Photographing Birds and Wildlife in a Wetland Area
Knowing a place is one of the best tools in bird photography or the broader world of nature photography, but there’s more to it than that. In this post, we’ll walk through the basics of shooting birds and wildlife in a wetland area.
A 500mm or 600mm f/4 lens is not needed for high quality bird and wildlife photography, but a decent telephoto is still an important part of any wildlife photographer’s kit.
All telephotos have their range of advantages and disadvantages. Big, fast lenses like the 500–600 f/4 options allow for faster shutter speeds at lower ISOs, have extreme sharpness, and nice, shallow depth of field for isolating the subject of your photograph. However, they are large, cumbersome, heavy, hard to use as a hand-held, and are very, very expensive.
Smaller lenses, like the very popular telephoto zooms, are compact, easy to carry, and have optics that improve with each and every generation. Canon’s 100–400mm and Nikon’s 80–400mm and 200–500mm are good options. Also, third party manufacturers are nothing to sneeze at in this face. High-quality 150–600mm lenses from Sigma and Tamrom, for example. Sure, these lenses aren’t cheap, but they aren’t the most expensive lenses either.
Wetland Wildlife Camera Settings
Fast shutter speeds are essential for creating sharp images of wildlife while using long telephotos. With bird and wildlife photography — especially in wetland environments — the subjects are in constant motion. As a result, you should always be shooting above 1/1000th of a second, often much faster.
Especially when shooting colorful birds, some lenses experience a loss in sharpness when shooting with a wide aperture. Be aware of your own equipment and its limits. But, with something like a Olympus 300mm F4, you should be comfortable shooting wide open.
Focus settings are also very important. Use single point focus to grab the subject’s eye, along with AI Servo, continuous or tracking focus mode. That way, if the animal moves, the camera will automatically stay focused where you want it. And, you won’t have to constantly be pressing and re-pressing the focus button.
Getting Close to Wild Birds
Getting close to wild birds is all about patience. Take a small waterproof pad, place it in the waterline, give yourself a decent amount of insect repellent, put the camera on a tripod, and sit down. Be prepared to sit for a few hours.
Birds may take some time to relax after your initial appearance, but, in time, they’ll get back to doing what they normally do. With some time, and a bit of luck, they’ll be paddling close in no time, and you’ll be able to click away. Wear neutral colors to help yourself blend in.
Another technique that helps is to shoot somewhere where the wildlife is used to people. At popular birding areas, wildlife refuges, and national parks, wildlife is used to people being around. Animals will be less shy, allowing for you to take a more direct approach.
Wherever you are, be sure to move in slowly. Take things a few steps at a time. Pause for a moment, and then move in further. Remember, if the animal shows signs of stress, stop and wait for them before approaching further.
In wildlife and bird photography, the goal should always be to photograph animals behaving naturally. A bird that is stressed out, flying or swimming away, will always be less interesting than one that is relaxed, or interacting with other animals.