The Sony a6000 is a great camera for all-around photography. It features a nice portable body that is very comfortable to hold. It also has great features like hybrid autofocus and a great electronic viewfinder. It also, as you probably know, can take some pretty phenomenal pictures.
For wildlife photography, being ready to find, focus, and snap at the drop of a hat is key. There are many aspects of the a6000 that facilitate this, such as the hybrid auto-focus or the continuous shooting mode. The a6000 also has a huge range of possible shutter speeds, allowing you to capture those crazy moments out in the wilderness.
There’s also the fact that shooting in the wilderness is different from shooting in the studio. You don’t have access to the kinds of power or accessories that you can use when you’re in a building (or at a show). And you also need to be able to travel light and quiet enough to actually find wildlife worth photographing.
These are some tips to help you get started with wildlife photography with the Sony a6000. Some of them are practical tips for the camera specifically, while others are simply all-around best practices for wildlife photography.
Get A Decent Tripod
Although the a6000 has some phenomenal shake-protection for those freehand moments, it’s always a good idea to be prepared with a tripod when you want those fixed shots. With wildlife photography, these moments will tend to be rarer, but there are some niches of wildlife photography that will use tripods more than others.
For example, if you want to set up a long shoot focused on a certain creature’s nest or den, having a tripod is essential. For wildlife photography, the most important thing about a tripod is that it has to be portable and stable. Having a heavy tripod out in the wilderness will only weigh you down.
Aside from robust construction and portability, you will want a tripod that can be easily adjusted to get whatever angle you may want for your shot. Tripods with ball-and-socket heads are great for this. Getting some counterweights to keep the tripod weighed down might also be a good idea.
Know Your Lighting Options
Since you will be photographing outdoors, you will have plenty of access to natural lighting. That being said, if you’re under a forest canopy, or shooting at night, you also need to be able to control the lighting for your shot somehow. Another thing to consider is that you might not want to scare away your subjects with things like camera flashes.
Generally, for lighting in any niche of photography, lighting breaks down to direction, brightness, and color temperature. The direction of light has a lot to do with the way the photograph ends up looking, and the brightness can serve to illuminate your subject or allow the natural lighting of the shot to come through. Color temperature affects how the photograph feels in terms of color.
All of these things will generally depend on the type of wildlife you are photographing. Aquatic life will generally go well with cooler colors, but there are exceptions to every rule. Play around with different lighting and see what works well for your particular subject.
Get A Good Lens
Getting a nice lens can help you take your photography to the next level. Different wildlife shots benefit in different ways from different lenses, so it’s always a good idea to play around with lots of options. For example, if you’re shooting a flock of birds as opposed to a single bird, you may want to go with a wide-angle lens.
Telephoto lenses are generally your best bet when it comes to wildlife photography, as they give you a wide range of effective focal lengths. Having a lens that performs well in low-light conditions will also come in handy when you’ve got a forest canopy over your head.
Then there’s the question of zoom versus prime lenses. We’ll go more in-depth into this question further down, but the general rule of thumb is that zoom lenses are more versatile and faster, but prime lenses give a better bokeh effect.
Take Lots Of Photos
When shooting wildlife, you have very little control over how your subject behaves. You might not get a second chance to snap that perfect angle if the animal never turns its head that way again. For this reason, it is generally recommended to get as many photos as possible, as often as possible.
Obviously setting up your shot is essential as well, but learning how to use things like the continuous shooting mode on your a6000 will help you capture those real candid moments. The one thing to be aware of here, of course, is that taking more photographs takes up more space in your camera.
Carrying around more memory cards and batterie is always a good idea in the wilderness, but making sure to go with high-quality options can help limit the amount of space taken up by your storage and energy solutions.
Play Around With Your Camera
This is more true with wildlife photography than probably any other niche. Since you will be going out into the literal wilderness to get your shots, it’s entirely likely that your shooting conditions, lighting, and distance from your subject will be constantly changing. Learning how these factors affect your photos, and how your camera can play around with them, is essential to good wildlife photography.
Since you’ll be spending a lot of time following animals around outside, it’s probably a good idea to take a second whenever you go out to acclimate your camera to the kinds of situations you’ll be shooting in. Take a few test shots with a similar focal length and lighting setup to what you think you’ll be shooting in the field.
Experimentation is one of the best ways to learn what the a6000 can do. You can read until you’re blue in the face, but nobody can really tell you how to take your photos the “best” way.
Do Some Heavy Reading
There are a lot of features packed into the a6000. Knowing how to actually use the camera is the first step to shooting some amazing photos. Even when you start to think you’ve got the hang of it, it’s more than likely that you’re missing some of the more subtle features and settings.
The first step of informing yourself in this regard is to read the manual. This will teach you all of the different controls and features that you need to understand to truly use the camera to its full potential. There are also a lot of independent guides for the a6000 that will tell you all kinds of recommendations for things like lenses and lighting.
If you haven’t already, it’s also a good idea to read up a bit on the science behind things like aperture sizes and focal lengths. You don’t have to become an optics expert, but this will give you a lot of practical knowledge on why certain aspects of photography are the way they are.
Prime Lenses Versus Zoom Lenses
As we mentioned earlier, zoom lenses generally allow you to quickly and effectively find your subject, focus and snap. Prime lenses, on the other hand, are a bit more specialized and can be a bit tougher to use, but they definitely give a clearer photo with a better bokeh effect.
The term “bokeh” refers to the blur around the subject in some photographs with a shallow depth-of-field. This type of photography allows you to control exactly where the focal point of a photograph is. It’s great for highlighting things like insect parts in macro photography.
Generally, for wildlife photography, you will be using a zoom lens. This is because you will want to be ready to capture the perfect shot at a moment’s notice. For some types of shots, however, prime lenses are going to work better. A good example would be the aforementioned macro photography, where shallow depth-of-field shots are common.
Shoot Raw For Most Of Your Shooting
Shooting in the raw format ends up with a lot more detail being captured by the camera sensor. Using formats like JPEG compress the visual data, and can even create artifacts on your photo that you don’t want. Compressing the photo also gives you less to play with in post-processing.
To switch to raw format on the a6000, start by pressing the menu button. After navigating to the “Image Size” submenu, use the control wheel to go to the “Quality” section. In the “Quality” menu, select “Raw” using the control wheel, and press the soft key C to save the changes.
Playing with the format gives you some control over how much space the photos take up on your camera. Shooting in the raw format gives you more visual data to play with, and thus is more recommended for general shooting.
Know Your Environment
Wildlife photography is one of the most versatile niches in the world. Sometimes you could be shooting inside a cave, other times you could be in the middle of a desert. No matter where you are shooting, you will likely always be encountering new and different shooting conditions.
For this reason, familiarizing yourself with the different conditions common in your area is key. Likewise, if you’re doing wildlife shooting abroad, you will constantly have to change your expectations of lighting, space, and a myriad of other factors.
Informing yourself of the conditions you will be shooting in is essential, and being prepared to deal with any situation (in terms of both equipment and practical knowledge) will go a long way to making your wildlife photography more comfortable and effective.
Pay Attention To Your Hard Drive And Batteries
Having your camera die during a session is something everybody would like to avoid. The same goes for running out of space on your memory card. It may seem like a basic suggestion, but being prepared in terms of both batteries and memory cards is highly recommended for wildlife photography.
Since you won’t have access to things like electricity while you’re out shooting, having access to extra batteries is essential. Remember that cheaper alternatives to authentic Sony batteries will still work with the a6000, but you get what you pay for. If you have higher quality batteries, you won’t need to carry so many around.
Memory cards are a similar scenario. It’s generally recommended to have at least a 64-GB card for use with the a6000 for wildlife photography. Carrying around multiple cards is generally not a problem, but upgrading to a larger card rather than multiple smaller ones can make things a bit easier when you’re out shooting.
Know Your Subject
Unlike in studio photography, you have almost zero control over how your subject will act. There’s also the distinct possibility that your subject could be dangerous if provoked. For this reason, one of the most important rules of wildlife photography is to know your subject.
Remember that studying animal behavior and habitats are entire fields in an of themselves. Knowing exactly how the species you are shooting will react in a given scenario can be the make-or-break factor in terms of getting those perfect shots.
If possible, do some basic reading on your subject before setting out. This will allow you to locate the subjects easier, avoid scaring them away (or provoking them), and give you some insight on why photographing them is important. Remember that you’re showcasing mother nature, and she likes to be respected.
Get Out There And Have Fun
There’s nothing that will teach you more about photographing wildlife than wildlife itself. Knowing exactly what it feels like to get that perfect shot of a fox tackling its prey, or a mama bird feeding her young is a unique experience that you can only get from seeing it. The a6000 is a versatile enough camera that you should be prepared for any scenario, provided you keep an open and experimental mind.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to fire away in the comments section!