Perfect Light

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

that bumps the 500mm up to 700mm.

What's the minimum lens for someone starting out in wildlife photography? Rathert recommends at least a short telephoto, such as a 70-210mm zoom lens. A 300mm is better. Even with the 300mm, he has to be fairly close to his subject - say 24 feet for a mallard - in order to get a close view of the bird with a bit of its surroundings. (When you see a photographer aiming a gigantic lens at a snow goose 400 feet away, the result will not be a close-up.) The camera usually should be stabilized with a tripod or other means, rather than hand held.

When a group of deer wander across the road, Rathert makes several exposures at 1/15 second with the shutter wide open at f 2.8. A slow shutter speed is necessary in this low light, though images will be blurred if the deer are moving. "It's nice light," Rathert remarks, and it's continually changing. "This time of day, everything happens so quickly."

It's more difficult than hunting, he says. With little light and at a great distance, a hunter could kill a trophy deer. Photography, where distance and light are so important, has its own challenges.

An owl takes off from a nearby tree, a flock of snow geese wings across the sky and a great blue heron flies from a watery area. "I can hear redwing blackbirds," Rathert says. He knows the area well, but each visit is a surprise mixture of weather, light and animal species.

Rathert spots a spike buck and photographs it as it chews on vegetation. Leaving the car at this point, he says, could cause the deer to run. "Focus on the eye," he advises. "It gives the photograph the illusion of being totally sharp." He's always on the lookout for a monster buck and predicts, "sooner or later our paths are going to cross." But he warns of disappointment for photographers who are after specifics. "Keep your eyes open and go with the opportunities."

He uses binoculars to check out birds on distant water, pintails and green winged teal, and adds a tip for photographing ducks flying across your field of vision: with a 300mm lens, a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 second will stop most of the action but leave the wing tips blurred, "a nice effect." A tripod allows smooth panning.

More deer in a wooded stretch make

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