WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY IS so often about grabbing the elusive moment, when a subject is perfectly framed or perhaps does something that’s distinctive and which lifts an image to another level entirely. The frustration of missing a shot because you might have to change lenses and re-frame is obvious, and yet it’s been seen as being par for the course up until recently.

However, now there’s a potential life saver on the horizon in the form of Sigma’s astonishing 10x optical zoom, the 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DGOS HSM. In one package this lens can take you from just above a standard lens view through to lengthy telephoto, and it’s given 25-year old wildlife specialist Rachel Bigsby a formidable tool that now travels with her pretty much everywhere she goes.

“From the age of zero, my grandfather instilled a deep passion for the natural world in me,” she says. “As an artistic teen I developed a photography hobby and it was natural for me to focus on the wildlife that had captivated me for so long. At the age of 16 I took a Christmas temp role and, with my first wage packet, I purchased a DSLR.

“From there everything just snowballed. I didn’t study photography at college or university, everything I know is through trial and error, passion and persistence. Almost a decade later, I’m at a semiprofessional level with filmmaking credits for BBC Earth and more.”

Given the chance to pair her Nikon D850 with the formidable Sigma 60-600mm Rachel found it was a hugely versatile combination, one which opened a whole set of fresh doors, and it was perfectly suited to the challenges that those set on photographing wildlife are facing on virtually every expedition they undertake.

“The lens particularly comes into its own when working with wildlife whose movements are unpredictable,” she observes, “and also for times when I’m working in areas of outstanding natural beauty. For example, being able to photograph an inquisitive puffin and a faroff bird without having to change lenses inbetween is a huge time saver. I also adore the flexibility of shooting intimate portraits and wider environmental images.

“I love how well my Nikon and the Sigma 60-600mm complement one another. Although the lens is relatively heavy, meaning that I don’t use it hand held for long periods of time – though this is still entirely possible – the quality of the glass makes the weight well worth it. The f/6.3 I’ll be working with at the 600mm end of the range allows me to produce some beautiful bokeh when conditions are right, and overall, the lens performs really well in low light.”

VARIETY OF SUBJECTS

Having such a long focal length range to work with is really useful for a wildlife photographer and filmmaker such as Rachel, who is regularly chasing a variety of subjects. As such she’s working throughout the range, and she’s finding that the quality of results is consistently high throughout.

“My choice of focal length depends on my subject,” she says. “For seabirds, I tend to work between 400-600mm, but for badgers and fox cubs I’m happy at around
300mm. I also enjoy capturing wildlife within their environments, and shooting at 60mm is something that I do regularly.

“In terms of the maximum focal length I can achieve, I would say that 600mm is enough to photograph a wide variety of wildlife in the British Isles. When photographing owls and kingfishers in the wild I have considered investing in a teleconverter to extend the range still further, but I concluded that it wasn’t worth sacrificing that impressive f/6.3 f-stop for.”

While the 60-600mm is the only lens Rachel owns at the moment, she has also had the opportunity to work with other Sigma optics, such as the 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM, and this has also given her plenty of food for thought in terms of subjects that can be photographed from closer range.

“Before I tested this lens out, I was wedded to my long-telephoto set up, always trying to get as tight in as possible to reveal as much detail as I could,” she says. “But I realised that, by doing this, I was often ignoring the serene natural habitats where my subjects live, which can often add character and context. Including the beauty of both the subject and its surroundings allows me to tell the whole story about the bird, which I think is important.

“My fondest work to date with the 14-24mm was on a beautiful summer’s evening when I was volunteering on Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, an area of international importance for seabirds and home to 12,000 Atlantic puffins. As the sun began to set across the island, I was eager to capture an image of puffins different to anything else I had captured before.

“Creating a composition that showcased the landscape while allowing the puffins to stand out in the frame was complex, with many different elements competing for attention. I was also losing the light and shooting hand-held, so had to work quickly. Fortunately, the 14-24mm has a wide aperture of f/2.8 and delivers astoundingly good image quality even wide open and right across the zoom range. The fast AF system allowed me to work under time pressure, while the 9-blade rounded diaphragm delivered great bokeh.”

Rachel’s experiences with Sigma lenses have been hugely positive to date and she’s more than happy to recommend them to anyone who might be looking to follow in her footsteps. “I think the Sigma lenses are just built incredibly well,” she says. “And the image quality the 60-600mm is producing is divine! The quality, reliability, durability and flexibility this lens provides is outstanding, and it offers great value for money. I’m personally just so happy to be working with it!”

More information: ❚ rachelbigsby.com ❚     @rachel.wildlifephotoandfilm ❚     sigma-imaging-uk.com

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