My Lens is Longer than Your Lens!

Gannet Pair

My rock is bigger than your rock: Gannet pair, Bass Rock.

I think we’ve all been there at some point. Eyeing a new bit of kit to help you get “better” pictures. Wishing that you had a longer lens to help you get better wildlife photographs for example.

I’m slightly privileged in that regard; my work as a sports photographer means that I have had access to a variety of long lenses and own my own super telephoto. I’m not privileged enough that I didn’t have to pay for that though!

So you’d think when it came to wildlife photography I’d have a bit of an advantage. And I like to think that I do, with a nice camera and a nice lens and a familiarity from using both that comes with a decade of shooting sport at the highest level. There are certain skills that dovetail nicely between both genres; the ability to track quick movement through a long lens for example.

Puffin in Flight

And the eels have it: A puffin returning with a beak full of sand eels with which to feed its young, Farne Islands.

I shoot plenty of my wildlife photographs with my 400mm. On a D300 rather than a D3 generally, because of the greater reach it affords me. You can bin any notion about using the “better” camera just because you own one; the extra reach offered by the DX crop sensor offsets any other advantage the D3 offers, unless light levels are very poor. Occasionally I’ll throw on a 1.4x converter, and very very occasionally only, a 2x converter. More down to quality issues than not needing the reach!

I have plenty of wildlife images shot with this setup, and a fair number that I am happy with. The reach is obviously an advantage, and the subject separation is excellent even on DX (remember that depth of field is determined by camera to subject distance, and shooting FX and DX at the same camera to subject distance levels the playing field significantly).

Furry Fella

Shortlisted: Up close with a grey seal pup, Donna Nook seal colony.

So, when I entered a few images into the British Wildlife Photography Awards, I was hoping to get some past the first stage of judging. I’m not sure you can ever really guarantee these things, and the final results are really down to individual taste, and luck, but suffice to say that the standard is very high so anything would have been a bonus. Nor am I a professional wildlife photographer; it is a hobby for me at the end of the day.

I received notification today that I had two images shortlisted, which as a pleasant surprise! What was also surprising is that out of all my wildlife images taken with expensive equipment, the two that were shortlisted were shots that could have been taken with any DSLR and a kit lens.


Shortlisted: A quite literal illustration of how all that expensive kit isn't needed! Donna Nook seal colony.

Sometimes having longer lenses can make the photographer lazy; sometimes purposely doing things differently, like getting up close and personal with a wildlife subject, can generate impact. Just remember to take care when approaching wildlife, so as not to startle them or cause damage to their habitats or lives. For example animals can abandon their young if they smell human scent on them, consigning them to almost certain death.

The picture might be more important than the equipment, but there are more important things than the picture.

It's a Cruel World

Scavenger and Scavengee: A seagull stands over the corpse of a grey seal pup, possibly abandoned by its mother and starved of the vital milk it needed. Note the hollow eye sockets. Donna Nook seal colony.

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