If you have a backyard, odds are that you also have animal visitors from time to time. Most urban backyards see their fair share of birds and squirrels. In more rural areas, backyards might even have deer, coyotes, raccoons, and bears come through from time to time.
Photographing wild animals from the comfort of my home is one of my favorite pastimes. I find it gratifying when I’m able to create a beautiful wildlife image on my property, especially knowing that a warm fireplace and a refreshing drink are just a few feet away.
Here are five tips for successful backyard wildlife photography.
Keep a camera & lens at the ready
Always have your camera ready to go with a lens mounted. I make a habit of leaving my telephoto lens & camera mounted on a tripod in my office, so all I need to do is grab the setup and start shooting. Backyard wildlife is often on the move, so you want to be able quickly get into position whenever an animal enters your yard. Rifling through your camera bag while trying to find your gear usually means missing the shot.
Use driveway alert sensors
I’ve installed driveway alert sensors at a couple places on my property to indicate whenever something is moving outside. They are very inexpensive and are an easy way to have something always on the alert for wildlife. These sensors allow me to carry on with my life, but be alerted when something is happening outside. (Here’s a link to some driveway motion alert sensors at Amazon)
Use your house as a blind
Shooting from inside of the home is a great way hide from wildlife. I recommend opening a window or door so you don’t shoot through the glass. You might need to remove a window screen so you can shoot through the open area.
Whenever I get lazy and photograph through a pane of glass, I find that I get “OK” photographs, but they just aren’t super sharp. Take the time to open the window. You’ll thank yourself later.
Shoot at eye level
Your shots will look much better if you are able to photograph the animal at eye level. Whenever possible, get outside and lower your tripod legs so the camera is low to the ground. Shooting from this perspective will produce much more dramatic images. Also, a lower perspective has the added benefit of moving the background farther away so the animal pops from the scene.
Use a fast shutter speed
Most of the wildlife you photograph in your backyard will be skittish. Since they’ll probably be moving around a lot, I suggest shooting at 1/500 second or higher. This will help freeze movement from turning heads, twitching eyes, and sudden movements. I you are having difficulty reaching 1/500 second because of low light, then increase your ISO to 3,200 or 6,400 (or higher) in order to get the shutter speed you are after.
Great news for those of you looking to buy some new camera gear this month. Nikon just announced their popular rebate program is back from now through February 28, 2015. Unlike previous rebate programs, this one includes lens-only rebates and lens + camera bundle rebates. Also, for the first time ever, the Nikon D4s is a part of the Nikon rebate program. While you’re clicking around on the shopping pages, be sure to check out the great prices on the D3300, D5500, D7100, D610, D750, D810, and Df cameras.
I included links to both Adorama and B&H Photo. Pay attention when you buy, as some of the products offer an additional 4% in awards and additional accessories, FREE!
B&H Photo Camera-Lens Bundles
Hurry, these expire 2/28/15.
Both Nikon and Canon had some big announcements this week for new cameras and lenses.
For Nikon shooters, the most interesting items are the brand new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens that weighs two pounds less and focuses one foot closer than the old 400mm f/2.8. Also, Nikon has finally released their brand new TC 1.4E III teleconverter. This new optic is sure to be extremely sharp and is designed to be the perfect match for Nikon’s f/2.8 telephoto lenses. Here’s a link to all the new Nikon gear.
For Canon shooters, the most interesting item is the new 16-35mm f/4 IS lens. As many of you know, Canon already produces the 16-35mm f/2.8 which is a stellar optic. The new f/4 version weighs less and includes image stabilization for hand holding and street photography.
Here’s a link to the new Canon gear.
Here at Visual Adventures, we’ve been producing weekly tip videos on photography related topics. Check out our two newest video tips on the wonders of gaffer tape and on Nikon lens VR settings.
Nikon Lens VR Settings
Nikon’s lens rebates are back and now’s the time to upgrade your gear.
Here’s the link: Nikon Lens Rebates at B&H Photo
Here’s the scenario: You are headed out on a hot air balloon flight with 150 other balloons and want to capture the scene with great photos. Your pilot tells you that you can’t bring a bunch of camera gear because of tight space. What do you do?
That’s precisely the question Jerry sent to me yesterday. Here’s his email with my response below.
Next Saturday at 6:30 a.m., I think I am taking a ride in a hot air balloon that is taking off at the same time as 150 other balloons. I dream about great images, but this time I want to do more than dream. Because there are four people in each basket, I can only bring my camera (D300S) with whatever lense I choose. I can’t bring my bag full of lenses. My choices are Tokina 11-16 2.8, Nikon 18-70 3.5-4.5, Tamron 18-200, or Nikon 50mm 1.8. I’ve also been thinking about picking up the Nikon 18-200, but not sure. What is your advice for the lense I should bring? Common sense tells me to use the 18-70, but I think the 11-16 might be fun and interesting.
Thanks for your advice. I would also appreciate tips on camera settings.
Yes, tight quarters means that you won’t be able to bring much gear along. However, you can pack a still pack a few things even if you don’t bring a camera bag.
My recommendation is to wear a vest or jacket so you can take along the 11-16 and the 18-200. Or, bring some cargo pants/shorts so you can hold one of the lenses in a big pocket. I do this all the time when I’m not able to bring along a bag.
You’ll come across a variety of shooting angles during this shoot. When you are taking off, all the balloons will be close together and you’ll want the big wide angle shots for drama. Then, as you are flying, you’ll want the longer telephoto so you can pick off far away balloons and details. If you can truly only take one lens, then bring the 18-200. That will give you the most flexibility.
Camera settings … I’d shoot aperture priority and vary between f5.6 to f11 for most of my shots. In the morning or pre-dawn, I’d be shooting at ISO 800/1600. When the sun comes out, shoot ISO 200.
Hope this helps!
Nikon also just announced a wide angle DX format lens called the 10-24mm AF-S DX f3.5-4.5G ED. Its coverage is only for DX sensor cameras and will be a nice, small travel lens for wide-angle photography. This is evidence that Nikon isn’t giving up on its DX format any time soon.
Price should be around $900 USD.
(Photo copyright Nikon)