   #7
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I enjoyed your pictures as well as your thoughts on photographing wildlife. My 5 year old son loves to see the turtles at a pond we sometimes walk at, I am teaching him how to sneak up slowly and quietly we have fun.

thanks for posting them


05-07-2008, 08:22 AM   #8
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i like the leaf pictures, they look great!
can't say i'm a fan of the "effect" on the Oriole, but it's hard to shoot through branches and get good results, i like the second bird much more.
the turtles remind me of this kid here YouTube - Zombie Kid Likes Turtles
05-07-2008, 12:34 PM   #9
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Thanks everybody for the C&C.

Appreciate your advice on the 70-300mm. Will try your suggestions next time I get a chance. Definitely realized I was at the edge of limitations for some of those shots. Right now, considering the limitations of my equipment and my limitations in experience and ability, I just feel real lucky to get something that breathes somewhere in the frame, in focus, not blurred, and the shutter snapped before it moves.

As far as the "effect" of the first bird shot goes, it wasn't a technical effort at all. It flew in not that far from me and I was just hoping to get a shot before it left. It sure didn't turn out like I planned or preferred. Didn't realize all those tiny branches between the camera and the bird would result in that kind of picture. Was trying for a nice clear shot of it, sure didn't get it, but disappointed as I was, the somewhat "dreamy" approach helped me to believe it wasn't a total loss.

Might try to see what a program like that will do.

Thanks to all again,
05-07-2008, 02:13 PM   #10
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^ Oh trust me, I definitely know the lucky feeling too, as I seem to get it pretty rarely haha
I've very new at enthusiast photography and I have a lot to learn also.

A good guide (I think) is to read photo magazines. Popular photography is a decent magazine that's been around forever, and I think the subscription is like $12 for 12 issues (I'm not affiliated in any way). Many times they'll post their articles on

Just last issue, they had an article on capturing water fowl and included 10 great tips. One of the tips I thought was very interesting (and which I totally forgot about during my last outing) was to not try to zoom in too far when doing water fowl.

Supposedly, having the bird on the edge or on 1/3 of the frame, in motion, and zoomed back far enough to show the bird actually going somewhere is better than a closeup of just the bird motionless or frozen in motion.

Recently I had two pictures of a great zoomed in close (him over water) and another where he had just taken off and you could seem he was about to start flying upward in front of some trees.

To me, at least, even though the closeup over water shows some pretty good detail, it's static...doesn't show motion or even where he's at. I really wish I would have remembered that article, as it has some great tips and I'm betting I could have gotten some nicer shots -- aka not zoomed in too far, maybe slower shutter speed to show slight blur of the bird, etc.


The point of that story ! is that for our Tamron lens, it may actually be easier to get water fowl than the small birds (I'm assuming your grey bird shot is a water bird), as it may be better if we're not zoomed all the way in the first place

A point to ponder I guess, and hopefully I can remember next time I go birding, as water fowl seem to be a bit easier to capture successfully than smaller birds.

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