WILDLIFE IS ONE OF the most popular subjects of them all, and the real thrill of it is that, even in the very heart of a city, it can be all around us, and so you’re never likely to be far from some potentially fruitful subject matter.
Just because the creatures you’re focusing on might be considered everyday – think birds, squirrels or maybe the odd urban fox – it doesn’t mean they can’t be incredibly photogenic. And if you’re prepared to venture to a quieter spot away from the crowds, with patience and the necessary stalking techniques the potential will open up to photograph an even greater variety of wildlife.
Take a look at the striking work produced by this month’s Nikon expert Frederikke Jensen, and you’ll get the idea. Many of her subjects were found in the back garden of her father and stepmother’s house and, despite the familiarity of the location, she’s pieced together a strong portfolio of wildlife work and has recently been accorded the honour of being named a Z Creator.
If you’re inspired to do the same take a look around you and you’ll doubtless find a whole stack of subjects close by, and then your challenge will be to persevere and teach yourself the techniques you need to shoot great and natural-looking photographs. Even if you aspire to heading up to bigger and more exotic subjects, learning the basics close to home will still stand you in good stead.
If you’ve been following this series, you’ll know the ground rules by now. We’re running Pro Academy in tandem with the excellent Nikon School and there are twelve challenges in total, so you still have one more chance after this one to earn one of those coveted certificates! As always, you’re cordially invited to enter just one challenge or to go for them all.
We’re inviting you to send across your best single shot from the assignment to our expert team at Professional Photo and, if you’ve met the required standard, we’ll send you back an e-certificate to prove the fact. Let us know that you’ve successfully completed the first six assignments and you’ll receive a further e-certificate to confirm you really are an excellent all-round operator, and there’s now the prospect of receiving an extra one if you’re one of the heroes managing all twelve! It’s not a competition, there are no prizes to be won but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your skills have been recognised and it’s a chance to dip into some fresh genres.
How to Take Part
You don’t need to be a professional photographer or a Nikon user to take part in Pro Academy, and don’t feel shy about sending in the best shot you’ve been able to achieve, even if it’s perhaps not up to the high standards of the work you can see here. It’s all about learning and rest assured we will be making allowances for newbies! Enter your photo further on below by clicking on the green submission box.
Challenge number Eleven
STEP BACK FOR a moment and take a look at the wildlife that could be living in your locality. It might be so everyday that you almost don’t notice it any more, but that squirrel that hops around your garden or the birds that visit your feeding table on a regular basis can make brilliant subjects. The challenge is to get serious about the way you photograph them and to set yourself the task of producing pictures that are up to a high professional
standard, and the skills you learn in the process can stand you in good stead in your future wildlife photography career.
We’re not asking for the pictures you submit to be shot in any particular style,and the approach you decide to take is entirely up to you. You could even visit one of the excellent conservation centres, such as the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey – partnered with on a regular basis by the Nikon School – and here you’ll be able to get up close and personal to subjects ranging from red squirrels through to foxes and badgers. It’s a great way to build up your skill set and the experience ensures that, when the opportunity arises out in the wild, you’ll be fully prepared to shot some awesome pictures!
Technical Tips with Neil Freeman
When you’re shooting wildlife you’ll need to work quickly if your subject is moving, and keeping everything in focus is key to success. Neil’s recommendation is to work with back button focusing, which essentially separates focusing and shutter release to two separate buttons, preventing the camera’s AF system from becoming continuously engaged when the shutter is fired.
“Usually, the shutter release will have two functions,” explains Neil. “Slightly depressing it engages the AF and then fully depressing the button takes the picture. This is fine if you’re taking a single image, but if you’re shooting a sequence you will need to refocus each time, possibly resulting in lost shots. To get around this you’ll need to use your AF-ON button, which takes the autofocus function away from the shutter release button and assigns it to another button on the back of the camera. This enables you to work with your AE-L/AF-C button to ensure focus is maintained throughout an entire sequence, and it massively improves your hit rate.
“You also need to use a shutter speed that’s going to be fast enough to avoid camera shake with long lenses, and this will change depending on the resolution of the sensor you’re working with. Traditionally you would look to work with a shutter speed that’s equal to, or greater than, the focal length of the lens you’re working with, so 1/300sec if you’re working with a 300mm.
“However, if you’re working with a higher resolution sensor, so much detail is recorded that you need to up the shutter speed. If you’re working with a 36MP sensor, such as that found in the Nikon D800, you should double the shutter speed – so up to 1/600sec – and this should be upped to 4x your focal length if you’re working with a 45MP sensor.”
Learn with the Nikon School
WITH MANY OF its courses now online, training via the Nikon School really is open to everyone, with a wide range of well-priced learning available to photographers at all levels and using any brand of equipment – although Nikon users will get particular value from the content. Head to the Nikon School website to take a look at what’s on offer and to see what you could sign up for, with everything from lighting technique through to running a digital darkroom, mastering as particular piece of Nikon gear, filmmaking and even one-to-one tuition all available, along with location courses and experience days in the UK and overseas.
Submit your photograph here.
Frederikke Jensen Wildlife Specialist
Each month, we’ll feature a top professional from the genre we’re covering to get some idea about what they find so compelling about their chosen speciality.
GROWING UP IN A small village in Denmark, 21-year-old Frederikke Jensen always had an appreciation for the nature and wildlife that was all around her, but it was only when she first picked up a camera in earnest four years ago that she really began to look more seriously at what was on her doorstep.
“My grandparents lived right beside a forest”, she recalls, “and lots of different wildlife would visit their garden. I’ve always been fascinated by animals and, considering the relatively ‘easy’ access I had to the wildlife at this particular location, they seemed like natural subjects to focus on when I first started to become interested in photography. That’s really how it all began for me and things have grown from there.
“My father and step mother now live there and, during spring and summer, I get daily messages from my dad with really zoomed in and pixelated photos of the wildlife he’s seeing. It’s really sweet of him, but it’s also a massive help too because, when I come to visit, I know where to look. In my experience wildlife tends to stick around the same spots.
“Finding wildlife to photograph outside of my dad’s garden depends a lot on the species I’m looking for. If I want to photograph foxes, badgers or raccoon dogs, for example, I’ll usually look for semi-large holes in the ground where they have their dens. The easiest way to determine whether anything lives in there is to look for tracks or droppings. Setting up a trail cam near the den is also a great way to not only see if it’s inhabited, but also to check on what time they usually come out. Once I know that, I set up my tripod and camera nearby.
“My approach to photographing wildlife is very dependent upon where I’m working. If I’m in an urban area, they’re usually not too shy, as they’re used to seeing humans. If that’s the case I’ll usually hang around the area for an hour or two until they eventually get curious enough to come close. Getting them to trust me makes the job of photographing them so much easier, and the pictures look more natural.
“If I’m photographing rural wildlife my approach is a bit different, because the animals in these areas tend to be incredibly shy and I need to stay hidden in order to get close to them. I’ll wear a camouflage jacket and have a camouflage net covering my tripod and camera as well. But I’ve also been known to just hide behind random bushes and trees from time to time when I didn’t have my camouflage gear with me. It’s simple, yet can be really effective.”
Recently invited to become part of Nikon’s prestigious Z Creator programme, Frederikke has had the opportunity to shoot with the Z 9 flagship, and it’s a camera that’s left her mightily impressed.
“I’ve only used it for a couple of weeks”, she says, “but I’m already blown away. It’s so fast and the AF, and especially the eyetracking, is amazing. Besides wildlife I also shoot professional football and it’s almost faster than the players. The battery life is just unbelievable as well. The first couple of days I took more than 6000 photos and still had nearly half the battery life left.”
Also working with the Nikon Z 5, Frederikke’s regular lenses are a Z 50mm
f/1.2 S, Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S and 105mm f/1.4E ED. “I’m impatiently waiting for the new Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S to arrive”, she says, “and I can’t wait to try it out.”
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