two white butterflies perched on stems

How I Shoot | Photographing Wildlife in Spring and Summer

Petar Sabol

For me the spring and summer means new beginnings. The bright colours of the first flowers start to appear, and I am especially excited to see butterflies and dragonflies. I adore animals and spending time with them in nature is my inexhaustible source of happiness and inspiration, but for macro photography, butterflies and dragonflies are some of my favourite creatures to photograph. I also love the birds who are very active making nests and feeding their young; basically, everything that flies is a source of inspiration to me.

When your focus is on the subject, it is easy to forget that light is just as important when photographing wildlife as it is with any other type of photography. For this reason, it’s particularly important to choose the best time of day to get the best direction and intensity of light. The light not only affects the subject, but also how the background of the image will look.

white butterfly perched on an orange stem

© Petar Sabol | Sony α7R IV + 100mm f/2.8 Macro | 1/30s @ f/9.0, ISO 400

Then there is the weather. I am eternally fighting against the wind. Wind is the biggest enemy of any macro photographer. When you are dealing with large magnifications and small apertures to capture the largest possible depth of field, the slightest flow of air can cause undesirable movement of the subject being photographed and ruin a potentially good photograph.

I currently take my images using a Sony Alpha 7R IV, but I also sometimes use the Alpha 9 II. For shooting macro shots, I mount the Sony FE 90m f/2.8 G Macro lens, or a third-party 180mm macro lens with an adapter. If I am capturing shots of birds then I will use the Sony FE 200-600mm G or, if I am lucky, I will sometimes borrow the perfect FE 600mm f/4 G Master lens.

extreme close up of an insect eye

© Petar Sabol | Sony α7R IV

It goes without saying that a tripod is essential for the macro images that I take. To get a good depth of field I will shoot at f/8 or f/11 and try and keep the sensitivity at ISO 100 or 200. This creates shutter speeds that are usually between 1/5 to 1/50th sec. Despite the excellent autofocus system, I will usually manually focus and use the in-camera magnified view to get the focus and depth of field exactly where I want it.

When shooting macro, I will often also use electronic focus rails so that I can take multiple images with slightly different focus planes. I can then blend together in software to create a ‘stacked’ image with the entire subject in-focus, whilst still keeping the background blurred. To do this technique everything has to remain perfectly still – the camera, the insect and whatever the insect is resting on. This is why having a day without any wind is so important.

The best advice I can offer for shooting in the field is to choose a day when the wind is calm, but also get up early and shoot in the morning as the sun is coming up. With a lower temperature the insects will be moving a lot slower and will most likely be basking in the morning sunlight to warm up their bodies. And of course, the early morning will also provide great lightened possibly even a slight mist or dew drops, which can add interest to the background of the image.

bird in flight against a rich green background

© Petar Sabol | Sony α9 II + FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS | 1/4000s @ f/4.0, ISO 4000

Photographing birds in flight requires practice and a good knowledge of your cameras autofocus system. Both the Alpha 7R IV and the Alpha 9 II have incredible autofocus systems, with the former combining it with a 61-million-pixel resolution so that I can capture every detail, and the latter enabling me to shoot at up to 20fps.

two orange birds in flight

© Petar Sabol | Sony α9 II + FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS | 1/3200s @ f/4.0, ISO 2000

I set my cameras to AF-C mode, with Lock-On focus points set to either L or Zone so that the focus point has room to track whilst the bird moves. Then I shoot in continuous Hi+, which, as I said, means up to 20fps with the Sony Alpha 9 II. This allows me to capture a variety of different shots and movements as the bird flies. Then there are the exposure settings, with shutter speed obviously being the most important to make sure that I don’t get any motion blur, so I always set the shutter speed to at least 1/2000th sec and then I leave the aperture on its maximum setting. I am confident to then leave the sensitivity setting on Auto ISO, knowing that both the Sony Alpha 7R IV and Alpha 9 II produce very low noise, even as the sensitivity increases, so I can capture a fast-moving bird in flight, knowing that I will have all of the detail I need.

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Petar Sabol

Petar Sabol | Croatia

"I always try to make my photos look better, no matter how long it takes and how much effort it requires"

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