The Next Step

As this is my first article for Nature Photography Online Magazine I thought I’d start by talking about some of my own experiences, and development, as a wildlife photographer.

The first step in my pursuit of serious photography, back in 2007, was actually taking the financial plunge and purchasing a DSLR. In my case it was the Canon 400D (Rebel). Why? Well to be honest I’m not quite sure, but I guess I must have read a good review somewhere. In the early days my product research was a bit lacking to say the least, but in the end it turned out okay, the 400D is a pretty decent entry level camera. I also aquired a LowPro rucksack, a Tamron 55-200mm lens, a spare battery and a beanbag. I was ready.

My first assignment, as I liked to think of it, was a 2 week holiday in Costa Rica. Surely this would provide some amazing photographic opportunites? How hard can it be? Just point and shoot, 10.1 mega pixels will do the rest, …right?

It didnt take me long to realise that there was quite a lot more to it than this. Sure the pictures were better than those that I had taken before, but what the heck did all those letters mean, AV, TV, P, M??? Why were my shots coming out blurred and why couldn’t I focus in the dark? I remember speaking to a guy on the beach who had a Nikon. He tried to explain F-Stops and aperture to me. This might as well be quantum mechanics I thought, as I nodded along. Out of all the pictures I took on that trip I’m only really pleased with three, and they were more by accident than design. Still, it was a start and the first step had been taken.

One of my best Costa Rica shots was of this feral kitten, which was living in some waste ground next to my hotel. I crept in to the bush where he was resting and laid down on my stomach to get this shot. I think it really works because of the intimacy created by the low perspective, and the shallow depth of field, which has created a dream like bokeh. My brother said he thought this looked like an abstract painting, hence my title, “The Abstract Dreams of a Cat”

Canon 400D
ISO 400
1/50th Sec
F 4
90mm focal length
Tamron 55 -200mm lens
No flash

My next “assignment” was a year later, a 2 week trip to Kenya and the Masai Mara. My real passion in photography is for wildlife and I’ve always loved animals since I was a kid. Seeing them in a zoo is one thing, but I had a feeling that this was going to be something special.

Since Costa Rica I had been busily reading as many magazines, books and online articles as I could, and my knowledge had definitely improved. I had unlocked the mysteries of exposure, ISO and F-Stops, and had even worked out the basics of photoshop.I was particularly inspired by photographers such as Andy Rouse and Chris Weston, and would recomend their books to anyone interested in nature photography. Activity on Amazon was fast and furious and in the weeks prior to the trip several new purchases were made. These included a portable hard drive, 2 new memory cards, a tripod, Giottos airblower, 4 new batteries (perhaps a bit extreme), Hamas lens cleaning pen and a Canon 50mm F1.8. My research also led me to the conclusion that long lenses were required, long expensive lenses. As I didn’t have a spare £2000 laying around I decided to rent some from an internet company called Lenses For Hire, opting for the Canon 100-400mm L F4 – 5.6 and the Canon 100mm Macro, both highly recomended. I will describe my experiences in Kenya in another article, but suffice to say it was the trip of a lifetime, and provided my best images to date. What I will say is that all my research and learning really paid off, and instead of just snapping away I was able to make the camera work to construct the images I wanted. This was a great feeling and although far from perfect, I really felt I had progressed. Another step had been taken.

Two of my best images from Kenya -

*A Golden Palm Weaver bird building its nest in Mombasa, Kenya, This was part of a colony located within the grounds of the Voyager hotel. The colony consisted of about 30 birds and I had to take about 100 shots the get this. The main problems with this shot were over exposure due to the sun reflecting off the birds bright yellow body, and also slowing the shutter speed just enough to get the blur in the wings.

Canon 400D
Canon 100- 400mm at 400mm
ISO 400
1/100 sec
F 5.6*

*This female black rhino was shot in the Masai Mara in Kenya. Panning hand held with a large lens can be quite difficult, and this was the best of several attempts. It was an amazing experience to see one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

Canon 400D
Canon 100-400mm
ISO 100
1/13th Sec
400mm focal length*

And so to “The Next Step” (I knew I’d get there eventually). My current focus is a 2 week trip to Colorado, on the the 4th of June, 2009.I should explain that my Mum has lived there for several years in Austin, which is near Grand Junction. She lives on a ranch and breeds goats, amongst other things, so at the very least I should be okay for goat shots. But as they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. With this in mind I have questioned her relentlesly about the type of wildlife in the area, asked her to put up several bird feeders and also to aquire a hide from Walmart. It may be that she dosn’t see me for two weeks, but I’m sure she’ll understand. I’ve also scoured the Colorado State Wildlife Division website, which has proved very useful.

As always I’m looking to capture some wildlife shots and have hired the 100-400mm again. I really wanted the Canon 300mm F2.8, a razor sharp lens that was unfortunately just too expensive to hire for this trip. I’ve also gone for the Canon 10-22mm for some wide angle landscapes (new for me) and less conventional wildlife shots.

Another thing that I’ve really been considering is upgrading the 400D for a better body. The 40D and the 1D MK2 are the two main candidates, and to cut a long story short I’m still deciding, although the 1D MK2 is the front runner at this time. Anyhow, this won’t happen untill after Colorado, so its a case of working with what I have for now. I think an article on the best bodies for nature photography would be very useful and this is something I’ll look to write in the coming months.

My next article will be a follow up to this one, sharing my experiences of nature photography in Colorado. Hopefully I will continue to improve and will be able to show you some great shots. (not including the goats….; )

Journal Comments

  • Gina Ruttle  (Whalegeek)
  • Peter Denness