Go Wide and Go Long
Use different focal lengths to maximise variation on a scene
Wildlife photography often leads us down a path of wanting to get close to the subject. The more wildlife you shoot, the closer you want to get. This is natural, after all don't we all want to see that detail in the feathers, the glint in the eye or the length of those whiskers. Of course we love detail!. I often see wildlife photographers demanding longer lenses and desiring more reach but this can limit what you focus on.
Getting closer images normally leads to a longer focal length. While general safaris or larger wildlife often anywhere between 70mm and 300mm (full frame equivalent) is suitable. Smaller birds and other restrictions prevent this. Clearly many reserves you cannot go off road, many subjects it can be dangerous or invasive to the animals behaviour and can risk endangering the animal or putting it under stress. So Naturally longer zoom lenses or super telephoto primes, really help overcome this. The danger is, every shot is a close up, missing the environment, scene and natural habitat. In some cases this can make more of magical image than just the close up. So when do you shoot wide and when do you shoot long?
Like all photography there is no magic button that will solve every situation. The answer is, when the opportunity arises, shoot from several focal lengths and include different orientations. Obviously this works better with slow moving or stationary subjects.
The image on the left is of a beautiful lioness on a rock. An un-cropped image and will print lovely any size I choose. I love this image - she is looking direct at the camera, nicely lit and nice colour tones between the rock and the green trees behind. The problem is it is only part of the story. This image really could have been taken anywhere, even in captivity.
This was taken in the Gol Kopjies in the Serengeti, Tanzania. These rocky outcrops in the middle of the endless plains are a breeding ground for cats - leopard, lion and cheetah. It also provides some amazing scenery - the kind that summons up the memories of the lion king.
So why not just shoot wide, and crop the image you may ask. Well yes of course this is an option, and some cases may be the only choice. Remember when you crop an image the number of pixels is reduced leaving it very limited for what you can do with this photo. 1024 x 768 may be fine for social media or even a web image. 2048 x 1536 may look good printed 8"x 10" or on your TV. Ideally greater than 3000 pixels (on long edge) will produce nice prints up to 20" and can be used for stock or media prints. More than 4000 pixels will get you that lovely 40" or possibly bigger canvas. Remembering the more you get the image right in camera - the more opportunities you will have to use that image.
Bottom line why have one keeper shot from 10 images all the same, when you can have four or five all different from the same scene that each may tell a part, or even different, story.
I travel mostly with three camera bodies - and lens setup. This is to avoid changing lenses in the field, but also allows me access to the right lens and body for the shot. This case though I found myself using all three and the images show's why.
As I shoot with the Olympus cameras, the sensor is a 2x crop. This means the sensor is half the size of a Full Frame sensor - so multiplying the lens focal length by 2 gives a full frame equivalent. This helps when comparing to other camera systems. The canon APS sensor is a 1.6 crop and the Nikon APS is a 1.5 crop. Multiplying These by the crop factor will give a full frame equivalent, useful for comparisons. So when I shoot with a 40-150mm Lens, the FF range is equal to 80-300mm.
- At 300mm (600 FF EQ) I get a super close up of the lioness, good detail and pose. You can even see a few ticks on her neck.
- At 150mm (300 FF EQ) I get a more framing, a little bit of sky but still some nice detail in the lioness.
- At 82mm (164 FF EQ) I can see some more sky, and sense of space the lioness is looking at. There is more scale to the lioness in her environment.
- At 40mm (80 FF EQ) I see more of that blue sky, scale of the lioness on that huge rock outcrop. There is more of a scene and nice contrasting colours, although maybe I should have positioned her more to the right.
- Taking the image to 19mm (38mm FF EQ) (changing the Aspect ration to 16:9) is the whole scene. A lone lioness in a vast rocky area. looking over the perimeter. It's possible she had cubs hiding nearby and was watching over for their safety while the pride was out hunting. Or she may have been looking for potential prey with the advantage the kopjies gave.
- The last image is probably my favourite taking in portrait at 45mm (90mm FF EQ). This in my opinion gives scale, colour, space and depth as she looks out over the Serengeti. It also has an Iconic feel of classic Africa.
Not only did this give me 6 separate images, each a different perspective of this beautiful lioness, but between the first and the last image a story can be built up with some perception.
She is clearly a healthy lion, as seen in the first image, and as we zoom out she changes her focus to the surrounds - so is definitely watching out over the area. There are no other lions in sight - where is her pride? and the plains are very empty no easy meal in this viscinity. Insight that cubs are often raised here, we can assume she likely has young cubs. Lionesses will often have their litter in a dense protected area away from the pride and keep them hidden for 6-8 weeks before introducing them to the pride. Although we didn't see them it is very likely this basking beauty is protecting her offspring while the pride is away hunting and somewhere in the rocks and bushes are a few bundles of fluff, possibly still blind and reliant on their mother.
Tips and Notes:
Wildlife scenes are a once in a lifetime moment. you can visit this place every hour of every day and it will never look the same. Chances are there won't be a lion sitting there. Maybe there will be five, or a leopard. More likely it will be empty. So when theses chances come along make the most of it and shoot wide, long, portrait and landscape. Use your zoom but not just the long end.
When using a Zoom lens - start at the widest point. Compose and shoot both Landscape and portrait. Zoom half way and repeat, then at the longest end.
If you only have one camera and single mid range lens (say a 70-300 or 100-300), use your smart phone to capture a wider scene.
If you need to change lenses in the field - capture the shots you want first with the lens that is attached (you don't want to keep swapping and miss moments or opportunity).
Take a pillow case or cloth bag and change your lenses and camera inside this to eliminate dust and dirt contamination.
Get your record shots first. Then you can experiment more with little risk.
Consider a spare camera body (second hand or reconditioned) it will not only be helpful, but provide you with a back up camera should any disaster occur.
Don't forget to try Portrait and Landscape orientation.