Wildlife With A Semi Wide And Wide Angle

Photographing wildlife comfortable with human presence
Ask most nature photographers what focal length comes to mind when photographing wildlife, and the overwhelming consensus is a 400mm, 500mm or longer. Those who make a living at it would tack on a 1.4 or 2x teleconverter to gain more magnification. The reasons for this are fairly obvious. Wildlife can be dangerous, and the more distance you include between yourself and the subject makes it safer for all involved. Additionally, most animals have what’s known as a fight-or-flight comfort zone. If approached too closely, the subject will either flee or take on a defensive posture. Neither of these situations is desirable. Therefore, the magnification factor of a long lens to not stress either the subject or the photographer is beneficial. But what about species that feel comfortable in human presence? What about a situation where an animal accepts your presence? What about a situation where the camera is triggered remotely from afar? What if the photographer wants to include the environment into the composition? So much for the long lens—break out the wides!

While I have had occasion to use a wide angle in up close and personal situations with wildlife, the more frequent reason for attaching this lens is to show the animal in its environment. If the scene holds as much significance as the animal, include it. This being the case, to incorporate the background in the composition, use a wide-angle lens. The exact focal length is determined by how much scenery should be included, in addition to how close the photographer is to the scenery and animal. The closer in, the wider the lens.

photographing wildlife with a wide angle lens

Benefits: When you shoot with a wide-angle lens, a lighter tripod can be used than if you photograph with a super telephoto. Since the animal is farther away, a slower shutter speed can be used to stop the subject’s movement, as its proximity doesn’t reveal as much motion as when the animal is close. This means lower ISOs with less noise. Depth of field is greatly increased due to the wide focal length, which allows the photographer to use a wider range of shutter speeds. Shorter lenses are much less expensive than long telephotos. Finally, it’s easier to create a composition more quickly, as you don’t need to “find the subject” in the narrow angle of view of the telephoto.

photographing wildlife with a wide angle lens

Some subjects are very tolerant of humans, and in some locations throughout the U.S., a subject that may take flight will let you approach very closely since it’s acclimated to human presence. Take for instance the birds in many Florida locations. If I try to approach a great blue heron in Colorado, it flies long before it’s in telephoto range. The same species in the Everglades lets me get frame-filling shots with a wide. Will I ever abandon my telephoto? Of course not. But I will always be found with a wide angle next to me while I use it!

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3 Comments

    Great advice. I have just returned from a photoshoot in KwaZulu-Natal I know exactly what you mean about trying to find one’s subject with a telephoto lens. So a resorted to using a wide angle and inadvertently got it right.

    i just got back from the mountains where the birds fly ahead of you and the deer instantly are on guard, even with a 300m lens, in one case they were grazing a long ways away but they heard the shutter and their heads popped up.If they don’t relax I move on quickly cause the stress is evident.

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