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Wild about nature photos: Tips from 5 Chicaga-area photographers

Jim Lukancic captured this red-tailed hawk carrying off a small squirrel this winter.

NOTE: With the switch over in web sites for the Sun-Times, this column from March 6, 2016, did not get online before. So I am putting it up now because I think it is informative. For those really interested in the subject of improving their wildlife and nature photography in the digital age, I included the longer unedited responses from the five amateur photographers after the the column, think of them as notes or cut scenes at the end of a good movie.

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With spring coming, I asked five of my favorite non-professional wildlife photographers what equipment they use and for a piece of advice on taking better wildlife photos.

All but one favor Canon. Ron Wozny has been a Canon man for more than 45 years, back to taking photographs for the St. Pat’s high school newspaper and yearbook.

Wozny, a Northwest Side man and a top collector/documenter of Chicago fishing history, captures Chicago wildlife naturally. Canon 7d, variety of lenses, favorite is Canon 70-200mm 1.4 l lens.

“On your own, try taking 500 pictures a week–doesn’t matter the subject–but take indoor and outdoor photos and within three months you will see a big difference in the quality of your shots, everything from centering your shot to back lighting your subject will improve and it will cost you nothing. The best way is to take a class over a weekend and have someone give you 1-on-1 help on the areas you want to improve on.’’

Carl Vizzone, son of a former North Side bait shop owner with a gift for photographing Chicago wildlife. Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron SP A08 200-500mm f/5-6.3 Telephoto Zoom Lens, Tamron-F AF 1.4X Teleconverter, Manfrotto 190XDB Tripod.

“I would say that wildlife photography isn’t the best equipment necessarily, it’s the best eye. Know what your looking for. Use binoculars for an aid to spot wildlife. Always be respectful of the wildlife you’re shooting. Patience is the key. You can spent hours in the same spot waiting for the perfect shot. Just like hunting.’’

Bill Peak, a northwest Indiana man with a gift for documenting sandhill cranes and local wildlife. Canon, two camera bodies, SL1 and a T3i, many lenses, but mainly 300mm, and two tripods.

“My advise is to take pictures of things you like and that you like looking at. . . . [G]et a photoshop program, the cropping feature is the poor man’s big telephoto lens. . . . [W]ith digital cameras, people should take a good number of photos 10, 20, 30, because you can always get rid of any thing you don’t like and it costs you nothing.’’

Jim Lukancic, a Channahon man I met as a walleye fisherman then discovered his gift for capturing wildlife/bird images. Nikon D7100, Nikon 200-500mm vr lens.

“For wildlife you need a camera with good reach, or zoom. . . . I would recommend at least a 300mm lens.You can never have enough reach. So get the highest mm lens you can afford. . . . Rivers, lakes and ponds are wildlife magnets. Check out the forest preserves, but go early before they get crowded.’’

Emil Baumbach, vice president of E.A. Baumbach Mfg. Co. and outdoor enthusiast with a knack for bird close-ups. Canon 7D Mark II, a 100-400 mm lens, sometimes a 1.4 extender.

“[B]uy a quality camera and lens, get out in the field and learn your subjects behavior, take many photos and learn from others what makes a good photograph. I highly recommend the blog by Arthur Morris (birdsasart-blog.com) and the website NatureScapes.net. Look at thousands of photos and get inspired to make your own works of art.’’

That’s what I want, works of art.

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Here are their unedited responses, with even more quality tips and suggestions.

Bill Peak

Dale.  I use Canon.  I have two camera bodies, SL1 and a T3i and several lenses, 40mm, 55mm, 200mm, 250mm, and finally a 300mm.  The 300mm is the main lens that I use.  You’re able to a safe distance away and still get a good picture. Tripods are good to have, I’ve got two.  I basically got them because I got a good deal and Canon is a good brand.  My advise is to take pictures of things you like and that you like looking at.  If your satisfied others will be to.  If you have a computer, get a photoshop program, the cropping feature is the poor mans big telephoto lens.   If there is any thing else just let me know.  Have a great day my friend.   Bill Peak.

I forgot to thank you for thinking that  some of my photos are cool.  I also wanted to add that with digital cameras people should a good number of photos 10, 20, 30 because you can always get rid of any thing you don’t like and it costs you nothing.

Carl Vizzone

With my limited experience, I use what I use because it’s what I can afford. I currently am shooting wildlife with: Canon 7D Mark II Tamron SP A08 200-500 f/5-6.3 Telephoto Zoom Lens Tamron-F AF 1.4X Tele-converter Manfotto 190 X-DB Tripod I would say that wildlife photography isn’t the best equipment necessarily, it’s the best eye. Know what your looking for. Use binoculars for an aid to spot wildlife. Always be respectful of the wildlife your shooting. Patience is the key. You can spent hours in the same spot waiting for the perfect shot. Just like hunting.

Ron Wozny

Dale, i have used canon gear for over 45 years..i shot most of the photos for our high school paper both sports and news [St. Pats ] and had a canon ae 1 back then.. i now mostly use a canon 7d with a variety of lenses with my fav being a canon 70 – 200mm  1.4  l  lens..i still use my 20d and have a canon powershot sx210 that takes great video and pictures for a small pocket camera.

Why…I like the gear , never really had any trouble with any of it, takes great photos..you can start with 1 or 2 pieces and upgrade as you improve or want to invest more in the hobby…you learn lens selection is really key in taking high quality photos on a regular basis …it really comes down to canon or nikon unless you have very deep pockets and im just a old canon guy. With the ease of todays cameras or phones for that matter and the fact that you can just download your photos, use a photoshop app to change everything from color to contrast ,delete any that you dont like and print very high quality photos from a good printer with the right paper and ink in your house or carry 1000 or more pictures around on a little stick is amazing to me. Most people now dont remember film.

Advice…on your own try taking 500 pictures a week..doesnt matter the subject but take indoor and outdoor photos and within 3 months you will see a big difference in the quality of your shots..everything from centering your shot to back lighting your subject will improve and it cost you nothing..
The best way is to take a class over a weekend and have someone give you 1 on 1 help on the areas you want to improve on.

Emil Baumbach

Hi Dale,

I use a Canon 7D Mark II camera body and a 100-400 mm lens. In addition, I sometimes add a 1.4 extender. I like this setup because I love bird flight photography and the camera allows me to take 10 frames per second with auto focus and image stabilization. It’s a light enough camera and lens to carry and use without a tripod when in the field.

My advise to beginning wildlife photographers would be to buy a quality camera and lens, get out in the field and learn your subjects behavior, take many photos and learn from others what makes a good photograph. I highly recommend the blog by Arthur Morris (birdsasart-blog.com) and the website “NatureScapes.net“. Look at thousands of photos and get inspired to make your own works of art.

I am always happy to share my images and knowledge with your readers.

Emil Baumbach

Jim Lukancic

equipment-For wildlife you need a camera with good reach,or zoom.Superzooms such as a Canon sx60 is an affordable way to start out and take some nice photos in good light.A DSLR is a more serious way to start out and gives you more control of your camera.You can find some good deals on cameras and lenses online.Refurbished cameras and lenses that are like new can be found at a good price but stick with a reputable dealer such as B&H photo or Adorama.I would recommend at least a 300mm lens.You can never have enough reach.So get the highest mm lens you can afford.

Take better photos-Sunny days are best.Good light is everything.The first hour after sunrise and one hr before up until sunset are prime time for good light.
Get out early before the crowd at parks and preserves.
Get as close to the wildlife as possible.No matter how big the lens closer is always better.

Some great shots can be taken from the car window.Driving around on country roads can really pay off.

Rivers,lakes and ponds are wildlife magnets.
Check out the forest preserves but go early before they get crowded.
Put in the time.Like anything the more you go the better your odds of a great shot.