XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR | 400mm F5.6 ISO640 !/30 sec
Two part email (question) on how I get the shots..
The first question is pretty easy and slightly embarrassing. So thank you (Colin) for the compliment, I do take pride in my work but I'm far from perfect. The small village of people who are closest to me will tell you all the ways in which I'm very much imperfect. A handful of those can even teach a master class on my many deficiencies (they know who they are). The slowest shutter speed I've ever taken a wildlife image at is with the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens at 1/30th of a second (above). I was on the island of Bonaire enjoying a nice glass of rum when that Heron flew in and pitched on the edge of the pool. It had just finished raining and the light levels were fairly low when I grabbed the camera (X-Pro2) and took this shot. Fortunately a couple of things worked in my favour..
A) Optical Image Stabilizer..I can't stress enough how important this feature is on a telephoto lens over 200mm. If you don't have a stabilised model then get a good tripod or something else that will steady your shaky hands. The only time I break this rule is when the light levels are so high that my shutter speed is more than double the focal length. Fujifilm has really worked on this over the past few years and that shot is a testament to how well they have done. I actually didn't even take notice of how low the shutter speed was at the time. I was focused on lighting the bird and taking the shot before she flew away. The light bouncing off the pool water raised the shadow levels under her. You can see from the blue tinge of her feathers.
If I had paid attention to the details I might have increased the ISO to around 3200 to ensure a sharp capture. When I reviewed this on my computer and saw the shutter speed I was in amazement that it was pulled off at all. I'm pretty sure that I was a few glasses in on the Rum and it was a hot, sticky day. I'm not a fan of hot, sticky days.
B) This is where things get interesting.
You can get everything right and still not get a single shot worth keeping. I've come home with a full memory card only to delete every single image because they plain out sucked.
The birds don't care how much you spent on your camera, lenses and all of that jazz. You go thru the motions to set exposure, get your composition right...line up the focusing and only to have the bird say "nah buddy...not today. I'm out of here". Sometimes they even mock you a little. They know you are there, sweating it out, second guessing yourself in agony...they just do their own thing. Who cares if they aren't pitched up against the perfect background...on a natural looking branch.
At best wildlife photography is really just serendipity.
Just like a broken clock is right twice a day...you just have to be in the right place at the right time and ready to take advantage of the situation. That's the interesting part. If missing a shot hurts you to the core and makes you physically ill. Wakes you up in the middle of the night filled with regret...then photography isn't a hobby. You are an enthusiast...if your income depends on it then you are a professional and that's an entirely different bag of worries.
But...the interesting part.
I've stated this before but here goes: Buy, Borrow or Rent the best equipment you can afford. For birds especially, nothing under 300mm will make you happy. Even then it's likely that adding a teleconverter will jussssst get you into the ball park. Birds will run, fly, waddle or swim away from you if you get beyond their comfort zone and you absolutely do not want to stress them out. 300, 400, 500, 600mm gives you enough room for you both to be safe and happy. To that end a good camera with fast autofocus and resolution for comfortable cropping is a good partner. Flash and tripod/monopods are optional and I never go out into the field without one or the other.
The most important investment you make though will be in yourself. I spend a lot of time just shooting...and watching others shoot and all that goes into my "learning" basket. The goal is to create an environment that gives you the best opportunity for success. I'm all about progress, not perfection and no matter how well I do there will always be that missed opportunity that wakes me up in a cold sweat....because I messed it up. After having my work featured in nearly 100 different publications I still worry about doing better each time I press the shutter.
Interesting Thing number two: It's not about the pictures...just being ensconced in nature. That experience of soaking it all in, no smartphone, no TV, no distractions. That's the prize and I don't know of a single wildlife photographer who cares about anything else.