Getting the wider picture

At the end of April this year, I came across a technique of macro and wildlife photography that I had never really considered nor appreciated. The technique is that of using a wide-angle or fisheye lens to get close-up images of wildlife, whilst incorporating the wider environment into the image at the same time.

Inspired by Matt Cole, a series of articles in various magazines, and the realisation that my Dad’s 15mm fisheye lens was capable of focussing down to app. 20cm, I launched myself at the technique in late April. At first, I could find relatively few subjects that were large and tame enough to produce good results. However, I kept the fisheye lens to hand and was constantly on the look out for subjects to photograph at close range and in suitable circumstances.

A week or two after this realisation, I decided to get a remote shutter release for my camera, with the idea that (certainly for birds), one of the answers would be to fire the camera from a distance, when placed in the right position. Again, coming across the right situation for this technique was also very tricky, but I managed to put it to practice with a tame Oystercatcher which had decided to nest on the island’s busiest beach (see caption for details).

Once the seabirds returned onto the cliffs on the East Side, I was able to photograph a few of the auks, which were actually tame enough to walk right up to and ease close enough to use the fisheye. This provided another good opportunity for the wide-angle photography, but my other interest in the insect world would have to wait until the summer…

Skip forward a few months, and I have had some great opportunities to use the technique in a variety of situations: I managed to find a lot of smart subjects to photograph up-close in Corsica, and then returning to the island saw a multitude of butterflies, insects, moths and much more which were all possibilities for this technique. I have spent the last few weeks trying out some close-up images with the macro lens, taking shots of species like Small Tortoise Shells, Soldier Beetles and Scarlet Tiger. I will give a bit of an explanation below each image, and some tips at the end for those wanting to try out this technique…

This shot was taken in Corsica, and pictures an Italian Pool Frog. I noticed that quite a lot of these frogs were gathered around the edge of a reservoir, and so I decided to attempt a wide-angle shot. It look a long time to crawl close enough to get a pleasing result, and I had to play around with the f-stop to produce a pleasing image with some of the background in focus.
Technical details: Canon 7D | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/400th sec | f/5.0 | ISO-100
This image took more preparation than anything else, and also making sure that the bird would not be excessively disturbed. I picked this particularly nesting Oystercatcher because it was already quite used to human presence due to visitors visiting the beach quite frequently. I placed my camera and lens in the sand a little way away from the nest, and covered it with a camouflaged cover. I then used a remote shutter release to fire off an image once the bird returned to the nest- I was present a little way away in a small hide. The result was quite pleasing, and I was pleasantly surprised to see no obvious discomfort shown by the bird to the camera or shutter sound.
Technique details: Canon 7Dmkii | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/320th sec | f/8.0 | ISO-100 | Vello Freewave remote shutter release
I took this shot of a Small Tortoiseshell a few days ago. I noticed that the setting around some coastal flowers at the North End of the island would be great for a wide-angle shot, and so kept an eye out for butterflies every time I passed. When I did see this individual fluttering along, I stalked it and carefully moved close enough to grab a few images as it fed on the flowers. It took a while, but eventually I got the shot I was after.
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/640th | f/5.6 | ISO 100
Perhaps one of my favourite attempts at using the wide angle lenses is this night-time image of a Manx Shearwater. On a clear night, with little wind, no moon and plenty of Manx Shearwaters, I set out to get a long-exposure image of one of these fascinating birds. Finding the right bird was quite a challenge- it had to be one that wasn’t constantly moving or crouching in long grass. After a while I managed to find this bird perched on top of a wall, and it seemed quite placid. I set up my tripod not far away, and mounted the camera, easing it closer ever so slowly. Once I had got the focus right, I used a remote shutter release to fire off a 25 second exposure. To light the image, I briefly flashed my dim head torch across the scene to illuminate the bird. The result was quite pleasing, although focussing on the bird clearly compromised the focus of the stars. I hope to try this out again some time!
Technical details: Canon EOS 6D | Canon 15mm fisheye | 25 sec | f/4.0 | ISO 4000
After returning to Bardsey from Corsica, I was lucky to find that someone had come across this Scarlet Tiger that same day. Instead of getting the usual setup macro shot, I went for a slightly different image using the fisheye. I placed the stunning moth on some Red Clover in the wild flower meadows, and took a few images to show the wider setting and stunning flora that was emerging. Out of all the images, this is the only one that was intentionally set up.
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/320th | f/7.1 | ISO 100
On the East Side of the island, I came across a particularly ‘colony’ of Razorbills which were quite tame. They allowed me to approach within a metre or two without taking off, and so I jumped at this opportunity to get some wide angle shots. With this image, I eased close to the bird very slowly, making no sudden movements, and waited for it to shake its wings, as it duly did. I was only about 30cm away when I took this image, which is the distance that I need with the fisheye. I was pleased with the result, as it showed the wider habitat of this charismatic bird.
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/320th | f/9.0 | ISO 100
This is a stunning moth which we are very lucky to have as a common garden species. It is a Garden Tiger, and the adults can be regularly encountered on bracken during the day. I found this individual on the base of the plant, and encouraged it out into the open, at which point it performed the classic ‘threatened’ posture: revealing it bright red underwings as a warning to predators. I then positioned myself to try and get the background in a pleasing position, and to have the moth in the bottom left corner of the image- ‘looking’ into the shot. 
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/60th | f/5.6 | ISO 100
One afternoon I noticed a load of Six-spot Burnets visitng some Spearhead Thistles and Bird’s Foot Trefoil flowers in the lowland area of the island. Since the backdrop made for such a lovely image, I decided to get a wide-angle shot of them as they fed. It took a while to find the right individual that was feeding on flowers without too much clutter around them. Eventually I came across this moth, feeding on some trefoil on a little ant hill, which gave a blurry background behind the insect, making it stick out more. 
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/50th | f/6.3 | ISO 100 

On the same day as I took the burnet shot, I attempted to get a similar image of some Soldier Beetles. Although I would have preferred a deeper depth of field, I compromised to gain a shutter speed high enough to capture the insect taking off.  I cropped the image with plenty of space to the right of the beetle to give the feel of it flying into the shot. Smaller insects are harder to gain pleasing results with, especially with the setup I am using
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/1000th | f/4.0 | ISO 100
A few tips for those wanting to try out wide-angle macro and wildlife photography:
  • Try and find big, colourful or tame subjects to begin with, which stand out clearly from the rest of the shot in wide-angle images
  • Be mindful of the background and foreground as you take the picture, as these components are key to the whole shot- you don’t want out-of-focus bits of grass pushed up against the lens distracting from the subject
  • Be patient and persevere – I have found that patience and perseverance have been key for these images. Waiting for the bird/insect to move into the best position, or for butterflies to land on flowers after fluttering all over the place are all part of the fun of getting the shot you’re after
  • Experiment with depth of field- sometimes I have found that shallow depths of field work well to make the subject stand out in the image, but other times I want a slightly deeper depth of field to bring the background into focus
  • Try and get the composition right when you take the shot- unlike using telephoto lenses for wildlife photography, the cropping you do after taking wide-angle shots of wildlife is minimal. I have found that carefully composing the images whilst taking them is key, especially placement of the subject within the shot
  • Be mindful of the subject- especially with birds and animals, if they show signs of disturbance to being so close to them, then leave them be. Remember- the birds and animals themselves are far more important than the image you’re after
  • Have fun! Experiment, try out different techniques, and enjoy taking the images at close quarters to wildlife.
I hope you enjoyed the post

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