Any tips for a new wildlife photographer about to hit his first big excursion? Do you use Spot and Partial Metering often as well as Center-Point Focus? Av or Tv; generally? AI Servo usually?
Thanks for any guidance although I'm sure I'll have to learn a lot just by doing.
For the kind of wildlife (and birds) you'll be photographing, the best thing you can do up front is get the longest lens you can get your hands on. If you can't afford to buy, then rent. At least 600mm (EF 600/4 L II is stellar, and with a 1.4x TC is better than the EF 800/5.6 L). If you are on full frame, make sure you bring both 1.4x and 2x TC IIIs...there will be timed when you want them (and with the 600mm on a 1D X or 5D III, with the 2x TC you get 1200mm.)
With large lenses like the 500mm, 600mm, and 800mm great whites, you will need a comparable tripod. Something very sturdy is a NECESSITY. Something like the Gitzo GT3532LS or the RRS TVC-34L. These lenses are fairly heavy, and combined with a camera, camo covering, and possibly a flash bracket setup...heavier than you can reasonably carry around all day. Along with a sturdy tripod, you will want to use a gimbal type tripod head. A gimbal will, when the lens is mounted and balanced properly, make moving the lens around effortless, and allow you to simply focus on the photography, and not hassle with the gear.
You might want to bright a flash, and a flash bracket that can be mounted on your gimbal head. I wouldn't use flash with bears, but it can be useful for other wildlife and birds when lighting gets sketchy.
First, learn to be patient. Wildlife, so long as it does not see you as a threat, will happily get close. A camo jacket and a low profile (crouch or sit on the ground) can help, and give you an interesting perspective.
Time of year can play a big roll in whether some wildlife is easy to approach or not. During summer, deer in Colorado are easily approachable when wearing some camo (I regularly get within 10 feet of bucks...does are a little more skittish.)
Some wildlife is always aware of you, even if you try to hide (and are not IN a hide). For example, coyote or wolf will usually know where you are, and will most likely recognize you as a non-bush even if you are wearing camo clothing. A ghillie suit can help in that respect, but is kind of overkill unless you really need to be invisible. That said, even if wildlife is aware of you, so long as they do not recognize you as a threat...or food....your probably fine.
Last, I think someone already mentioned this....research the behavior of the animals you are interested in. Knowing at least some basic info about their behavior, the times of day they are out and about, their habitat, food, etc. will help you be in the right place at the right time to capture interesting shots.