A long lens is essential for photographing wildlife for a number of reasons. The most obvious is it allows the subject to appear larger in the picture. Unless you’re creating an environmental portrait, bigger is usually better. A second reason is you can keep your distance which allows the animal to go about its regular business. This is a large plus in that it increases the likelihood of capturing behavior it wouldn’t perform if it’s in flight or fight mode. An additional reason magnification is beneficial is it provides a cleaner background. There’s a narrower angle of view which reduces the amount of information taken in which in turn reduces potential background distractions. It also helps throw the background out of focus due to the narrow depth of field.
VIBRATION REDUCTION: Regardless of the brand or system you use, stabilized lenses are beneficial. When attached to a digital body with a magnification factor of 1.5 or higher, they provide a longer effective focal length. Vibration reduction or image stabilization allows the camera be hand held and still net sharp images. Work with as fast a shutter speed as the light allows. Set the ISO to 400 and fire away. If the subject isn’t moving, shutter speeds of 1/250th and higher should net a sharp image, but the closer you get to this baseline of 1/250th, the more careful you need to be with your hand holding technique. If the subject is moving as in flight photography of birds, pan the camera using a smooth and liquid flow following its movement.
WINDOW MOUNT: Animals have become accustomed to vehicles which has lead to many images shot from inside a car. As it’s awkward to set up a tripod around seats, center consoles, and steering wheels, so evolved window mounts. With a window slightly rolled up, they fit over the lip and are steadied by a section that butts up to the inside panel of the door. This creates a solid platform for a tripod head and long lens. There are a few things to keep in mind when using them. Engine vibration is easily transferred so make sure it’s turned off. Additionally, if there are other people or photographers in the car, you need to have an understanding that movement is restricted to times when a warning is given.
BEEFY TRIPOD: Big telephoto lenses are long, heavy and expensive. An investment in one also dictates an investment in a heavy duty tripod for two key reasons. There’s no sense mounting a super telephoto on a flimsy tripod as the end result will be a blurry photo because the tripod is not adequate enough to dampen lens movement at extreme magnification. Secondly, saving a few bucks by not investing in a proper tripod could cost you big bucks if it’s not beefy enough and your rig winds up toppling to the ground. With it mounted on a sturdy tripod, a good technique to incorporate into your shooting is to lay your left hand on the barrel of the lens and slightly push down while you press the shutter. This technique steadies the set up. Pressing the shutter creates an upward movement which is countered by the left hand resting on the barrel.