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My Journey Into Wildlife- by Phil Smith

Today's post has been written by the incredibly talented Phil Smith, he is an accomplished photographer with experience in a range of fields. I have worked with him a few times both shooting around the streets of Manchester together and even with me modelling for him for some portrait work. Wildlife photography isn't something I do much of, so today Phil will take you through his journey into this aspect of photography and give you a few tips for getting started. If you like this post or have any questions then let me know in the comments below. If you want to see more of Phil's work then check him out on Instagram and make sure you give him a follow.

My Journey Into Wildlife

So maybe I need to clarify before I start - I don’t classify myself as a serious wildlife photographer, more of an opportunist one, but hopefully by the end you will feel inspired to maybe give it a go too and I will include some hopefully helpful tips from things I have learnt along the short way!

My first foray came in 2020 when I was on holiday and there were hummingbirds at the restaurant of our hotel. My best effort was this one that was sat in a tree, taken on my Canon EOS 5DS R and Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II lens. It only worked though because of the 50MP sensor and ability to crop to a tiny portion of the image and still get a good result. It was following on from this that I realised I needed to change my lens - because length really does matter!

Before I finally made the switch, one of my photos of a rather less exotic bird (a seagull) was seen by Canon UK and featured on their Instagram account here. The focal length was less of an issue on the EOS 7D Mark II because the 1.6x crop factor of the sensor gave me an equivalent of 112 - 480mm - much more useful for wildlife.

However, I was still craving more reach, but on a full frame body to maximise the quality of the image. I ended up hiring 3 lenses to test, 2 Canons and 1 Sigma before buying a Tamron 100-400mm without being able to test it first! The risk paid off though, because the image quality is stellar and I have captured some of my favourite photos with it.

Now for some education!

The first lesson for the post is to carry your kit. Wildlife isn’t just the dramatic stuff - eagles soaring, big game on safari, or bears fishing; but it’s all around us in parks, the countryside and sometimes in towns (my several posing squirrel photos are a testament to this). But if you don’t have your camera and lens with you, you could miss out.

The second lesson is that you don’t need to have huge amounts of patience to wait for hours, you can capture some fantastic shots of more everyday wildlife. As I mentioned, I have a few posing squirrel photos and they are pretty easy to take, especially if the squirrels are used to people. I have one park nearby where I have taken all my squirrel photos, and if you take a bag of nuts then you will be spoiled for choice with subjects. Lesson 2, part b - carry food to tempt the wildlife!

If you want to capture birds in flight, then you may have to spend a little longer, but it will quite probably be time spent practising at first, rather than time spent waiting. Learning to anticipate their movements can be key to getting that great shot, along with learning to pan with your camera at the correct speed, and setting your camera’s focus correctly. So lesson 3 is to know your kit - how to set it up and how to use it, to give you the best chance of getting that shot.

But of course, sometimes a bit of good luck can come in handy too. In this shot, my focus wasn’t set correctly, nor was I using my camera with the better autofocus system. I managed to lock on and pan down at just the right speed to fire off a few shots and get this one. And there is a point here - we are spoiled with modern camera equipment - it’s generally very good. This camera really isn’t designed for fast moving subjects, but still did a great job.

We’re going to maybe take a step back here, but I would say my lesson 4 is to start with the easy stuff. Animals or birds that are sitting still. It will help you to learn to get your exposure correct on these subjects, learn to blur your background and give you confidence in aiming for the more challenging subjects when you have something you are happy with. Below is an example where I had time to nail the exposure and blur the background and foreground to really focus on the subject. There is a disclaimer here though. Lizards can be skittish so aren’t always an easy subject.

My final lesson really applies to any genre of photography, not just wildlife photography. That is to have fun and not worry about your mistakes. Try to learn from them and don’t be discouraged by them. You will miss shots and take some that look amazing on your camera screen but awful when you get them on a bigger screen. It’s all part of the process!

I will leave you with a completely lucky shot because it entertains me! It’s another brown booby (no sniggering please) I love to take photos of brown boobies… they are quite confident and cheeky

I called this one “Comin’ in hot”!


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