When I run my nature photo safari to Tanzania, I often get asked what’s the proper (fill in the blank) to make a photo of the (fill in the blank) and what aperture and shutter speed do I use. My standard answer is it depends. What animal are you photographing? Are you trying to stop the action? Do you want to experiment with panning? Do you want a noisy or clean file? Do you want an environmental portrait or a head shot? Are you making a vertical or horizontal? What lens is attached to your camera? Do you want maximum depth of field? Do you want to narrow the depth of field?
Based on the above, it’s easy to understand why I always answer it depends. I need more information to provide a concrete answer. In paragraph one I wrote a number of questions. Think about their importance in regard to making images. If there are so many variables, be sure to cover all bases when you’re in the field so you come back with as many variations as possible. As I always say, “Exhaust All Possibilities.”
The lens you have on your camera is the best one for each new encounter with your subject. Regardless of the lens you wish was attached, make at least one photo using the lens and camera currently in your hand. This guarantees you cover one of the above variables. If you have a long telephoto, first make the headshot. Yes, the environment in which the animal is located is gorgeous, so after you create those first few headshots, change the lens and create the wide version.
The reason I profess this is too often I’ve been in the field and by the time I switch lenses to make the image I have in my head, the light dissipated or the animal took off and I was left with zero. Until my fantasy 20-600mm f/2.8 that weighs just one pound is manufactured, I’ll live by my mantra to first make a photo with the lens that’s attached.
What’s great about my “it depends” response is it gets people thinking about their composition and lens choice as the subject is approached. This is called previsualization. If you don’t already do this, adopt the practice to optimize your time spent with a subject in a very productive way. If you’re with other photographers, after you make an image, look to see what lens is attached to their camera. You may have a fixed telephoto and they may have a mid-range zoom.
That doesn’t make you or the other person right or wrong. What it means is make the best possible image with the lens and settings you dial in. You show each other your LCDs and immediately you each opt to swap lenses. You saw it wide and your buddy saw it telephoto and now you want to make sure you both get the opposite. The bottom line is don’t forget about the long list of questions in paragraph one. As long as you cover all the options, you’ll always go home a winner.
To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.