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The Challenge of Wildlife Photography

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens)

Keywords: d500, 200_500mm, wildlife, jungle, costa_rica, connie_cassinetto, birds

Photographing wildlife can be a challenge and not all wildlife or wildlife situations are equal.  In 2013, when I took my first trip to specifically photograph wildlife in South Africa, I was not proficient in photographing action type subjects.  I set a goal for myself to concentrate on getting decently composed and focused portrait shots instead of trying to get action shots as I knew next to nothing about photographing wildlife much less photographing action shots.  

Since 2013 I’ve photographed many birds in flight as well as several other animal species in action.  I’ve learned over the last seven years that each time I photograph wildlife the situation differs and the difference is more than just the action taking place.  I recently photographed wild animals in the jungles of Costa Rica for the second time and again realized how different each animal session is or can be.  There are a multitude of variables to consider when photographing animals.  

Lion cub in the Moholoholo Wildlife Center.
Nikon D800, Nikon 70-200, f/3.2, ISO 400, 1/80 sec.
I was trying to get a good shot of this cub playing with another cub but was not proficient enough to get it sharp. I also had no clue about depth of field and what it actually did in a specific shot. I still liked the shot because I thought it had “curb appeal,” as does most any shot with a youngster in it. At this point I was happy to get a clear shot of an animal!
Click for an enlargement


In Africa in 2013 I was actually very much a “newbie” to photography (I started learning photography in earnest in 2010), although I was working hard to pick up knowledge in any way I could.  My camera at that time was a D7000 and my longest lens was a Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens. 

I had a Nikon teleconverter, too, a TC 1.4.  I live in the foothills of California and there are no camera stores in my area (or anywhere else these days!) and I ordered a D800 from a BestBuy store in Sacramento and picked it up the night before I left town. I had one night to go through the controls to figure out how to use it but there was no problem as it was very similar to my D7000.  

Sitting in our jeep, visiting a wildlife refuge, or even at one of the places we stayed, I had ample time and opportunity to take photographs of the beautiful animals I saw and the 70-200mm with the teleconverter worked out fairly well. The light was mostly even and ample, the animals were mostly stationary and large, and often the guides could move us around as needed.   

At Kruger National Park we saw many animals who were moving fairly slowly through the landscape and, on occasion, I did try to get a bird in flight.  This overall first experience photographing wildlife gave me a desire to photograph more wildlife and to figure out how to get action shots.  


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Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on September 13, 2021

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Hi Chuck, asking me what gear to take on your trip is a difficult question for me to answer. Every trip is different and most often your trip guide, if you have one, can best answer that type of question. Most likely you are not going to have time to fuss around with changing lenses. And, you probably have favorite cameras for different subjects. If I were going on your trip and I knew the animals would be mostly far away I’d take the D850 and the Nikon 500PF; I love this combo and mostly shoot all wildlife with it these days. But sometimes on Africa trips the animals will be closer so I’d bring a second camera, probably the D500, with a more versatile lens, something with the long end in the 200mm range,so a midrange zoom, just in case. Some people might say bring the 300PF and a TC! And, you have to consider how much gear can you carry and what gear are you most comfortable with? There is no one right choice here but do the research and bring gear that can cover a range of shots would be my advice. I have not used a Z camera for wildlife but I do like the very sharp shots of my Z7, but have only used it for still subjects (the AF is not very quick for moving subjects) so can’t really comment on the Z6. Have fun on your trip.

Chuck Vincent (Chuckv) on September 11, 2021

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

Since some of my gear (listed below) matches yours and I'm planning an African trip for next year, and your article was informative and helpful for me. One of my dilemmas and questions for you is, which cameras and lenses would you take if they were available to you? This is what I thinking of bringing - Nikon D850, D500, and Z6 Nikon Lens 500 PF, 300 PF, Z24-70 4.0, - I have quite a few lenses that I won't list, but those above would be my choices of cameras and lenses to bring. Chuck

Raul Oyhantçabal (wolf2372) on April 26, 2020

Great article,congratulations Connie! And very nice shots. I'm trying to improve my skill on wildlife photography. I own like you an 200-500/5.6 Nikkor,it's great but a bit heavy and bulky,so I employ more frequently a Tamron 100-400/6.3 more compact specially when flying birds shots. Regards, Raul

NATHAN FRISBY (natpat) on February 29, 2020

Nice article!

Walter A Dube (wadube) on February 12, 2020

What are the best settings on D850 for Bird photography in forest.

judith dunn (topper1946) on January 20, 2020

Ribbon awarded for for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the 2019 Fundraising campaign Winner in the Best of Nikonians Photo Contest 2021

Really nice article - one which reflects so much of my learning process. Hope you get the 500 pf. Really much lighter and easier to handle than the 200-500. And you might get to use the TC again! Thanks for the article.

Gavin Duffy (Gaduf) on January 20, 2020

Hi Connie, Superb article,I can echo all the challenges that you have encountered. However the reward of being in the presence of these magnificent creatures, and observing them in their natural habitat, draws me back again and again. Gavin

Gary Worrall (glxman) on January 5, 2020

Awarded for his high level skills, specially in Wildlife & Landscape Photography

Great Article Connie Certainly a challenging discipline that is for sure Extremes of light and dynamic range I find are my biggest challenges Knowing how to handle the PP of the High ISO extremes is my recent learning curve .............Gary

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on November 25, 2019

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

John, thank you.

John D. Roach (jdroach) on November 25, 2019

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Nice article