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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
What's In Moose Peterson's Bag?

Nikon D3X, AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm, AF-S Nikkor 600mm
Nikon D3X
AF-S Nikkor 600mm
ƒ/4G ED VR
AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm
AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm
ƒ/2.8G ED VR II
Nikon TC-20E III
Nikon TC-17E II

Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead
Flash & Accessories:
Nikon SB-900 w/Dome
Nikon GP-1 GPS Receiver Module
Nikon SC-28 Sync Cord
Nikon SD-9 Battery Pack
BetterBeamer Flash Extender
Nikon Neutral Clear Filters on ALL lenses
Nikon Slim Polarizer
Lee 0.9 Soft Split Graduated ND filter
Nikon MC-36 Multi-Function Remote Cord
10 Lexar 32 GB 600x CompactFlash Cards
Gitzo 3540XLS Tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead
Gitzo 5560SGT Tripod with Wimberley Head
There are times when our long lenses aren't long enough; that's when the teleconverter is the perfect tool. Personally, I always have the 1.7x and 2x with me when shooting with the 600mm and tend to automatically attach the 1.7x when I'm photographing birds. Generally, camera manufacturers say their DSLRs require an aperture of at least ƒ/5.6 for AF operation, but I find that most current bodies can work just fine with a smaller maximum. For example, I use the TC-20E III on my Nikon 600mm VR all the time and have AF operation except in particularly low-light situations. The biggest asset the teleconverter brings is a narrowing of the angle of view, which gives a better ability to isolate the subject.

Depth Of Field
The long lenses of today are all "fast," but don't get the idea that you can close down and gain lots of depth of field. Personally, I prefer shooting my 600mm ƒ/4 at ƒ/4 and at ƒ/6.7 with the 1.7x attached. This is, in part, because the narrow-band depth of field makes the subject really pop in the frame. The other reason is because depth of field is a real battle with long lenses on the same lines as it is with macro photography. You can close down your lens, of course, but the gain in depth of field will be minimal.

One thing I've seen many try, but to no success, is close their long lens down when taking a long-distance shot to get more in focus. I'm talking about hundreds of yards away, but the same applies to miles. With long lenses, the physics are against you. You'll barely gain a few extra feet of depth of field when you close your lens down at the expense of needing a much slower shutter speed in the process. So the bottom line with a long lens is to be aware of the limited depth of field and use it to your advantage!

The greatest feature of the long lens is the complete control of the background! The very narrow angle of view of the long lens permits us to make small moves with the lens and completely alter the background. Why is that so important? You can completely change the story of your one click by changing the background. You make the smallest subjects fly off the page with the slightest moves of the big glass. Photography is all about communicating, and when it comes to wildlife, telling the story of the world around the subject tells the story of the subject.

How do you make such a radical alteration to your photograph with the long lens? All you have to do is move left or right, up or down, closer or farther from the subject just inches and you can alter the background. Of all the tools available to photographers, this is the easiest and the most powerful way of bringing incredible drama to your photography!

The last word of advice I'd like to pass along to you is to practice in your own backyard before venturing out for the real thing. Set up a stuffed animal the size of what you think you're going to photograph in the wild and see just how that long lens helps you tell its story. Having these ideas as visuals in your mind prior to the real thing makes setting them up in the field faster, easier and more successful. This way, you can make the most of and have fun with the long-lens days of summer.

Moose Peterson's true passion is wildlife photography. He's a Nikon Legend Behind the Lens, a Lexar Elite Photographer, a recipient of the John Muir Conservation Award and a Research Associate with the Endangered Species Recovery Program. Being a creative innovator of new techniques both behind the camera and the computer is the driving force behind his photography and goals. See more of Peterson's work, read his blog, subscribe to his newsletter, the BT Journal, and find out more about his latest book, Captured, at www.moosepeterson.com.


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