A snail travels through the reflection of a big wheel in Vienna.


How to capture wildlife shots with impact: conservation awareness

Austrian conservation photographers Christine Sonvilla and Marc Graf have photographed wildlife all over the planet. From the Austrian alpine lynx to the elusive Bengal tiger, they have created hundreds of images that have captured the public's attention. The two met at the University of Vienna where they were both studying conservation. They discovered their shared interest in photography, and realised it was a way to give nature a voice.

Marc gives an example of how this can make a difference: "In late 2016 we published the first high-resolution photo of an alpine lynx captured in the Austrian mountains, which was really exciting for us because there are only 10 to 15, over the whole of Austria, and there had been two cases of lynx poaching around that time. We tried to get that message of lynx conservation spread over Austria through all kinds of media. We were interviewed by radio and television, and had several cover stories in Austrian newspapers and magazines."

Christine takes up the story: "We figure that roughly 1.5 to 2 million people had exposure to that particular topic. Plus, we're also doing a lot of live presentations using photography and film and talking live to an audience. Our work really is about bridging the gap between the public and the nature organisations, NGOs, scientists, all those people out there in the field."

Christine and Marc believe you don't have to travel far to capture great wildlife shots. The couple believe that, by taking time to recognise the wildlife on your doorstep, you will build a stronger connection to the natural world.

While the couple have travelled to far-flung and exotic locations, for a recent project they focused their attention on urban nature in Vienna, photographing rabbits, hedgehogs and squirrels to raise the profile of wild creatures living on city-dwellers' doorsteps.

"Nature really is just around the corner, and this is where our connection to the environment starts," Christine urges. "I strongly believe that once you build this connection, you will want to contribute to conservation."

Marc and Christine experimented with the Canon EOS M200, a lightweight, easy-to-use camera perfect for beginners wanting to explore their creative side, and the Canon EOS 250D, the world's lightest DSLR with a movable screen,* which also offers 4K movie capture.

"If you're just starting your journey into nature photography, you don't need a pro-level camera with lots of high-end specs," says Marc. "Your kit and ambitions can grow together." With a wide choice of available lenses and shooting controls, both of the cameras they used will take you a long way along the path.

Here, Christine and Marc share their tips for taking wildlife photos with impact.

1. Don't disturb the animals

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One of the main challenges to overcome in wildlife photography is not spooking the subject. Using a camera with a quiet mode such as the Canon EOS 250D is an ideal solution.

Blending into your subject's environment and being as quiet as possible should result in more images of the animal exhibiting natural behaviour, a powerful attribute in wildlife photography. "It's crucial to be silent," Christine says. "One of the most important camera features a wildlife photographer should look for is a silent shutter."

Marc adds: "A quick autofocus system and Burst mode [when several photographs are captured in quick succession] are important too, to increase your chances of getting a good picture."

Along with quieter shooting in Silent Drive mode, the Canon EOS 250D offers 5fps, plus two autofocus systems, bolstering the chances of catching a pin-sharp shot. Your camera can be customised by turning off the AF assist beam which means the red light won't turn on to assist with autofocus, which is ideal for not disturbing your subject. The optical viewfinder offers the choice of a streamlined 9 AF points or Live View mode. Live View mode allows you to shoot via the touchscreen and automatically tracks the subject using 143 AF points, for greater control you can take advantage of the 3,975 manual selection points.

In order to have the best chance of not disturbing the animals, you can reduce LCD brightness to remain hidden. Shooting with no flash ensures your shot won’t scare off your subject, just make sure to raise the ISO to capture as much light as possible. The maximum ISO on the Canon EOS 250D can be extended to 51200. Using a high ISO can create image noise but the Canon EOS 250D comes with a High ISO speed noise reduction setting that can be used when you process your images.

2. Increase shutter speed to avoid blur

Raising the ISO to allow for faster shutter speeds is a good idea when photographing skittish animals, like this squirrel captured in Vienna.

Speed is the name of the game in wildlife photography, and Marc suggests boosting the ISO to compensate for the fact that less light enters the camera when you ramp up the shutter speed to capture movement and reduce motion blur. "Whatever the animal, always work with a high ISO. A lot of people seem worried about using a higher ISO, but you need it."

Christine adds: "If you don't raise the ISO, you risk your image being blurred because the animal is moving faster than the shutter." In order to avoid blur it's important to raise the ISO so you can increase the shutter speed and capture a high quality, sharp image, choosing the right setting to match the motion.

As the photographers discovered, selecting a high ISO to enable faster shutter speeds doesn't compromise image quality on either camera. Both the Canon EOS M200 and the Canon EOS 250D are capable of ISO25600, with the latter expandable to ISO51200.

3. Select minimal kit wisely

Selecting just the right amount of kit before you head out will mean limiting your options so you can make faster decisions when shooting. It will also mean you can travel lighter, reducing the risk of fatigue.

"You don't need to have all the gear in the beginning," Christine advises. "Start with a wide angle and a telephoto lens, then add more later."

To compose a shot of an animal in the context of its environment, you could try pairing the Canon EOS M200 with a wide-angle lens such as the Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM. Alternatively, to crop in close and shoot from further afield, the telephoto Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM lens is an ideal partner. For the Canon EOS 250D, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens is a compact telephoto that jumps in close to the action, whereas the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens enables you to shoot wide, capturing animals within a landscape or cityscape setting.

4. Get up close and show hidden detail

Getting up-close is a fantastic way to highlight the intricate beauty of nature that can often be overlooked in urban environments.

Conservation is about considering 'the bigger picture', but photography in this genre looks at all creatures, great and small. "What I like very much about macro is the possibility to show what otherwise goes unnoticed," says Christine. "There's so much beauty within a very small world."

Macro enthusiasts using the Canon EOS M200 can attach the Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM lens, which not only offers up to 1.2x magnification, but as the world's first autofocus lens with two integrated, controllable LEDs (Macro Lite), provides extra illumination and eliminates unnecessary shadows.

"Many people think that macro images aren't typical of conservation photography," says Christine. "But to us, what is really important is to have a portfolio that covers all the different aspects of nature. If there's something that's tiny and beautiful that needs to be highlighted, macro photography is the perfect tool to use."

5. Know your camera

Being comfortable with your kit means you can focus more time on composing a creatively intriguing image.

Christine and Marc know the most successful way to capture wildlife well is through patience and preparation. "Anticipating what your subject is going to do next will give you an edge, so you must be good at observing and knowing how your subject is likely to act," says Christine.

It's also important to be familiar with your camera so you know all of its major functions and the limits it can be pushed to. "Using a camera that you understand is far better than having a more complicated one that will give you two more photos per second. When a species eventually shows up, you have to know your camera inside out and be able to handle it properly, so you can react quickly and not waste precious seconds searching for things like focus controls."

One of the first things Marc liked about the Canon EOS M200 was the straightforward, user-friendly design, with its 180-degree touchscreen. "It's so great. Because you can find everything you need within seconds, it's just so quick and super easy to use."

Christine adds: "So many people think it's about getting a camera that seemingly does it all, but really it's more about the person behind the camera and what they can do."

Written by Natalie Denton

*Canon EOS 250D (Black/Silver) is the world's lightest among all the digital single-lens reflex APS-C size sensor cameras with a movable LCD monitor, including battery and memory card as per CIPA guidelines, as at 9 April 2019 (researched by Canon).

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