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Beginner Photography: Actual Wildlife

Hey guys! This past week I was in Connecticut to see my family for Thanksgiving and I got to go out shooting with Tony, Chelsea, Madelyn and Justin. We made a video on shooting wildlife, so keep an eye out for that. We also made it into the local paper!

So I got to do some bird photography with some serious equipment. I borrowed T&C’s Nikon D500 with a 200-500mm f/5.6,¬†and that thing is intense. Shooting with a lens that big is a real adjustment.¬†

Tony and Chelsea know their wildlife spots, so we went out to Harkness Memorial Park and down to a little inlet surrounded by tall grasses. There weren’t a whole lot of birds out, just some gulls for a while. I practiced tracking them through a bird blind. One of the hardest parts was just getting a bird in the frame while looking through that insane lens. I would zoom all the way out to 200mm just to get the bird in frame before zooming in to 500mm to try and capture it.¬†Holding it still in blustering winds was hard enough just shooting a still subject. I didn’t get anywhere close to getting a moving subject in focus. Thankfully we had an obliging mockingbird who modeled for us as soon as we got there.

Here’s a great video on shooting songbirds:

And another on shooting flying birds:

Half of us had our batteries freeze up or die towards the end of our session, and of course a whole flock of turkey vultures and black vultures came swooping overhead as we were packing up. It was a rare and beautiful sight that I was completely unprepared to capture! Always have a spare battery, kids.

So here’s what I gleaned from my one trip out with our talented teachers:

Research your location

    • There are local bird-watching groups you can join who can tell you where specific species nest.
    • Choose a clear day, hard light is good for widlife.
    • If shooting songbirds, choose your setting, set up your gear and wait.

Bring the right gear

    • Dress for the weather! Gloves, boots, hats and coats were a must for us going out that early on a windy day.
    • Camouflage, netting, and bird blinds all help you get closer without the need for a huge lens.
    • A telephoto lens is the best if you cannot get close. Watch this video for some suggestions.
    • Spare battery!

Camera settings

    • Put your camera in shutter priority so you can adjust for still subjects to moving subjects.
    • Autofocus for moving subjects.
    • Keep your f/stop higher to increase your chances of getting the nearest eye in focus.
    • Use continuous shutter to fire off multiple shots in a row.

 Great model, nice setting, and some pleasing depth of field.


Another angle.


I just love the texture of this little guy’s feathers.


This is the closest I got to getting a moving subject in focus before my battery died.


I had a lot of fun out there. I can’t imagine wildlife will ever be my particular focus, but it was a really interesting practice and I truly appreciate how difficult it is to do now that I’ve attempted it. I did a bit of post processing on all of these shots, mostly cropping in tight (the Tony Northrup way) and checking my white and black points. I could use to do some noise reduction on the background of that vulture shot as well.

So how’d I do for my first time?¬†

And a final tip, don’t be annoying: