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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taking Flight

Miguel Lasa may be a physician by training, but he’s a top wildlife photographer by avocation

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Ospreys are one of Lasa’s specialties. These raptors dive feet-first into shallow water to snag fish, their primary source of food. Capturing the action is a challenge. One secret: Try to find a smaller body of water, so the osprey has to dive in near you.
The Right Stuff
Like most bird pros, Lasa uses pro D-SLRs and lenses. “You need a fast shooting rate to ensure that you get a shot or two with the wings in the right position,” he explains. Obviously, a quick and accurate AF system also is essential. Lasa uses a 10 fps Canon EOS-1D Mark III for flight shots, and he has many colleagues who use pro Nikon models, which are excellent for flight shots, too. Lasa uses a full-frame EOS-1Ds Mark II for environmental shots (photos of birds in their environment can add variety to a portfolio of tight action shots) and even an EOS 40D (with its 1.6x crop factor) for bird portraits. (Interestingly, his award-winning polar bear shot was made with the 40D.)

“When you’re in a blind, any noise—even that of changing lenses—can cause the birds to leave,” Lasa says. “So a telephoto-zoom can provide some noiseless compositional flexibility, letting you bring distant birds closer and also capture nearer ones without clipping fully spread wings.” That said, Lasa uses pro 300mm ƒ/2.8 and 500mm ƒ/4 prime lenses, and thus has to make an educated guess as to which will work better from the blind for a given situation.

Unless he’s deliberately trying for a blur effect, Lasa uses higher shutter speeds, at least 1/1000 sec. He adjusts his ISO, generally between 200 and 800, as the light changes to maintain a fast shutter speed. His fast pro lenses also help here.

“For best image quality, it’s better to expose properly at a higher ISO than to underexpose at a lower one,” says Lasa. “I switch to ISO 800 if 400 won’t give me at least 1/1000.”

He uses shutter-priority AE mode, so he can be sure of having a fast enough shutter speed. He also likes the artistic background blur of wide apertures, so he adjusts his ISO to allow him to use the desired shutter-speed/aperture combination in the existing light level.


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