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Focal Length for Photographing Wildlife

The type of lens you use for photographing wildlife depends on whether your subject is close to you or far away. It also depends on the type of wildlife you’re photographing. Let’s face it: Common sense dictates you can’t photograph a grizzly bear from a distance of four feet.

The focal length you use is also determined by how many animals you’re photographing. Use a focal length of about 50mm, maybe even a wide-angle lens with a focal length of 35mm, when photographing a flock of flamingoes or any group of animals you can get close to.

When photographing wildlife like large birds that are fairly tame, you can get pretty close and use a shorter focal length of 50mm, or a short telephoto lens in the 80mm to 105mm range.

For landscape and wildlife photography, consider purchasing a zoom lens that includes wide-angle and telephoto focal lengths. A focal length range from 24mm to 105mm is an ideal walkabout lens for landscape and wildlife photography, provided the animals are used to human presence.

When you photograph potentially dangerous wildlife, you need to distance yourself from your prey; otherwise you may become the prey. If you want to photograph elusive wildlife such as bald eagles that roost in nests atop tall trees, you’ll also need some way to get in close. The solution: a long telephoto lens.

Your local camera store doesn’t exactly give away long telephoto lenses, but with a bit of judicious shopping, you should be able to find a lens to fit your budget. When you need to zoom in on distant subjects, the shortest focal length to consider is 200mm. You can find this focal length on a very popular zoom lens that incorporates a range of 70mm to 200mm.

If your primary interest is bird photography and your budget can stand it, consider purchasing a 300mm or 400mm prime lens. A prime lens has one focal length and is sharper than a telephoto lens that contains the same focal length.

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