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Wildlife Photography: Use Super Telephoto Lenses for Sharper Photos

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What according to you makes up for a brilliant picture? Is it the camera, the lens, the lighting or something else? When it comes to wildlife photography, there are a lot of factors associated with it. If we talk about the lenses, you will need super telephoto lenses to shoot the magnificent animals in the wild or the beautiful birds in the garden. Telephoto photography is a skill in itself and to be able to master it, you need continuous practice.

As a wildlife photographer, you need to be ready at all times. This is because it could be literally at any time that the bird decides to flutter its wings while coming out of the water and gets ready to take a flight or it could be at any moment that the animal in front of you decides to wake up from a deep slumber or do anything extraordinary. You do not want to miss any moment because unlike humans they wouldn't pose for you and neither would they repeat their actions for you to capture that shot.

Check - Wildlife Photography Tips: Must-Know for Beginners!

With wildlife photography, timing is everything and every second count. Therefore, you need to be at the right place at the right time.  You also need to have the right super telephoto lenses and the proper camera settings to get that perfect shot. In this article, we are going to be talking about the tips and techniques on photography that can help you get that perfect shot with the zoom lens.   

How to Choose the Appropriate Focal Length? 

As a photographer, what according to you is one of the most difficult tasks? A lot of people would say that it is deciding what focal length lens you are going to need. It is of course that choosing the perfect lens is a bit of a hassle. So, which lens should you get? Well, it depends. There are a lot of factors that it depends on right from your distance from your subject to the size of your subject, from the current lighting situation to if there would be any limitations on where you can move to or shoot from. As a photographer, when you are choosing the super telephoto lenses, you would need to consider all of these factors. We suggest you invest in 400 mm focal length for iconic wildlife photos. 

Read - Wildlife Photography Gear to Capture Wildlife Moments

focal length for wildlife photography
Right focal length for perfect click

Top Tips to Get Sharper Pictures Using Telephoto Lenses 

Listed below are a few tips and photography techniques that you should keep in mind as a wildlife photographer when shooting with super telephoto lenses. 

Tip #1: Selecting an Appropriate Shutter Speed is Crucial 

When it comes to wildlife photography and shooting with super telephoto lenses, choosing the right shutter speed is indispensable. Generally, the shutter speed must either be equal to or faster than the focal length of the lens that is being used. This means that if you are shooting with a 300mm focal length, you would need to choose a shutter speed of a minimum of 1/300th or faster than that. 

When it comes to telephoto photography where the shutter speed is slower than 1/300th, you might notice a camera shake which can have an effect on the image’s sharpness. But, if your lenses have the image stabilization technology then you could shoot at a slower shutter speed as compared to the focal length. The performance of the lenses being used would determine how much slower the shutter speed can be kept.

Check -  How to Use Eye Level Shot in Wildlife Photography

Tip #2: Choosing the ISO Sensitivity 

The ISO sensitivity of the camera needs to be adjusted according to the aperture value and shutter speed required for capturing the shot. When we talk about the exposure triangle in wildlife photography, the ISO sensitivity would have to be compromised over the other two elements. But, why is it so? This is because, in order to freeze the motion of your subject, you would have to use a faster shutter speed and an aperture value which isn’t as wide.

The end result would be a sharp and clear picture. This is also the reason as to why the ISO value wouldn’t have to be increased in order to get a well-exposed picture. Therefore, when you need to expose your frame correctly, ISO must be the last exposure setting that needs to be adjusted. 

Tip #3: Paying Attention to the Depth of Field 

As a wildlife photographer, you must be aware of the fact that depth of field does play a huge role in making your subject appear exceptionally good. Shooting with a wider aperture would aid you in achieving a shallow depth of field. The end result would be a picture where your subject is sharp, is perfectly in focus and is segregated from the background. However, this does not mean in any way that you should be shooting using the smallest aperture value available. 

The best solution would be to shoot at an aperture value which is the lens’s sweet spot. But, how can you find the sweet spot of your super telephoto lenses? The general rule to finding that mid-range sweet spot is to count up two full f-stops from the widest aperture. The sweet spot of your lens would generally be two to three stops higher than the smallest value of aperture. This means that if you are using the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3, it would be somewhere around f/11. By shooting at the sweet spot, you would be able to achieve maximum sharpness in the picture with a fairly decent depth of field.

depth of field
Focus on the wildlife

Tip #4: Use the Image Stabilization Mode 

You would need to turn on the image stabilization on your lens when you have to move your camera along with the moving bird or animal. This is especially useful when you are shooting handheld and would reduce the shake while you are tilting or panning the camera. In the super telephoto lens for canon, the image stabilization mode can be found as IS while on the super telephoto lens for Nikon, it can be found as VR. On the Tamron lenses, you can find the image stabilization mode as VC, on Sigma lenses as OS and OSS on Sony lenses. 

You can turn the image stabilization mode off when you are using a monopod or a tripod to capture an image. In case you do keep it switched on, the image stabilization feature introduces minor shake which in turn reaches the camera mounted on a tripod or a monopod. 

Check: Wildlife Photos Tips to Click Fast Moving Animals

Tip #5: A Monopod or A Tripod For Stability 

When it comes to telephoto photography, every photographer knows that these lenses are quite heavy. If you are going to be shooting handheld at telephoto focal length like 400mm or 500mm, you would most probably get a shaky photo. It is therefore advisable to mount it on either a tripod or a monopod. The best wildlife lens usually has a tripod collar present so as to mount it on a monopod or a tripod. 

When you know that the lens is absolutely stable, you would be able to focus more on your surrounding and would be able to track the motion of the animals and the birds in a better way. This way you wouldn’t have to worry about carrying the lens’s weight too. Therefore, every time you plan to shoot wildlife, it is better to carry a monopod or a tripod. 

wildlife photography gear
Tripod for stable photos

Tip #6: Try the Back Button Focus 

A lot of photographers do not generally use the back button focus method to lock the focus on the subject. The most common way of clicking a picture is by half-pressing the shutter release button to get that shot. But, when you are using this shutter release button in order to lock focus, there might be a slight camera shake. This is not something that you want as that can give you a shaky image. 

One of the photography techniques is to use the back button focus to click images. When you use the back button focus method, you can dedicate one of the buttons entirely for the purpose of focusing which is located at the back of your camera. When you do so, the weight of the camera would be balanced as the button on the back is pressed. Not only would it aid in minimizing the camera shake, but would also help you to shoot at a much faster rate as compared to the usual approach. 

Some of the best budget lens for wildlife photography would be: 

  • Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR
  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C
  • Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS
  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S
  • Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
  • Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

Other than these, there are several other available in the market. You can choose the ideal one depending on what your needs are.

Drawbacks of the Super Telephoto Lenses 

When you are purchasing the super telephoto lenses, there are a few drawbacks that you would need to consider especially because it is a huge investment. 

  • Price

Price is one of the major factors that need to be considered when you are purchasing the Nikon or canon telephoto lens. Most people shy away from the idea of getting one because of the price. What you can do is rent the lenses for a day or two to make sure that the focal length of the camera is exactly what you need. It is a lesser expensive option than purchasing the lens.

  • Size and Weight

The next thing that bothers a lot of people is the size and weight of the zoom lens. It is, of course, true that carrying such huge lenses can be a bit of a challenging task. But, you can get a monopod or tripod for that. There are also cases available for these lenses which can be used when you are travelling.

telephoto lens
Expensive and heavy

Summing Up 

The process of shooting with super telephoto lenses is an absolute delight if you understand the technicalities. If you do, the end result would be an extraordinary image which is really sharp. You might not as brilliant result as you hoped for the very first time. But, photography isn’t an easy task and it is only with patience and continuous effort that you would be able to get the desired results. 

You need to ensure that you are using the appropriate aperture values and the right shutter speed. Both of these contribute to giving you a clear and sharp picture. As discussed above, invest in a good monopod or tripod to minimize any chances of camera shake. These are small things but all of them contribute to getting that perfect shot. Keep trying and you would definitely succeed. 

Do you own any super telephoto lenses? Did you find the above-mentioned tips helpful? Do you wish to share any other useful tips with us? Feel free to do so in the comment section below. We are always looking forward to hearing from you. 

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