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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Long Lens Tips And Techniques

Big-glass guru Arthur Morris shows you how to use long telephotos to get your best up-close wildlife shots ever!

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5) Rear Focus And Recompose
When using teleconverters with certain long lenses, you're often limited to the central autofocus sensor as I was here with the 800mm ƒ/5.6 with the 1.4x III TC/EOS-1D Mark IV combination. I set up all of my camera bodies to remove AF from the shutter button; I use the star button to focus. For this image, I focused on the chick's eye by pressing and then releasing the star button. Then I recomposed by pointing the lens to the right to place the bird pleasingly back in the frame. For flight photography, just push and hold the star button to track the subject. Also note that I've pointed my shadow right at the bird; doing so and getting low ensured pleasing results in the relatively harsh midafternoon light.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM, Extender EF 1.4x III, Gitzo 3530LS tripod, 4th Generation Designs Mongoose M-3.6

6) Big Lenses And Gimbal Heads
It took me years to learn this lesson: Using a gimbal head makes lens handling easy and efficient; any telephoto lens will be rendered weightless (be sure to balance your rig whenever mounting the lens or adding or removing accessories). I used a Wimberley head for years, and many folks still prefer them for their bottom-mounting system—the lens plate is parallel to the ground. I went to the 4th Generation Designs Mongoose head years ago to save weight. I love the side-mounting M-3.6; the lens plate is perpendicular to the ground. If you can comfortably support your rig in your right hand for 10 full seconds while mounting, you'd surely enjoy the substantial savings in weight; the M-3.6 weighs only 26 ounces. Despite its light weight, I've had no problem making sharp images with my 800mm lens at shutter speeds as slow as 1⁄6 sec.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM, Gitzo 3530LS tripod, 4th Generation Designs Mongoose M-3.6

7) Wildlife Shown Small In The Frame
Long focal lengths can be used to extract dramatic areas of interest from the grand scene and create images that effectively include small-in-the-frame birds or wildlife. I used my 800mm lens here to frame these distant sandhill cranes during fire-in-the-mist conditions in New Mexico, with the ground fog lit from behind by the rising sun. Remember that it isn't always necessary to fill the frame with your subjects to create powerful images.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM, Gitzo 3530LS tripod, 4th Generation Designs Mongoose M-3.6

8) Handholding For Flight
There's a small, but growing army of folks led by my colleague Jim Neiger who find that handholding supertelephoto lenses for flight and for action enables them to capture high-quality images consistently. Strength and stamina are big factors, of course. If you try it, make sure to get your left hand well out on the lens barrel; you wouldn't try to hold a log by one end, would you? Don't attempt to hold the lens up in the ready position all the time. Instead, hold it at your side or find something to rest it on before raising it when the action develops. I had made a series of sharp images of this osprey while handholding my 800mm until fatigue got to me. This photo was created moments later with the lens on the tripod.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM, Gitzo 3530LS tripod, 4thGeneration Designs Mongoose M-3.6

9) Long Lens AF Tips
Learning and practicing the intricacies of your camera's autofocus system can help immeasurably in your efforts to create dramatic imagery. I recommend that you use rear focus 100% of the time. Done properly, you'll be in AI Servo or C and never have to switch to One-Shot or S ever again. Learn to manually select off-center AF points. Learn the advantages and disadvantages of the various AF options and arrays. When working with relatively distant subjects, make sure to set the limit range switch to far, especially for flight photography. And remember that prefocusing manually (if your system permits) will make for faster initial focus acquisition (especially when it's snowing!). For this red-crowned crane image, I made sure to prefocus manually and used central sensor/expand to 45 points.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L ISUSM, Gitzo 3530LS tripod, 4th GenerationDesigns Mongoose M-3.6

10) Your Vehicle As A Blind
There are countless situations where working from a vehicle can get you a lot closer to wildlife than if you were on foot. This is especially true at wildlife refuges that have auto tour routes. Approach very slowly, and be sure to kill the engine before making any images unless you're at a fairly high shutter speed and suspect that your subject is extraordinarily nervous. I use a large beanbag called a BLUBB (Big Lens Ultimate Beanbag) that I designed myself to ensure making razor-sharp images when working from my SUV. It's available from the BIRDS AS ART online store at store.birdsasart.com/shop/.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM, Extender EF 1.4x III, shot from a car window with a Big Lens Ultimate Beanbag

Arthur Morris
, a Canon Explorer of Light for the past 16 years, is widely recognized as one of the world's premier bird photographers and photographic educators. Learn more at www.BIRDSASART.com, and be sure to visit Morris' information-packed blog at www.BIRDSASART-blog.com.


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