One of the questions asked most often by participants prior to attending a workshop is, ‘Which lenses should I bring?’
There is no easy answer – subjects vary so much in size and type, and your choice of focal length will also be dictated by how close you can get to your subject. Typically, telephotos of 300mm or longer are most useful for bird and mammal photography, while a macro lens is best for close-up photography. However, depending on the subject, its environment and the result you wish to achieve, any focal length can be used to shoot great nature images.
TELEPHOTO LENSES FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY lenses nature wildlife photography
generally regarded as a ‘telephoto’ lens. Telephoto lenses have a narrower angle of view than the human eye, so a scene or subject appears magnified in the frame. Telephotos are available in a wide range of strengths,up to and exceeding 1000mm. They can be divided into three categories, depending on focal length: short, medium and long.
For bird and mammal photography, a focal length of at least 300mm is required. Fast, prime telephotos like this Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 are quite pricey, but there are many more affordable options available
KESTREL (FALCO TINNUNCULUS)
A focal length of 50–135mm is considered a ‘short’ telephoto. For most subjects – certainly timid ones – this focal range is fairly limited, and will not give you the reach you require. However, it is a useful range for shooting wider views of subjects, perhaps in order to show them in context with their surroundings; and also for using in combination with close-up attachments. A lens in the region of 50–100mm is ideal for use with an extension tube (see page 20). ‘Medium’ telephotos, typically in the region of 135–300mm, and ‘long’ telephotos, of 300mm or more, are most suited to wildlife photography. Their higher magnification makes them well suited to shooting animals – photographing birds from a hide, or large mammals from further away, for example. These lenses not only magnify the subject, allowing you to capture intimate images of subjects that would run or fl y away if you tried to approach them, but they also foreshorten perspective. This means that elements within the frame appear closer to each other than they really are, More extreme results can be obtained using a fisheye lens. Offering a fi eld of view of 180 degrees or more, fisheyes typically have a focal length of 8–15mm. Two types are available: circular and full-frame. Circular fisheyes create a circular image surrounded by black edges, while full-frame fisheyes completely fi ll the frame. Both types create a significant degree of distortion, producing extraordinary-looking results when photographing nearby subjects.
A lens with a focal length shorter than 50mm is deemed ‘wideangle’ While they are often considered the preserve of the landscape photographer, wide-angle lenses, used appropriately, can produce stunning wildlife images. Their wide angle of view is ideal for shooting environmental portraits of approachable subjects or static subjects such as wildflowers. By getting close to your subject and using a short focal length, you can capture images that show your subject in context with its natural habitat the results can convey far more about the subject and its environment than a frame-filling portrait. One of the key characteristics of short focal lengths is the way they appear to stretch the relationship between near and far, exaggerating the scale of foreground objects. Nature photographers can use this to create images with terrific depth, dynamism and impact. Wide-angles can also create eye-catching or distorted perspectives. While it is not always possible to get close enough to your subject to shoot in this way, it is worth investing in a wide-angle or wide-angle zoom – in the region of 17–35mm to allow you to do so when the opportunity arises. Wide-angles will give you extensive
depth of field, and also usually boast a fast maximum aperture.
Macro lenses are optimized for close focusing, and are designed for photographing smaller subjects such as insects and plants. Their optics perform best at high magnifi cations, and they don’t require any supplementary attachments to achieve a reproduction ratio of 1:1 life-size. They are typically produced in prime lengths, ranging from 40mm to 200mm. Shorter focal lengths – from 40mm to
90mm – tend to be compact and lightweight, making them portable and suitable for handheld use. Telephoto lengths from 100mm to 200mm – offer a larger, more practical camera-to-subject distance. This makes them more suitable for shooting timid subjects such as butterflies, increasing your chances of capturing the shot without disturbing the subject. Macro lenses are fast, normally boasting a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or faster. Such a large aperture not only helps provide a bright viewfinder image, but the shallow depth of field produced at its maximum f-stop throws background detail attractively out of focus. The disadvantage of macro lenses with longer focal lengths is that their increased size and weight make them difficult to use handheld. If you’re more interested in shooting larger subjects such as birds and mammals, a macro lens is an unnecessary investment. However, for close-up enthusiasts, a dedicated macro lens is the best choice. While it’s more costly than using close-up attachments, the convenience and image quality of a macro lens is unrivalled.
lenses nature wildlife photography