Backyard Wildlife Photography
by Gerry Bishop
Learn how to think small.
"Think small!" That's hardly what our parents and teachers and other adults in our lives told us when we were growing up. But if you learn to think small in your own Backyard Wildlife Habitat site, you'll quickly discover an amazing new world. And with the right kind of photography equipment and know-how, you'll be able to capture this world on film--to the delight of yourself and others.
The basic tools necessary for close-up work are a single lens reflex (SLR) camera body and the appropriate lenses and other gear to go with it. (A "point and shoot" camera is incapable of anything approaching true close-up work.) Today's electronic SLRs are precise and dependable, easy to operate, and relatively inexpensive.
The cheapest way to get started in close-up shooting is to buy some extension tubes to put between the camera body and the lens that may have come with it. (The more extension, the closer you'll be able to get.) Another choice is to add close-up lenses to the front of a regular lens. But for the best results, buy a lens especially made for close-up work--the macro. Macros come in focal lengths of between 50 and 200mm, with the longer lengths allowing more "working room" between you and your subject--something to keep in mind when trying to capture an image of a nervous dragonfly or a cranky wasp. True macros can be expensive, but they give you such versatility and such tack-sharp images that they're worth every penny. (Don't confuse a true macro with a zoom lens with a "macro" setting.)
Magnifying your image also magnifies every move you make. A good tripod will take care of that problem, so long as you have enough natural light and a subject, such as a dew-covered spider web, that holds perfectly still. But with low light or a moving subject, you'll need an electronic flash. The quick burst of light from the flash will freeze all action, allowing you to move freely through your backyard, stalking and shooting your "prey" wherever you find it.
You'll be amazed by the intricacies that close-up photography will reveal. Soon you'll be seeing in a whole new way--slowly and carefully observing, learning where to look, quietly letting new forms of life introduce themselves. Even the smallest habitat will become an undiscovered wilderness, full of tiny treasures--each with something to show you.
So go ahead--enter another world right outside your back door. Get out there and think small!
Note: To learn how easy close-up nature photography can be, get hold of one of the many good books on the subject. (John Shaw's Closeups in Nature and Larry West's How to Photograph Insects and Spiders are two excellent ones.)
Gerry Bishop is Editor of Ranger Rick, a children's nature magazine published by the National Wildlife Federation. Nature photography has been one of his outdoor passions for many years.