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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Long Lens Techniques

How to use a big telephoto lens for wildlife and more!

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Moose Peterson shows proper form when shooting with a large telephoto and a gimbal head. Balancing the lens on the head allows for fast and easy tracking of the subject.
Start with an eyecup that acts like a simple shock absorber between you and the camera. Next, rest your left hand on the top of the lens barrel just as you'd rest it in your lap. You can do this or place your hand on the bottom of the lens barrel and push up slightly. Either technique stops the wave from moving to the front of the lens or coming on back. Finally, roll your finger on the shutter release; don't jab it like you're killing a bug. This simple technique devised long ago works great and permits mobility so we can pan with our long lenses.

The technique of panning is the tracking of the subject in the viewfinder by moving the whole long lens/camera. You can do this technique with any lens, any length, as long as you practice, practice, practice. Using proper long-lens technique, stand between two of the tripod legs so you can follow the subject without tripping over a leg. When shooting, obtain the subject in the viewfinder and track it in the viewfinder by swinging the lens (why the controls aren't snug on the head). The main aspect of this technique is you must keep the camera moving until you no longer hear the camera firing. You can't stop moving the camera prior to that or you risk your subject moving during an exposure while the camera is not. This is a vital technique because there are times when you may be shooting at shutter speeds of 1⁄15 sec. That's right, shooting telephoto as low as 1⁄15 sec. You can do it with practice!

Carrying Big Lenses
That long lens can be a heft to get around in the field. I've seen many a carrying style, and most of them look uncomfortable. More importantly, most styles don't promote quick and stealthy deployment. Personally, I carry the lens on my left shoulder (there's a permanent indentation now from this) with the tripod legs already set to the right length. Walking is done with the legs out front so it's easy and fast to put it down. Getting the long lens and tripod down, set up and your eye behind the camera without scaring off the subject can be a challenge. With this in mind, put the rig down slowly and smoothly. Stay behind the rig because, for whatever reason, critters feel safe as long as we stay behind the rig. If you have to bend over to place the rig down, stand up slowly while staying behind the rig. So whatever method you find works for you, keep this in mind.

Heat Simmer
With sharpness being so important, this natural occurrence kills sharpness faster than anything else. Heat waves between our lens and subject create a curtain of heat shimmer. This can be caused by everything from blacktop to snow to sage. There's no cure for this when it occurs. If it's happening, you have two options: Don't shoot or wait for a slight breeze. Heat shimmer is an effect that plagues long lenses only, so be aware of it.

MFD And Extension Tubes
Long lenses are best used when we're physically close to that bird or moose. We use their isolating power to make the subject pop out in our frame. Minimum focusing distance (MFD) then is an important aspect of using a long lens—getting close physically and using optics to isolate our subject. Each lens has a different close-focusing distance. Newer lenses tend to have the best native MFD, but they can be costly. If you have a lens that doesn't permit you to get as close as you'd like, you may want to invest in extension tubes. While you lose your ability to focus at infinity, they do permit you to get closer to your subject, making a much bigger image size with no light loss.


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