Nikon D780 For Dummies
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If you live near a state park or wilderness area, you can capture some wonderful photographs on your Nikon D780 camera of animals such as deer, raccoons, and otters in their natural surroundings.

You can easily spook these kinds of wild animals because they’re relatively low in the food chain. They have a natural fear of humans, which means you have to be somewhat stealthy to photograph them. Patience is a virtue. If you’re patient and don’t do anything startling, you can capture great images of animals such as deer.

If you live near a state park, go there often to find out which areas of the park you’re likely to find your subjects and to get to know the habits of the animals who live there, including their feeding habits. After you know the habits of the animals you want to photograph and get familiar with the lay of the land, you can capture some wonderful wildlife images by using the following settings.

How to set the camera

The goal of this type of photography is to capture a photograph of an animal in the wild. You use aperture-priority auto (A) mode for this type of photography to control depth of field. The animal is the subject of your picture, so you use a large aperture to create a shallow depth of field and draw your viewer’s attention to your subject. Use a smaller aperture when photographing a group of animals. AF-C (continuous autofocus) enables the camera to update focus while the animal moves. You also use the Cl (continuous low speed) or Ch (continuous high speed) release mode to capture a sequence of images of the animal as it moves through the area. The focal length you use depends on how close you can safely approach the animal. Use image stabilization if you have to shoot at a slow shutter speed.

The slowest shutter speed you should use when handholding your camera is the inverse of the focal length. For example, if you’re using a 50mm FX lens on your D780, the slowest shutter speed you should use when holding the camera by hand is 1/60 second.

Camera settings: Nature and wildlife

These are the settings I recommend for shooting nature and wildlife:
  • Metering mode: Matrix
  • Release mode: Cl (continuous low speed) or Ch (continuous high speed)
  • Shooting mode: Aperture-priority auto (A) mode
  • Aperture: f/3.5 (which gives you a shallow depth of field) when photographing a solitary animal or a bird; a smaller aperture (larger f/stop number) when photographing a group of animals
  • ISO: The lowest ISO setting for available light conditions that gives you a shutter speed fast enough that you can handhold the camera with the focal length you’re using
  • Focus mode: AF-C (continuous AF)
  • Autofocus Point: Single-point AF
  • Focal length: A long focal length so that you can take the photograph from a safe distance without endangering the animal or yourself
  • Image stabilization: Optional

How to capture compelling images of nature and wildlife

When you’re taking pictures of animals in their natural habitat, you have to stay out of the open so that you don’t frighten the animal. I also recommend wearing clothing that helps you blend in with the surroundings.

The one exception to this suggestion is if you photograph in an area where hunting is permitted. Do not try to photograph wildlife in an area where hunting is permitted during hunting season.

Go to a place where you’ve previously sighted the species you want to photograph, hide behind some natural cover, and wait. Photograph during the early morning or late afternoon when the light is better and animals are out foraging for food.

When you see an animal, zoom in until the animal fills the frame, and then zoom out slightly. When you see an animal you want to photograph, and need to get closer, don’t make eye contact with the animal. Walk slightly to the side of the shortest distance to the animal. Change course once or twice, and when you get close enough, compose the image and take the picture. Your goal is to make the animal think it’s not in danger.

Position the autofocus point over the animal’s eye. Zoom in tight on the animal to capture an intimate portrait and compose the image according to the rule of thirds. This kind of photo is as close as you’ll get to shooting a portrait of a wild animal.

zoom in on animals Zoom in close for an intimate animal portrait.

Common problems with nature and wildlife photography

Wildlife photography is exciting, but you may also find it challenging. Here are some problems you may encounter, as well as their solutions:
  • The image isn’t sharp. Make sure you’re shooting with an ISO that’s high enough to enable a relatively fast shutter speed, and use image stabilization if your lens has this feature. If you don’t have the image stabilization feature, mount your camera on a tripod or monopod. Don’t use image stabilization if the camera is mounted on a tripod, though — you may get undesirable results because the lens will try to compensate for operator motion when the camera is, in fact, rock steady.
  • The animal blends into the background. The coloring of some animals causes those animals to blend into the background. Try shooting from a different angle. You can also use the largest aperture to blur the background as much as possible. If you use a large aperture, make sure you get the animal’s eyes in focus. If you don’t, the entire picture will appear to be out of focus.
  • The animal disappears before you take the picture. Make sure you’re well-hidden and not upwind from the animal.

About This Article

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David Karlins is a web design professional and author who's written over 50 books and created video training on top web design tools. Doug Sahlin is the coauthor of Social Media Marketing All-in-One For Dummies and author of Digital Landscape & Nature Photography For Dummies.

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