Updated: Aug 4, 2019
When non-photographers look at my images, I often hear two sentences:
«Wow, you must have a very good camera», and «You were really lucky to get that shot!» While both statements are true, I see a total of five elements as ingredients to successful wildlife photography:
A good, reliable camera body that will deliver a perfect job when it matters.
Top quality lenses, suited for whatever one sets out to point them at.
Excellent command of the equipment, especially in difficult conditions.
As much time spent in the field as possible.
A good understanding of animal behaviour, to really feel and anticipate what might happen next.
Of course a bit of luck always helps... after all, it's much about being in the right place at the right time. What happens after a day in the field is of equal importance. I always apply a very strict routine for data backup and battery charging. There is nothing worse than getting points 1 - 5 right and then not being ready when it matters most, because of a memory card or a battery that needs to be changed.
Later on, when all the raw files have been transferred to a computer back home, selection and processing starts. And this probably makes up 50% of what the actual photographic results will be like.
But what processing has been done to the wildlife images in my portfolio?
Except where expressly stated, all photos are single, uninterrupted exposures of wild living animals. In order to present an attractive image true to nature, I may use cropping, common adjustments to the entire image, (i. e. colour temperature, curves, saturation, desaturation to black and white, sharpening) and selective noise reduction. I will also clone out spots caused by dust on the sensor. In some cases, I may apply slight vignetting, but this would be left out if an image would be entered into a nature photography competition.
My first ever SLR camera was an entry level analog Canon EOS, and came in a set with two lenses. It was all I could afford at the time and this is how I got used to the Canon system. Digital cameras were just about appearing on the horizon and I remember a lengthy discussion around a camp fire in the Okavango delta one night. There was a professional photojournalist from Germany and he stated that digital photography would never, never ever be able to produce the image quality of film and that digital cameras would remain limited to news and sports photography. Their images only good enough to be reproduced for newspapers. And anyway, he lamented, in addition to logging several PeliCases full of film around, there was no way he was going to do the same for batteries, as digital cameras were just draining power all day long. - This discussion took place in February 2000.
Snow leopard scouting trip in 2017: a heavy load to carry in the Mongolian Altai mountains
I moved to my first digital Canon EOS camera in 2006. Of course, Nikon, Sony and other manufacturers combine first class cameras with a lineup of excellent lenses, too. But I have been very happy with my equipment and I have never considered changing to a different system. (Although I do have some ideas for the use of high-resolution medium format cameras at some point in the future.)
Currently, I use two types camera bodies: The EOS 1D X Mk II and the EOS 5DS R. I really appreciate the auto focus system and low-light capabilities of the 1D and the super-fine definition of the 5DS R. To me, these are the main advantages these cameras haver over all other models in the Canon range.
I have a selection of lenses to suit my requirements. My favourites are:
EF 600mm f/4 L IS III
EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II
EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II
EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II
EF 100 f/2.8L IS USM Macro
For camera traps, I mainly use EF 24-105 f/4.0 L IS II lenses.
Whenever possible, I will use sturdy Gitzo carbon tripods with Wimberley gimbals or ArcaSwiss tripod heads.
Then, there is a lot of additional stuff that can provide extra opportunities and perspectives in the field. I like to work with IR and cable remote releases, my Elinchrom ELB 400 flash set, Hähnel flash guns, and Camtraptions PIR trapping systems, etc. But again, the equipment is only one of many aspects to successful wildlife photography.
I once read the following quote:
«A good photograph shows nature the way it is. A great photograph shows nature in a way it has never been seen before.»
While I enjoy every improvement of my own photography, I look up to the hand full of people who have managed, through their inspiration, determination and professional execution, and by enduring everything the elements greeted them with, to capture great wildlife photography and cinematography. They manage to visualize and to draw attention to nature, to wildlife, to wilderness. In short: they provide us with a unique insight into what nature- and species conservation is all about.
Please feel free to contact me for further information about equipment for wildlife and nature photography!
Patrick Meier (updated) 2.2.19