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How and where to take great bird pictures.
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TOPIC: Technique for Handholding Big Lenses i.e. Canon 600mm f/4

Technique for Handholding Big Lenses i.e. Canon 600mm f/4 3 years 1 month ago #298

  • Andrew Browne
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In May I purchased a 600mm lens, and am having a great time with it, but after 8 weeks away, tramping around with a tripod is limiting my possibilities and I'd like to become proficient in handholding it.
I notice from Ian Wilsons Photo Gallery submissions and also a recent Forum discussion that has mastered this technique.
I've just purchased Jim Niiger's ebook "Flight Plan" and am currently digesting its contents but would appreciate any extra input Ian or others would have on what works for them and reference to any articles etc that may help.
Cheers Andrew

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Cheers AB

Re: Technique for Handholding Big Lenses i.e. Canon 600mm f/4 3 years 3 weeks ago #299

  • Ian Wilson
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Hi Andrew,
It is not easy to give you a useful answer as there are many variables that need to come together in a positive way to consistently achieve an acceptable yield of technically good images. I started by using similar camera settings to those required for avian flight photography, that is, short exposure time (1/2000 - 1/3200 sec) and the right aperture for the DOF required. This approach only works well in good light when the typical ISO required is 250 - 800. In overcast conditions the ISO required goes up by a factor of about 10x and the noise can get out of hand. So one is forced to go for longer exposure times and that is when the real challenge begins with long focal length lenses (>600 mm). I found with practice that I could get a reasonable yield at 1/1600 sec, then I aimed for 1/1250 sec and eventually found that I could get a reasonable yield at 1/640 sec. Like avian flight photography, the secret to hand-holding long lenses is practice, practice, practice. It is impossible to hold the big lenses steady for more than a few seconds so one must bring the camera up to the eye, acquire the target, focus, adjust the exposure and fire a short burst quickly, then lower the camera and rest for a few moments before having another go.

The lens IS is essential, either mode 1 or mode 2. I usually have my lens set on mode 2 (panning mode) so it is always ready for BIF. However, if you rotate the camera to portrait format, the mode 2 IS is now working in the horizontal plane and ineffective so you need to remember to switch to mode 1 to get both horizontal and vertical stabilization. For perched birds or slowly moving birds I use high-speed continuous shooting, AI Servo and focus priority for first and subsequent shots. I usually fire a burst of three frames then rest as mentioned above. Synchronizing breathing is important and try to keep calm.

I prefer to set my exposure manually. I set the aperture to give the required DOF, then the longest exposure time I think I can manage, and dial up the ISO while looking through the viewfinder to give about 1-stop of over-exposure on the lightest part of the bird. To do this I use spot metering and move the sensor over the bird to find the brightest part.

I hope this helps, regards,
Ian

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Re: Technique for Handholding Big Lenses i.e. Canon 600mm f/4 3 years 3 weeks ago #300

  • Andrew Browne
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Thanks Ian, I appreciate you taking the time to add your thoughts to my query.
Yes from your comments and general reading on the subject..practice,practice, practice.
Despite the current Vic weather, I'm trying to head out into my local wetlands daily to work on my technique, before my next trip away mid September to The Gluepot for the Black-eared Miner Survey and hopefully some photography. Cheers Andrew

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Cheers AB

Re: Technique for Handholding Big Lenses i.e. Canon 600mm f/4 3 years 10 hours ago #304

  • Mark Lethlean
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Hi Andrew, it seems that a few of us retired veterinarians have all headed down the same path. Amazingly I was at the Newcastle workshop and didn't see you but did however spend my w/e with another local vet dabbling in bird photography.
I, like you, am not interested in 3 hours at the computer for every 1 hour in the field. I also like to keep moving in the field and also have the problem of carrying and using heavy equipment. I found that moving to heavier gear and using tripods was way too restrictive unless i'd 'picked my spot' or had a hide set up. I have compromised by using a monopod that is light, easily retracted and far more manoeuvrable. It also requires loads of practice.
Anyway, hope to see you out in the field one day- I always know where you've been from your photos
Mark Lethlean

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Re: Technique for Handholding Big Lenses i.e. Canon 600mm f/4 2 years 11 months ago #323

  • Andrew Browne
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Good to hear from you Mark esp that we're both heading down the same path with our retirement interest. I'm just back from 3 weeks away visiting The Gluepot, Arid Lands Botanic Garden Port Augusta and Eyre Bird Observatory for a 5 day Keith Lightbody Bird Photography Workshop. A big percentage of the time was spent handholding my new lens and I'm gradually improving my technique. Two sessions on the beach at Eyre practising on Caspian and Crested Terns really helped, and after these sessions my shots of the flightier Major Mitchell's improved greatly. I see that you're quite involved with the Mornington Peninsula branch of BA and the Hooded Plovers, and I hope in the near future to become more involved with this group also. Cheers Andrew

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Cheers AB
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