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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Get Low For Big Impact


Change your camera angle to free your wildlife shots from cluttered, distracting backgrounds



This Article Features Photo Zoom

Greater roadrunner, Bosque Del Apache NWR, N.M. The bird was receptive to Morris’ careful approach, so he got out of the car and down onto the dirt road. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS on a Big Lens Ultimate Beanbag, ISO 320, 1/400 sec. at f/5.6, Av mode.

It was a stifling late August morning. I lay in wet mud on the South Flats of the East Pond at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, New York. A thousand no-see-ums chewed on the exposed skin on the back of my hands. Ten feet away, a gorgeous juvenile least sandpiper slept peacefully.”

Morris' Gear
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, Canon EF 1.4X II teleconverter
I typed those words (on a typewriter, no less!) nearly 25 years ago. The capture medium was film: Fujichrome Velvia 50 pushed one stop. The lens was the Canon FD 400mm ƒ/4.5, the camera the T-90. The magnification with that rig was 8x. Today, it’s a whole new world: a Delkin 32 GB CompactFlash card, the Canon EF 800mm ƒ/5.6 L IS lens, a 1.4x teleconverter and the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. The magnification? An astounding 29.12x.

Though a lot has changed in those 25 years, one thing remains the same: Getting down on the ground with your gear will enable you to create images that are both pleasing and intimate. And with a telephoto lens and good technique, your subject will be in sharp focus while your foregrounds and backgrounds will be rendered as suffused swatches of out-of-focus color.


Laysan albatross, Midway Island, Hawaii. Morris knelt with the camera low and in front of him. He framed and focused the image using Live View and Quick Mode AF. Canon EOS 7D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS (at 173mm), ISO 400, 1/1250 sec. at f/8, Av mode.
Even though it’s a bit more difficult getting up and down today than it was back then, I don’t hesitate getting down and dirty when I encounter birds and animals in flat areas like beaches and fields. Even when feeling tired or lazy, I do so at every opportunity.

I can’t help myself; I just love the look of images created at the subject’s eye level.

Camera And Lens Support
The first consideration is supporting your lens while you’re flat on the ground. If I know in advance that I’ll be photographing sandpipers and plovers on hard sand beaches or muddy flats, I use my Panning Ground Pod, a flat metal support with a clamp that I use when working in perfectly flat areas. The lens foot goes into the clamp and the whole rig is placed on the ground. When working on soft sand or grass where I need to be a bit higher, the Skimmer II is a better option. Made of crush-proof, injection-molded plastic, it’s rugged yet weighs less than a pound; it’s about the size and shape of a large salad bowl. I spin the gimbal head off the tripod, mount it on the Skimmer, and attach the lens. A second advantage of the Skimmer is that it’s easier to follow moving subjects with it.

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