John's Journal...

Taking Great Waterfowl Pictures and Viewing Wildlife in their Habitat with Jeff Coats

How to Set Up for Wildlife Pictures

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Jeff Coats of Bel Air, Maryland, is a fantastic waterfowl hunter who guides hunters to sea ducks on the eastern shore of Maryland. But he also is an even-better waterfowl photographer. Here are some tips from Coats on how to take great waterfowl and wildlife photos.Click to enlarge

Question: Unlike most wildlife photographers, you don’t use a tripod. Is that right?
Jeff Coats: Tripods are cumbersome and don’t give me the freedom of movement I need to photograph birds in the air or on the water. I’ve found that sneaking up on birds is hard when I’m carrying a tripod. All my lenses have image stabilizers. So, when I get ready to shoot, I shoot the camera just like I do a gun. I take a deep breath, bring that 600mm lens up, hold it as steady as I can and start shooting.

Question: How do you have your camera set up?
Coats: I always shoot my camera in the aperture Preferred Mode. By shooting a Click to enlargesmall aperture and lettingthe camera choose the shutter speed, I can freeze the action better and take quality pictures. The Click to enlargecamera can change shutter speeds faster than I can. Therefore, if I pick a small aperture, the camera will select the shutter speed I need as the light or the background changes, and I can continue to photograph the birds.

Question: Are you shooting any pictures with the Program or the Automatic modes on your camera?
Coats: No, I don’t use the Program or the Automatic modes. Oftentimes at first light, I set my camera at 3200 ISO, and then I turn down the ISO as the day gets brighter. I set my aperture to allow a small amount of light in and let the camera set the shutter speed. My friend, Scott Moody, taught me to shoot photography using this technique, and I’ve been very successful with it.  

To contact Jeff Coats about his photography, write to 1522 Southview Road, Bel Air, MD 21015, or call (410) 937-4034, or email, or visit or

Tomorrow: Taking Unique Shots

Check back each day this week for more about "Taking Great Waterfowl Pictures and Viewing Wildlife in their Habitat with Jeff Coats" "

Day 1: Learn to take Great Waterfowl Photos
Day 2: How to Set Up for Wildlife Pictures
Day 3: Taking Unique Shots
Day 4: The Exotic Sika Deer of Maryland
Day 5: Protect the Wild Horses


Entry 446, Day 2