How to Take Great Wildlife Photos With Budget Gear

Wildlife photography can be a tremendously enjoyable genre, but it can also often need a heavy dose of rather expensive specialized equipment. Nonetheless, you can still create fantastic images with affordable cameras and lenses. This useful video tutorial will give you a range of useful tips to help you get the most out of budget equipment and still come home with excellent photos. 

Coming to you from Espen Helland, this great video tutorial will show you a range of useful tips for getting compelling wildlife images from budget gear. The tricky part of wildlife photography is that you are often far away from the action, you need a fast shutter speed to freeze action, and light is often low, all necessitating supertelephoto lenses with wide apertures and advanced cameras with high-level autofocus systems and fast continuous burst rates, which tends to add up in price quite quickly. And while that sort of equipment will certainly make your job easier and give you the best possible image quality, you might be surprised by what you can accomplish with far more affordable gear when it is supplemented by solid technique and knowledge of the environment and animal behavior. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Helland.

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Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Great to see more content focusing on lower cost gear being use for more than just basic reviews and accompanying test images, especially lenses. It is especially good for getting more people into photography by showing real world usage with a sense of real world time for the event, showing that the budget gear can do with the right technique.

My reasoning for this is that most people who are not fully into photography yet, often see nearly all of the content being higher end equipment, while the budget equipment largely presents itself as more of a mystery since marketing for budget cameras never really focus on the quality or results, instead they try to do more of lifestyle ads around them while listing basic specs.

The end result is the average person sees primarily smartphone camera images, and images captured using 20K+ of gear, with very little in between.

Content focusing on the technique and skill, while also supporting some of the lower cost components, helps to bridge that gap while still maintaining broad appeal.

I photograph many different kinds of wildlife in a plethora of conditions and use both low-cost gear and expensive gear. At the end of each year, I find that 20% to 40% of that year's favorite photos were taken with low-cost gear.

But that is about to change as I bought a "budget" lens this past October - the Sigma 60-600mm - and I am now using it for the majority of my wildlife photography. So it wouldn't surprise me that if at the end of 2023 I find that 80% to 100% of my wildlife photos are taken with low-cost gear.

The lens retails for $2,000 but I bought mine used in perfect condition for $1,100. This is a true budget item when you consider the fact that it has essentially replaced my $8,000 Sigma 300-800mm and my $10,000 Canon 400mm f2.8. The 10x zoom range makes it far more versatile than either of the big expensive lenses that I used previously.

Another thing that I want to mention is that herp photography is a sub-genre within wildlife photography that does not require long focal lengths or fast lenses.

Herps are reptiles and amphibians. One can outfit ones' self with lenses that are excellent for herp photography for well under $1,000.

A great combination for herps would be a true macro lens capable of at least 1:1 magnification and a mid-range zoom such as a 35-135mm or a 70-200mm or 70-300mm. You do NOT need wide apertures because when photographing herps we are usually stopping down to f8 or f11 or f16 to get enough depth of field. So this can save us a lot of money because we do not need fast lenses.

Additionally, crop sensor bodies can be an actual advantage for herp photography, because of the dynamics of a smaller sensor compared to a full frame sensor. So that also saves us a good deal of money.

There is a lot more to wildlife photography than birds and mammals. The spring/summer season is now upon us in the northern hemisphere, which is when herps are active and most readily found. Perhaps some of you who want to take great wildlife photos with low-cost gear can get out there and search for snakes, toads, frogs, lizards, salamanders, and turtles to photograph!