"They just don't have enough ability to shoot from a distance," he said. "You might think you're taking a picture of a deer, but what you end up with is a dot in a field. If you try to get close enough to make a decent picture with a point-and-shoot, you end up spooking the animal."
Lenses for DSLRs have become less expensive, too, as manufacturers discovered ways to make them from metal and plastic instead of metal and glass.
"The great thing about today's digital photography is that you no longer need to buy huge, expensive lenses that gather more light. Camera bodies have become so light-sensitive that you can use inexpensive lenses that gather less light and still get the same results," Shaluta said.
"Another bonus is what the manufacturers call 'crop factor.' Lenses on most digital cameras crop an image in a way that makes it look as if it were shot by a lens that's about one and a half times 'longer.' So a 200mm lens effectively becomes a 300mm lens, and a 400mm becomes a 600mm."
Such lenses make it easier to photograph birds and animals because they allow the photographer to stand farther from the subject and zoom in to obtain frame-filling images.
Getting the correct exposure has always been a challenge. Film photographers had to wait until their film was processed before they learned whether they had exposed their images properly.
"Digital photographers get instant feedback," Shaluta said. "All they have to do is look at the camera's display screen and they instantly know whether the shot is overexposed or underexposed. With a digital camera, there's no excuse for bad exposure."
Modern flashguns, also called "speedlights," have also removed a lot of guesswork. Photographers used to have to be good judges of distance and perform several quick mental calculations in order to adjust their flashes' output. Modern flashes, with "through-the-lens" capability, adjust their output automatically.
"Today's flashes make bird photography a lot easier," Shaluta said. "They bring out the birds' true colors in the photos, and they add a little highlight in the eye that makes the bird look really alive."
Though modern cameras seem almost magical in their capabilities, they cannot create magic. To do that, Shaluta believes photographers must do two things: Practice a lot and shoot a lot.
"The more you shoot, the more you learn how your camera responds to different lighting situations. It also teaches you ways to hold the camera steadier, especially with [telephoto] lenses," he said.
"The best places to practice are at zoos or wildlife centers, especially if there's an aviary. You tend to learn a lot in a hurry when you're photographing tiny birds from 20 to 40 feet away. You learn to focus fast, and you learn where your camera's controls are by touch."
West Virginia's state parks, he added, are great places to learn to photograph deer.
"There are lots of deer, and they're used to having people around. And you don't need to dress in camouflage or set up a blind. Your car makes a great blind. Learn to sit in the car and shoot out the window. Don't get out. Most animals don't see cars as threats, and you can usually shoot from them without spooking the critters."
Shaluta said that with today's technology, more people are succeeding at wildlife photography than ever before.
"It has actually cut into my freelance business," he said. "Now that so many people can make quality wildlife photos, the demand for images from professional wildlife photographers isn't as great as it was. Digital photography has made that possible. Digital technology might be costing me money, but I still love it."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.