Pro-photographer Sean Weekly shares the secrets behind his breathtaking wildlife shots. Sean’s interest in photography started when he moved to Singapore as part of a career change from the military. Singapore was full of such diverse nature and wildlife that it was impossible not to take an interest. That was fuel to the fire for Sean and ignited his ongoing passion for wildlife and photography. Although he now earns his living from wedding photography, Sean spends his spare time running wildlife courses and sharing his tricks for getting great shots.
How did you get the shot of the pelican above?
This particular shot was taken before sunrise. It’s a great time to photograph any subject. The time before the sun breaks the horizon is known as the ‘blue hour’ and it’s pretty obvious to see how it gets its name. The light at this time of the day, although not bright, is just amazing to photograph in. The first thing I looked for with this image was the backdrop. The way those clouds hugged the mountains as they were slowly evaporating was utterly beautiful, so it was a no-brainer to get this backdrop in the image. I decided to shoot this at 70mm to ensure I got a lot of that awesome environment in the shot while keeping the bird a decent size in the frame. It was then just a matter of being patient and waiting for the pelican to land on the right hand side of my frame.
The biggest potential problem was the fact that I was in a boat. It would be pretty easy with this type of shot to photograph the pelican with the horizon cutting straight through the body of the bird, as we were naturally a little higher on the water. In order to eliminate this, I positioned myself higher up in the boat to ensure the pelican was way below the horizon, adding more depth and less distractions to the photo.
Do you have a specific shot in mind when you take your camera out?
Yes, I always have a vision in my head of capturing something different. However, it’s not always possible for those visions to work. Weather and the subjects’ behaviour often ruin those visions. I find going to photograph a subject with a clear head works well. On the day, assessing the environment and conditions is the first thing I do. From then on, I’m thinking about where I need to position myself for the light, whether I want a backlit, sidelit or front lit shot. Then comes the thought of composition, what I want to include in my shot – is it the environment or is it a nice full-frame portrait? All this goes through my head beforehand but I don’t finalise it until I’m on the ground, as going to a shoot with too many ideas can flood your brain and lead to disappointment if the conditions don’t materialise. There’s always an element of luck with wildlife photography, but you can make sure you’re fully prepared. Ensure your exposure and settings are correct for the shot you’re after: is your shutter speed fast enough to freeze action? Is your depth of field correct for the shot you want? All these factors increase your chance of nailing a good shot when the opportunity arises because, more often than not, you’ll only get one chance.
Do you know straight away when you’ve got the killer shot?
What shots do you still hope to get? Any projects you’d like to share?
I’d love to be the first photographer to get a nice shot of the Loch Ness Monster... On a serious note, I’m heading back to the Sierra Moreno mountain range in Spain to photograph the stunning European lynx.
Tell us about some of your most memorable photos…
I’ve been blessed to witness so many amazing wildlife moments – too many to list. One of my most memorable was back in January 2018, when I was guiding a workshop in Greece, photographing the Dalmatian pelicans on the stunning Lake Kerkini. However, wildlife can be unpredictable. For example, I was in Spain last year guiding a workshop photographing golden eagles, and a brutal battle between an eagle and a red fox occurred. I got my fair share of luck and was delighted to have witnessed such an amazing scene unfold so unexpectedly.
What’s your go-to gear setup when you’re out in the field?
I’m a Canon man, and my most common set up for wildlife photography is my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon 300mm f/2.8 lens. I love shooting with a wide-open aperture more often than not, and I believe this is one reason my photos have a distinctive style. It’s my setup for 90 per cent of my images. My field kit bag includes a back-up body fitted with a Canon 70-200mm used for environment shots, a Canon 24mm for wide angle images, a Canon 1.4 converter, a 2x converter, a flashgun, spare batteries, spare memory cards (formatted), and a good set of waterproofs as you never know when the lovely British weather will catch you out. It’s all carried in my trusty Lowepro Pro Trekker II AW bag. I get asked a lot whether I use a tripod. I own one, but very rarely use it out in the field, as I love the creative flexibility that shooting without one gives me.
For more of Sean's wildlife photography, head over to his Instagram account at @seanweeklywildlife
Get the gear
Shooting wildlife is not like other photography. For starters, you’re likely to find yourself out in all sorts of weather, which means protection for yourself and your gear is crucial.
For capturing stunning wildlife scenes, the first thing you’ll want is a good telephoto lens. You can do a fair job with a 100mm lens, but the longer your lens, the closer you can get without disturbing your subject. A 300mm lens doesn’t have to set you back much, but if you’re a real enthusiast and money is no object, then take a gander at the 800mm lenses from Canon and Nikon. You’ll achieve stunning close-ups from a very long distance with one of these.
Of course, with such a long lens, a tripod becomes crucial. Without one, it’s impossible to keep your camera steady when you’re focusing from so far away. If you’re shooting with a DSLR, then you want to make sure your tripod is sturdy enough to take the weight of both camera and lens. If you find you’re shooting in portrait mode a lot, then think about getting an L-bracket. This enables you to position your camera on the tripod so all its weight falls in the centre.
Before you train your lens on something, you want to see what there is to shoot. A pair of binoculars enables you to see the action from far away. Look out for a pair that are waterproof and fog-proof. Rubber-coated binoculars will give you extra durability. Nikon’s ProStaff 8x42 binoculars deliver 8x magnification and a wide field of view, and at just 565g, they won’t weigh you down.
To make it even easier to get your camera pointing in the right direction, why not invest in a gimbal? A long lens attached to your camera throws off the centre of gravity – but a gimbal head can counteract the offset, making it simple and easy to get your lens exactly where it needs to be. FeiyuTech’s AK4000 is perfect because it can handle the weight of a heavier telephoto lens.
A camera trap triggers your camera when it detects motion. Instead of sitting around, waiting for something to happen, you can leave your camera set up so it’s ready to shoot when you’re not around. You can even combine a number of triggers so they activate your camera and flashes at the same time.
Thanks to Diana Parkhouse for the sunrise shot above.
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