When you look at glossy pictures of wild animals in books, magazines or on the internet, spare a thought for the photographer. I’ve decided that consistently taking good pictures of wildlife is a lot more difficult than it looks.
Photography has been on my mind today, for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve just bought myself a new camera. Secondly, by coincidence, I was asked by a publisher if they could use some of my pictures in a book on British mammals (and since the publisher is a wildlife charity, I’m happy for them to use what they want).
The new camera is probably overdue. All the pictures on this site have been taken on my medium-sized ‘compact bridge’ camera. It’s a great piece of kit – an Olympus with an 18x zoom lens – and it’s given faultless service for the last four years and is still going strong. But I’m afraid that I do push it to it’s technical limits and beyond. The problem is that most of my photographs tend to be taken at long range and in poor light conditions. It’s a challenge for any camera, and although I don’t like to blame my equipment for my failings, I have to admit that the quality does suffer.
So I’ve bitten the bullet and bought a new camera. It’s a Sony DSLR with an extra 70-300mm zoom lens (I say ‘new’, but it’s actually an old model bought second hand – I’m a real cheapskate). Now I’m ready to join the big league of wildlife photographers!
I’ve had a little play with it, and a few things have instantly struck me. It is insanely complicated, compared to my little fully automatic compact. Sony should have put the words ‘don’t panic’ in large friendly letters on the back. I’ve actually bought a whole book on how to use the thing.
It is a different beast to use too. It’s quick – you can fire off pictures as quickly as you can press the button (and if you keep your finger on the button it keeps shooting, like a machine gun). It doesn’t have the little delay before taking a picture that most digital cameras do, or the pause afterwards. This can only be a good thing when trying to capture animals in action. The magnification is not much more than my 18x Olympus, but I’m hoping the images will be better. Here’s some pictures that I snapped from our bedroom window of some of the birds in the garden as a test:
So – so far, so good. Does this mean I can retire my Olympus? Well, yes and no. The Olympus is portable and easy to carry. It is also versatile – I can photograph anything from close-up of an insect to a distant bird. To do that with the Sony I’ll need to change lenses (and carry them round with me). The Olympus shoots video too, which is handy, and it even records sound. With the long lens, the Sony should be good for distant shots, which is what I want it for, but it’s a specialised piece of kit. I think I’ll hang on to the Olympus for a while yet – it’s still useful.
I can see how people become quite obsessed with photography. Before you know it you start adding extra lenses, extra flash units, extra accessories and you stagger around the countryside under a mountain of gear. And the perfect shot will still elude you, even after you’ve bought that £1,500 telephoto lens…
Let’s see how it goes. I’m looking forward to trying the Sony in the field and seeing how it performs. At least I can’t blame my camera for my bad pictures any more…