Thrill of getting wildlife in focus

Published on Saturday, 27 July 2013 22:23 - Written by By Steve Knight

Sitting in a blind with a rifle, a target 200 yards or more away might be in play.

With a camera, it may need to be 20 yards.

Wildlife photography is the catch-and-release version of hunting, and with today’s digital cameras more people can successfully get involved.

There once was a time good wildlife pictures required expensive equipment. It was the nature of the beast, literally. Anyone who hunts knows wildlife is most active early mornings and late evenings, but to get quality photos just after daylight or before dark not only required long lenses it also required fast shutter speeds.

That has certainly changed in the digital age. Although not offering all the features of an SLR camera, the new digital cameras can do some amazing things under the right light conditions and at decent ranges.

Don and Bonny Edmonds are not hunters, but in 2011 they got the chance to hunt Africa with their camera. Not only did they take an amazing trip, traveling from camps in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, but they also came home with their trophies in photos.

“I don’t do a lot of wildlife photography,” said Bonny Edmonds. “We do a good bit of animal watching. My husband is a watercolorist as a hobby, and he loves birds and wildlife.”

Taking the trip with Tom and Betty Mobley of Kilgore, the Edmonds got a feel for a hunting safari by staying in tent camps and venturing out three times a day in an effort to find different species.

“It was really an amazing experience,” said Edmonds.

For the safari Edmonds carried a Panasonic Lumix, a better-than-average point-and-click camera.

“The little camera worked great. I took zillions of photos. I made a small book, and we both were amazed at how good the photos were,” she said.

Riding in a Range Rover, the tour got close-ups of several species including a somewhat perturbed male elephant.

“Our driver had slowed down because he spotted some elephants. This one male didn’t like us looking at him and started to do his dance. He was close enough the driver said he is going to move on,” Edmonds recalled.

On another occasion they were watching a nearby pride of lions, when someone noticed a young cub only feet away.

“That young one had to be no more than six or seven feet away in a stumpy tree. No one saw it when we pulled up on the pride,” she said.

Wildlife photographer Russell Graves described taking pictures of wild animals as “an infinitely challengeable active, but not impossible.”

Graves, who was born in East Texas, but now lives in Childress, has been published in magazines and on calendars, has written and illustrated books and has even seen his pictures used on product wrappers. Most of his photos are planned, to a degree, some he just happens upon.

“I tell people my camera stuff is like my American Express card, I don’t leave home without it,” said Graves, noting he has recently taken some pictures of quail for a calendar while sitting in the cab of his truck.

Normally, however, he puts in hours of scouting and preparation for a shoot, not unlike a hunter wanting to be at the right location for the sun and wind at a waterhole, feeder or along a trail.

“I try to manage everything I can manage until it becomes unmanageable. I can hedge my bet on where they are going to be or when they are going to be there. I can’t manage if they are going to show up,” he explained.

An example is when he attempts to photograph wild turkey. Graves knows his best chance in the spring to photo a strutting gobbler is the first hour of daylight when the birds fly from their roost to a strutting field. He doesn’t even attempt to photograph them in the afternoon when they are less predictable.

With most wildlife the best shooting hours are the first three hours of the morning and last three in the afternoon. That is when many species are most active and before the sun’s light becomes too harsh.

Graves also likes cloudy days when he can shoot throughout the day without worrying about shadows and sun direction. He said there are some species, like white-tailed-deer and wild pigs that tend to cooperate by being active throughout the day.

While his biggest lens is a 500 millimeter, F4, Graves said there are times how days when he takes pictures with a smart phone. In fact he did an entire magazine article with photos taken on a smart phone as well as doing some video for a movie.

While he thinks good digital cameras, and occasionally a smart phone, can be used for wildlife photography, they do have their limits, most notably being the need for light and close range. However, he also said that his 500 lens could take good close-ups at 50 yards, but is optimal at 20 to 30.

“Some of the basics of photography they will handle well, but for the advance applications they do have some limitations,” he warned of the point-and-click cameras.

No matter the type of camera he also recommends shooting with a tripod or some type of rest and recommends setting up at ground level if at all possible.

Graves two pieces of advice for someone wanting to become more active taking wildlife photos with any camera is to read the manual so they know its functions and practice as often as possible.