Notes from James's talk at Digi Group last Thursday...

General photographic tips

Know your gear, know your target subject, what you are going to try after a few ‘grab’ shots’, shoot wider, shoot closer, know the rules of composition, break the rules. Find that magical light - golden hour shooting, shooting with the sun on your back, shoot into the light for backlighting, know when to shoot upwind & downwind. Go out in poor weather - snow, frost, rain, fog.
This club runs a mentor system - if you feel unsure about how to start in this field of photography why not get yourself an experienced mentor ?

Last but not least - try to follow the 4 P’s...

  • Plan
  • Practise
  • Patience
  • Persistance

Choosing & using a camera

Which is the best make of camera? Answer: it all depends - but by choosing a popular make you will have access to a larger range of equipment, including second hand items.

DSLR vs CSC (Mirrorless).
DSLR conventionally are quicker to lock on with their focus & also have better tracking focus, but the gap between the 2 types is rapidly becoming less. DSLR have an optical viewfinder (you see what the lens sees) vs CSC which have an electronic viewfinder (you see what the sensor is recording).

Expensive Pro camera body vs consumer type body? 
5 years ago the difference was quite large but this is no longer the case. Pro camera bodies generally have better weather proofing and are pretty well ‘bomb’ proof. They may also have slightly better dynamic range, lower noise levels, better memory buffers, advanced internal processors & more advanced shooting controls. In terms of image quality, focussing capability etc the differences between pro & consumer bodies is closing to a very small difference.
I think it would be true to say, that what was in last year’s pro body will then be in next year’s semi-pro consumer body & so on.

Do you suffer from GAS*? It does help if you recognise the symptoms because then you may be able to resist the temptation to always have the latest & greatest.


Using a camera - 10 tips

  • Read the camera manual & learn how your camera functions (in depth).
  • Explore using aperture priority, shutter priority, manual settings, etc. Probably the most commonly used setting is aperture priority.
  • ISO - find out at which high ISO your shots are still acceptable or are becoming unacceptable.
  • Focus - try out ‘one shot’ on stationary subjects & continuous tracking focus on moving subjects. Experiment with number & size of focus points. Try to grasp when single, small focus point should be used vs large multiple points. If you understand why it is a faster lens grabs focus more effectively in low light than a slow lens - this will help you recognise the parameters under which your equipment effectively works. More advanced users may wish to switch to the ‘back button focus’ technique. Remember - images of animals tend to be better if it is possible to set the focus point placed on the eye & not the head or body - but this is often not possible with fast moving animals. In this instance broaden the size and spread of the focus points.
  • Find out how many frames per second your camera can shoot at & what is the effective size of the camera buffer. Smaller buffers often need a more ‘squirt and pause’ approach to shooting.
  • Exposure compensation - with bright patches on a dark background under expose & vice versa.
  • Some cameras have internal sensor image stabilisation - find out if the user manual recommends switching it off when a tripod used.
  • Silence the focus confirmation ‘beeper’
  • Do not let your memory card nearly fill up - swap for an empty one well before this happens. Make sure all your cards are formatted for that type of camera body.
  • When you think you have finished - put your camera away but set the camera settings to a useful default value. For example aperture priority - fully open, ISO on auto, lots of focus points, continuous tracking & high speed frame rate.



A few years ago it was common to think that the best lenses were the very expensive, large & heavy prime lenses. However, recent advances in lens technology are making this not as advantageous as some would lead you to believe.

Most common question - what is the best focal length? The answer depends on your budget & your possible subjects but for someone just starting out in wildlife photography something around 300 to 400 mm. makes a good starter lens.
Shooting hand held - use lens image stabilisation (if equipped with it). Make sure you understand when to use mode 1 or 2 & when its best to turn IS off.
Focus distance limiter - if you one then learn how to use it in order to reduce focus ‘hunting’.


Lens/camera support

There are lots to choose from depending on circumstances, weight and cost.
Tripods (with ball head, geared head, pan & tilt head, gimbal head) - try to choose one that will easily go very low for ground level shots. Monopods (tilt head only), beanbags, camera or handbags.



You need to understand your subject - their behaviour, location, seasonal variation etc. Its best to do lots of research on the web & talk to someone who has successfully photographed a subject you are interested in.
You can book courses & holidays that will help you in your photography. Remember, to acquire good field craft skills it takes both time and diligence.


Notes from James Woodend's talk on getting started with Nature Photography.


* Gadget Acquisition Syndrome