Ever wondered if you have what it takes to snap breathtaking wildlife pictures? Do what I did, and check out the ‘Nikon School Day Out!’ wildlife photography course at the Singapore Zoo. It’s safer than camping out at a safari were the lions, snakes, hyenas and panthers might get you, so I slapped on some sunblock and made my way there one Saturday morning to find out how to shoot some NatGeo-worthy photos.
While this course is aimed at new and experienced Nikon users alike, it’s open to those who don’t own a Nikon camera too. There are a few Nikon DSLRs on loan and they even provide all the necessary lenses like the Nikkor 16-80mm, 200-500mm and even the monstrous 80-400mm Telephoto lenses. I was using the new Nikon D7500 DSLR camera, with the 18-140mm kit lens featuring VR optical stabilisation. It’s a mean machine with a 20.9 Megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor, 51 Auto-focus points and shoots pretty fast at 8-frames per second. The D7500’s weather-sealed body only weighs 720gm, light enough for a walking trip around the zoo and more, while its sharp 3.2″ touch-screen tilts upwards so I could shoot from some low angles with minimal effort when required.
It even records 4K video, which is beyond the scope of this course but still worth mentioning, but all the images you see in this article were shot on the Nikon D7500.
Both beginners and advanced photographers alike will benefit from this course because it allows everyone to learn at their own pace. Beginners will be taught the basics on how to use the camera, while seasoned photographers will be exposed to more advanced wildlife photography techniques.
Initially, there was quite a bit of effort on my part navigating the menus and buttons. Thankfully there were around 10 passionate instructors on-hand to guide me. One of them is Nikon School Executive Mr Xavier Chan.
“As instructors, we help beginners learn to handle their cameras better in an outdoor setting, instead of in a classroom,” said Xavier. ”Advanced users will find these sessions useful for honing their technical skills with an instructor to assist them in person. They also take the opportunity to try out different lenses before purchasing the right one for themselves.”
The animals were pretty active by the time we got to the various enclosures and there were many opportunities for a great shot. We stopped at each station for around 15 minutes so everyone had ample time to experiment.
The beginners had a roaring good time shooting these exotic creatures and whenever we needed help, we could approach any instructor for advice.
The advanced group was a lot more theory-intense. We learnt how to adjust our aperture and ISO compensations to achieve the best exposure in tough lighting situations, the optimal shutter speed we need for sharp photos, and even tips about anticipating animal behaviour for that NatGeo shot.
The Nikon D7500 is a great camera for amateurs and with the instructors’ help, I managed to capture some decent shots despite my inexperience. But for anyone who hasn’t attended this course, are there any tips the Nikon instructors can offer for anyone interested in Wildlife photography?
“It’s important to be patient,” shares Mr Albert Yap, Assistant Manager, International Customer Support Division. “In the wild there are so many factors that you cannot control. Aside from understanding all the functions and features in your camera, you need a lot of patience, as well as a bit of luck to get a good shot.”
“One of the biggest tips to remember is the Shutter Speed”, adds Mr William Lee, General Manager of Nikon’s Regional Customer Service Division. “The animals may seem to be very far away, and they don’t seem to be moving a lot. But as they are living things, there may be some very minute movement. If your shutter speed is not fast enough, there will be a lot of subject blur.
“Often, photographers may think that their camera is faulty because the subject looks blur when it’s really the slower shutter speed they have used. The shutter speed has to match the focal length. For example, if you’re using a 200mm focal length, your shutter speed has to be at least 1/200.”
It’s tips like these and the practice I got that made the course worth every bit of its S$60 price tag. The fee also includes the entry ticket to the Singapore Zoo. You can check out this course (and others) right here.
I’ll be sure to apply what I’ve learnt here for my coming work. Oh, and I should have applied more sunblock too.