Photographing Garden Wildlife: Backyard Basics for the Novice
|February 19, 2012||Posted by admin under Nature Photography|
I have no intention of telling you that your camera equipment must meet certain professional standards before you can take pleasing wildlife pictures in your backyard habitat. If your interests in photography are beyond that of a novice, see equipment for beginning nature photographers, and the Nature Photography Guide. The following article is for gardeners with an interest in recording events and wildlife in their garden using existing equipment, or with a minimum expenditure - since most of us would rather spend money on plants and feeders than anything else.
Contradictory to the aforementioned articles, I’d never suggest that an auto-focus lens is a bad idea, since my own ability to get an in-focus image has waned with my eyesight. I’d never suggest that you fool around with a non-automatic system, unless your dedication goes beyond the level of a novice – it’s my opinion that during the process of fumbling about with equipment, exposure and focus, the moment is lost.
A telephoto lens helps separate this eagle from the grassy background.
If it’s not obvious already, my main concern in my own garden is gardening, with photography being an interesting but unfretful aside.
A telephoto lens is practically essential, especially if birds are your main agenda. Wild birds won’t let you get real close, and your lens selection will be the determining factor between a reasonably close shot, or one where the bird is little more than a speck in the photograph. If you find yourself trying to rationalize a new telephoto lens, remember that when you’re not using it in the garden, camera and lens can be mounted on a tripod and used much like binoculars from your favorite viewing window inside the house (though you may want to remove the window screen if you’re depending on auto-focus).
The Best Time of the Day
Early morning or late afternoon provides best lighting and more action than mid day.
The best time of day to photograph your backyard habitat may coincide with feeding schedules of wildlife within it. I’ve noticed two optimum times in my garden – early morning and early evening. Take note of the activity at your feeders, misters and bird stations. Even though activity may be constant throughout the day, there’s more than likely 2 peak times when your garden is abundant with the wild things that have learned to depend on it for food, water and cover. The quality of natural light is beautiful at both an hour after daybreak and an hour before sunset, but these dramatic and lower light levels may require the use of a tripod and/or a higher speed film than you normally use. Favorite garden / wildlife images are seldom acquired in the harsh light of midday. During winter months, you may notice that these peak feeding times are exceedingly different than those of the languid days of summer.
Nature and Wildlife Photography Tips by Photographer David Smith
Award-winning photographer David Smith shares his top tips and techniques for amazing nature and wildlife photography. Learn how to take better photos with his advice on approaching animals, composing and framing shots, and getting the best camera accessories.
Keep a Garden Journal
If you keep a garden journal or a life list, make a note of the times of day in each season that show the most activity in your garden, and choose these times to best capture that activity.
A polarizing filter can reduce flare, allowing greater visibility into the goings-on in a garden pool.
If your schedule won’t allow you to be in the garden at these peak times, choose an overcast day for excellent lighting results. A polarizing filter at optimum polarization (just look through the lens and rotate the filter) can provide lovely deeply-saturated images, and though they require more light to work well since they employ a neutral density, overcast days often provide more light than mornings and late afternoons.
This Luna Moth was perfectly still and made an easy target.
A 200 or 400 ISO film rating may be the best bet for early morning and late afternoon photography in your garden, and is essential if you intend to capture birds in flight with stop-action results. Even at this higher ISO rating, you may need to use a tripod for good results. A tripod should be used if the chosen shutter speed is less than the focal length of the lens. For example, if you’re using a 200mm lens, set your shutter speed to 1/250; if there is not enough light to use this shutter speed, choose 1/125 for your shutter speed and use a tripod. Holding a telephoto lens steady at slower shutter speeds is certainly possible, but not probable.
Don’t be afraid to change your vantage point.
So how do you know if your existing lens is a telephoto? In 35mm camera systems, a 50mm lens is considered normal, and anything higher (80mm, 105mm, etc.) is considered telephoto. Anything lower (35mm, 20mm, etc) is considered wide-angle. Some zoom lenses will actually cover the wide-angle to telephoto range, though I prefer a telephoto-zoom: an 80-200mm for most of my wildlife work. If I was put on the spot to define a workable lens for wildlife photography for the gardening/wildlife novice, I’d probably suggest nothing short of a 105mm (135mm being ideal), and nothing more than a 250mm since the range of the latter would be so long that many of us could only document our neighbors yards with such a lens.
Depth of Field
Telephoto lenses and close-ups tend to rob us of depth – you’ll note that longer lenses offer less depth of field, or focus either behind or ahead of the subject. In order to achieve more depth, you’ll need to increase your f-stop from a low setting (such as f5.6) to a higher f-stop for greater depth (such as f16). A depth-of-field finder (a small button on some camera bodies) will allow the photographer to view (through the lens) the amount of depth, or focus the image will have at that chosen f-stop. When this button is depressed, the image looks darker until the button is released. Depress it and view with different f-stops or apertures – you’ll notice a change in the depth. Choose the aperture that captures the amount of focus you’d like on the front and back of the subject.
Preparedness is of the essense, since one never knows just who will drop by for breakfast.
If you don’t know an f-stop from a truck stop, and don’t care to know, select an automatic camera with a lens that can zoom to telephoto range.
When selecting an automatic camera, choose one with either a detachable flash, or one that can be turned off manually. Wildlife will be frightened by flash photography, and night-feeders can remain blinded an hour or more because of it. This is a topic of debate with many wildlife photographers.
Regardless of your choice of equipment, you’ll need to be prepared when that Kodak moment arrives. If you you use a film camera keep your camera loaded and handy. Keep it out of the garage, and don’t store it in the car. Keep plenty of film on hand – store extra rolls in the freezer to slow down the aging process; allow ample time for thawing (you can also freeze extra batteries).
If you’re the type that takes more than a few weeks to use a roll of film, consider a journal to record the dates of important activities. Otherwise, when your film finally gets processed, you’ll have no idea when the fledglings left the nest, when the Monarchs arrived, and when the first hummers appeared. Along with the date, you can include specifics on what nectar plants were blooming, and bird food choices (seeds or berries, etc.) Use your journal to write specific information on the back of each print. You’ll be surprised at how much pleasure this will bring during the cold winter months, and may find that this is the single best reference for determining migration times, seed/food choices and species that depend on you and your garden.
Photographing Garden Wildlife
This book will help photographers of all levels to develop their wildlife photography skills in their own back garden. Develop your ability both as a photographer and as a naturist by learning to understand your garden and the types of animals that are likely to live there as well as new species you can learn to attract. Whatever your experience, “Photographing Garden Wildlife” is an indispensable guide to learning and building up your skills as a wildlife photographer.
From choosing your camera, setting the scene, learning about studio-style sets and maximising your chances of catching unexpected moments to processing your images and tweaking them to present them to their very best advantage, this book covers every aspect of nature photography and you will be surprised to discover the variety and opportunities available in you own back garden. Illustrated with high-impact photographs of all kinds of garden wildlife, the accompanying images complement the instructions in the text.
Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers: The Essential Guide to Digital Techniques
Gardeners and nature lovers delight in taking pictures – especially close-ups of flowers, butterflies, and insects. And though advances in digital camera technology have made taking, storing, and sharing photos easier than ever, taking top-quality pictures requires familiarity with both digital technology and the general principles of photography.
Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers provides exactly the information that aspiring photographers – no matter their level of skill – need to take their photos to the next level. Clear and concise chapters cover the basics of macro (close-up) photography, explain the features of current digital single-lens reflex cameras, show the many ways images can be composed, and share tips on digital effects, storage, and manipulation of imagery. Throughout the text, helpful tips, definitions, exercises, and case studies serve to demystify digital photography.
Each lesson is supported by examples of the author’s stunning photography. Whether taking photos of flowers and insects, compiling a photographic record of your garden, or simply sharing beautiful images with friends and family, everyone can become accomplished photographers of the world’s small-scale wonders.
How to Do Amazing Garden Photography in 15 Minutes
The Art of Garden Photography
Every gardener who seeks to capture the fleeting moments of perfection in plants and gardens must inevitably turn to photography. In this remarkably clear and informative book, celebrated photographer Ian Adams provides detailed instruction in every aspect of the art and craft of garden photography, from selecting the right equipment to starting a garden photography business. Chapters include such topics as:
- Digital cameras
- Film and filters
- Sharpness and exposure
- Abstracts and close-ups
- Scouting and preparing the garden
- The garden vista
- Garden structures
- Gardens through the seasons
- Finding fine gardens
- Making color prints