|Big Lens/Little Bee Eater. These tiny, beautiful and elusive birds are sought after by wildlife photographers in Botswana's Okavango Delta. Because the temperature was unusually cold, this individual was stationary long enough for Lepp to assemble his 500mm lens and 2X and 1.4X tele-extenders plus a 25mm extension tube to capture this head shot of one very fluffy bird. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, 1⁄500 sec. at ƒ/11, ISO 1600|
Q I want to use more than one tele-extender on my Canon telephoto lens, but my tele-extenders won't mate. How do you get yours to go together? When you do stack tele-extenders, do you stop them down for better sharpness?
A First of all, I only stack tele-extenders when I really have to—that is, when I otherwise can't get close enough to get the image I need. Some quality is lost when using even one tele-extender, and this problem is exacerbated when two extenders are stacked together. That said, stacking extenders can be a truly effective technique when a closer approach is impossible or unwise, and I'm always ready to try because there's nothing to lose and possibly great photos to gain!
Some tele-extenders will stack without a problem; the Canon Series II tele-extenders were made to stack, and as long as you place them in the proper order, they will mate and maintain electrical connections. The original Canon 1.4X and 2X extenders and the recent Series III extenders won't stack unless you add a 12mm extension tube between them. Surprisingly, they still focus to infinity even with the extension tube in place. If there's a way to stack Nikon tele-extenders, I don't know of it; their design precludes it. To experiment with other manufacturers' extenders, first try to stack them directly, and if that doesn't work, try the smallest extension tube between them.
When using two tele-extenders together, a few things need to be considered. Number one is that you'd better have an exceptional lens at the other end because, as noted above, extenders compromise image quality; this problem can be somewhat mitigated by an extra-sharp lens. Long lenses demand impeccable technique. Any missed focus or camera movement will be magnified at longer focal lengths. Work from a steady tripod and, if possible, use a fast shutter speed and stop the lens down by an ƒ-stop or two. Use expanded ISO (800, 1200, 1600) to help achieve the exposure you want, especially for early-morning and late-day shoots.
It doesn't hurt to take the quest for long-lens sharpness further, as I did last year when photographing a bald eagle nest over a period of months (see my project report in OP's April 2014 issue). To reach the nest, more than 200 feet away, I used either a Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L or Canon EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L and one or two 2X tele-extenders. To control movement, I used a heavy-duty Really Right Stuff (RRS) tripod and RRS ballhead. I locked up the mirror by using Live View to minimize internal vibrations. Using a CamRanger wireless transmitter and my iPad 3, I controlled and fired the camera without touching it. If your camera has Live View Mode 1, which stops the movement of the last mirror in the shutter box, use it.
A note about focus: At 1000mm to 3200mm, the depth of field is minimal. If you miss the focus by just a few inches, the subject won't be sharp and you might attribute it to the lens combination, even though that's not the cause. I resolve this by using the CamRanger/iPad combination for focusing; with the magnification of the image on the iPad screen, the focus can be set dead-on.
Q How do you have enough computer power to process and save all the captures in your big panoramas and high-mag stacks?
A Most people who have been in this business very long have a computer history. I started cataloging image information in the early 1980s with an Apple III; you might recall that was a big mistake, as it was soon discontinued. I moved to IBM computers soon thereafter. While in the early years we really could just keep track of information about the images, we soon progressed to storing the images themselves and working on them in the digital darkroom. Only 10 years ago, I was updating my Windows-based computers every two years to improve their capacities and processing power. In 2008, we converted our office to all Mac computers, and with upgrades I was able to keep working on my Mac Pro for five years. Recently, it has been challenged by huge file sizes and video processing.
I recently bought the little Mac Pro (nicknamed the "Trash Can" for its small size and canister shape). It's a very powerful computer with 32 GB of internal RAM and a 1 TB internal SSD drive for the programs I run. It can process video to 4K and quickly handles the panoramas that often reach 2 GB and 3 GB in size.
The new Mac Pro manages file storage differently; it's all maintained on external hard drives. For both security and processing power, I had been doing that with my old Mac Pro, so this isn't a new idea for me. I purchase Seagate USB 3 4 TB drives from my local Costco for about $160 each (sometimes they're on sale). I always purchase two at a time, one as the main drive and the other as a backup. I continuously back up the main drive to the backup drive, and a third set rotates to the bank safe deposit box on a regular basis. I use SuperDuper 2 and Carbon Copy Cloner, as well as Apple's Time Machine to keep backups current.
Q When I use a wide-angle lens on buildings and landscapes, the results can look a little crazy, with wild curves and convergences. How do you straighten them, or do you just let them go where they must?
A In general, I let the perspective in my images take its course, and sometimes I choose a wide-angle lens specifically to achieve that wild and crazy result that you describe. But when it's important to present a more realistic perspective, as when photographing a building or its interiors, those wide-angle shots can pose serious challenges. It's especially difficult to capture realistic photographs of small rooms, where access is limited. (I know this magazine doesn't teach real-estate photography, but there are lots of buildings out there and sooner or later you'll be asked to photograph them. So let's say it's a ski lodge!)
I've been using two software products to straighten wide-angle images. In Photoshop's Adaptive Wide Angle, under the Filter heading, you indicate the focal length of the lens that was used and draw lines on the areas of the image that need horizontal or vertical adjustment, and the program straightens things out. That's an oversimplification, but it's pretty intuitive, especially with some help from a tutorial. An easier program is DxO Perspective. It's $12.99 in the Mac Store. Windows users need DxO ViewPoint at $79. (Sometimes Macs are cheaper.) These programs will also straighten horizons in your landscape images.
Pay For Music...Just Like They Pay For Your Images
Q I like to put together slideshows to music and occasionally short videos. Do I need special released music, or can I use whatever I want because I don't get paid to present these programs?
A Don't you wish you got paid every time someone uses one of your images or shares your work on a Facebook page? I don't think that's going to happen. But music has a much more complex and active system of protections in place, including newer outlets such as YouTube and Vimeo. Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and the following isn't legal advice. It's just my opinion, since you asked for it.
While all photographers should ascribe to the ethical principle of not using anyone else's creative production without permission and appropriate compensation, the fact is that in the case of unauthorized use of music, you're more likely to get caught. Still, most photographers feel that it's okay to use any recording they'd like to back up their slideshows as long as they're not benefiting financially from the presentation. Wouldn't you be upset if someone wrote and performed his own song and "borrowed" your photographs without your permission to create a lovely video to present at the senior center? It's a slippery slope. But it's not really that hard to find music and secure the rights to use it.
Royalty-free providers are the best options I've found for the kind of work I do. The catalogs are very diverse and creative. For example, I recently needed African music for the background of a slideshow and I found a whole disk from a British company, AKM Music (www.akmmusic.co.uk), which got me 55 tracks with African sounds and songs for about $50. Similar sources are BeatPick (www.beatpick.com), SmartSound (www.smartsound.com) or Melody Loops (www.melodyloops.com). And check out the Vimeo Music Store, which offers inexpensive rights to sound clips, sounds and music to enhance and enrich your videos (www.vimeo.com/musicstore).
Follow George Lepp's exploits, see his latest photographs and be part of the discussion on his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/georgelepp.