Last week we started a two part series in which we are looking at some images that I made on a trip over at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008, hoping to capture one or two more good images before I said goodbye to the year. I believe I did that, as we saw two of the shots for this day in my best 10 shots of 2008, in episode 170, three weeks ago, and we’ll take a quick look at those again today. Let’s jump right into it though, and we’ll see what I shot in the few hours after breakfast, before lunch, when we started heading back to Tokyo.
So, we were played out of Episode 172 with me all excited after my hour long shoot in the blizzard at dawn. I was heading back in for breakfast, but I wanted to remind you, I’ve said before, that when you go back inside with really cold gear, condensation will form on it, and if your gear is cold to the core, as mine would have undoubtedly been, condensation can form on the inside, giving you all sorts of problems, and even damaging your body or lenses. To avoid this, you need to put the gear into your camera bag and zip it up, and don’t open it in doors until the gear has had a chance to slowly warm up. Depending on how cold it is, it can take a good hour or more, before the risk of condensation subsides. You can also put your gear into plastic bags and tie up the opening to make it relatively airtight, but I prefer to just stick it all back in the bag if I’m going into the warm. Plastic bags do help to get the gear warmed up more quickly, so probably not to be ruled out as an option, especially if you are going to use it soon after going inside.
If you want to make backups of your images while you’re inside, I suggest you take the memory card out before you pack your gear away, as it will be tempting to open up the bag too early if the memory is still in the camera. Another thing to note is that if you are going to be heading back out into the cold within an hour or two, it is really not worth allowing your gear to warm up, because it’s only going to get cold again. Because of this, if you are in a relatively safe area, as in low crime, consider just putting your gear in the trunk of your car, as it’s going to be pretty cold in there too, if you haven’t had the engine running of course. I threw all my gear into the trunk of the car, and left it out in the cold while I had breakfast and checked out of the hotel etc. When I came back out to grab it and start shooting again, there was actually still snow all over my 600mm and 300mm lenses, and the body for that matter, so it was most definitely still below freezing in my car.
Anyway, let’s take a look at some more shots from the morning. The first of which is image number 2048. Although we haven’t looked at any swan shots yet, I was here mostly interested in shooting the swans that spend their winters here, because it’s warmer than Siberia, where they fly down from. At most of the lakes where you find swans in Japan you almost always find a large colony of Pintail ducks too, and these are what we see here walking up the snow covered beach of the Inawashiro Lake. Ducks are pretty comical I think, and this procession of waddling beauties is a good example. What they do is waddle their way up the beach, and wait outside the cafeteria door next to the hotel in which I’d stayed. The lady in the hotel cuts bread into pieces which they sell for $2 a bag. Tourists buy the bread and come outside and give it to the ducks, and then when it’s all gone, they fly down to the water to have a drink to wash down the bread. Then they waddle back up to the door to wait for the next tourist bearing bread to come out. I have mixed feelings about feeding these birds, but it is how they’ve been conditioned, and they look OK for it, so I guess its fine. Us humans need that contact too I believe. My wife doesn’t really like the cold, or more accurately, she doesn’t like the sensation of slipping on the snow, so she rarely comes with me to places like this, but here, she knows she can feed the ducks, and that makes it worth here while to come with me. We had also headed out just for a break, and spent the previous few days doing more of a touristy thing, visiting a quant village about an hour from here on the winter roads.
I shot this image by the way with the 70-200mm F2.8 L lens and had set my camera to ISO 200, giving me a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second at F5. I didn’t select a smaller aperture, because I wanted to maintain a shallow enough depth of field to allow the back of the line of ducks and the waves on the lake to go out of focus some, adding a feeling of depth to the image.
I shot a few images, such of which are uploaded as well, of the ducks up close. It helps to try to slowly move in, shooting as you go, trying to get gradually closer to your subjects, if there’s a chance that you’ll spook them and they’ll fly away, as these ducks do. Sometimes though, you can get in so close, that you can capture some pretty cute expressions, as I think I did in image number 2051. Here I got so close that the duck on the right of the image looked right up at me, a little apprehensively, so I got a nice shot of that awareness of my presence. Pretty much all of the other shots are of the ducks in a totally nature pose, totally oblivious of my presence, so I thought this was a nice addition. This was shot still at ISO 200 but for 1/160th of a second at F6.3. I was add the wide end of my 70-200mm lens shooting at 80mm.
As you get too close though, the birds will get skitty and fly away, as they did a moment or two after the last shot. I wanted to see if I could capture that though, and so when they’d come back, I set my camera up to capture the action, as we can see in image number 2054. I selected an aperture of F2.8, wide open, with a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second, at ISO 100, and as I got close to the ducks again, they took flight, and I snapped of a few frames with the camera’s focusing system set to AI Servo, hoping to latch on to something interesting, and I did, with this single bird that we can see in the middle of the frame looking pretty sharp. It’s actually slightly soft due to the movement, but sharp enough to set it apart from the rest of the flock, for a pretty dynamic image of these pintails taking flight.
Tree with Three Swans
There were a couple of trees on the snowy beach of the lake, and I’d basically sat myself down in the snow, with my tripod legs opened up to the second notch, partly so that I could put my legs between the tripod legs, but mainly to give the tripod a wider base to help fortify it against the wind that was still battering this beach. I shot image number 2057 from this position. This is the image that I mentioned in my 2008 best shots round up episode. It is similar to the one I selected in my best ten, but this one has three swans in the top of the frame, adding an additional element of interest. I wanted to mention this image today for two reasons. Firstly, because I really like it, and wanted to share it with you. Secondly, because I used the new Content Aware Scaling in CS4 to bring the swans a little bit closer to the tree. In the original they are a little bit farther away from the tree than this, higher up in the frame. There was a lot of dead space which gave the impression of the image being too tall, in the native aspect ratio of the images from my 1Ds. So I basically selected the bottom half of the shot including the tree, then selected the top of the shot from the birds and above, saved the selection, and then selected the Context Aware Scaling, then made it aware that I wanted to protect my saved selection. That way, when you resize the image by dragging the frame around it, only the space between the tree and the swans get’s compressed, while maintaining the slight gradation in parts of the sky and the driving snow, that you can’t really see in the Web version. I probably wouldn’t have done this a few years ago, but I’m thinking that this is a good use of the technology now. It was shot at F8 for 1/125th of a second, at ISO 100.
Tree on Wintry Shore
Next let’s take another look at image number 2058, which was one of my 2008 best ten selection. I spoke about this shot recently, so won’t go into any detail on that again. The conditions were the same as the last shot we looked at anyway. I did want to mention why I chose this over the one with the swans for my best ten of 2008 though. You know, many moons ago, I did an episode on adding an additional element of interest, and I still do that when it makes sense. But this is one of those times where simplicity really does win out in my opinion. I’ve been doing a lot of test printing recently, and this has been one of the shots I’ve been printing, and there is enough in the image to hold our interest I think, without the swans. The main subject of course is the tree, and in a print, this is a pretty stunning piece of work. The dappled pattern on the bark adds nice contrast, and there are actually a number of brown withered leaves left on the tree that you end up picking out visually as the scan the print. Then of course though there’s the white snowy beach, which probably isn’t an element of interest in itself, more just stage setting, and then the breaking waves help to show that we’re at a lake or maybe even the sea, and there’s wind. Then as you look closer still, you see the snow, driving across the image from right to left, which actually helps to bring us back to the tree as our eyes wander. So basically we’re keeping the lone tree as the main subject, with nothing to fight for our attention. I do really like the version with the swans too, so I’m not ruling it out at all, but when the swans are there, it does fight for our attention, so it is not quite as aesthetic as this shot on the whole.
After I’d shot a number of frames of the tree, and was happy that I’d got what I wanted, with the waves in the right place and the snow adequately captured, a large group of swans flew in, so I took the camera off the tripod, and hand held for a number of shots with the swans flying into their roost. I shot a few images that I also like that I uploaded as well, but then saw or sensed some warm light behind me, and as I turned, there was a small break in the low cloud, revealing an patch of light and part of the distant bank of the Inawashiro Lake that we can see in image number 2061. This was also one of my favourites of 2008, that we looked at just a few weeks ago, so I’m not going to go into detail on the capture again. I did want to touch on one thing though, following a question from Ken Dickson in the forum at Photography martinbaileyphotography.com. Ken said “I was surprised to see you include images taken only days before in your best of collection. I normally like to allow my images to soak a bit before making that kind of decisions.” This is a great point. I actually mentioned this about another swan shot that I made in the last few days of 2007 that I included in my 2007 collection as well. I am a big believer in having a cooling off period after the excitement of the shoot to allow the emotional connection that we have with images to subside a little, so that we can make more objective decisions about our selection. Before I even upload images to my gallery, when possible, I allow two to three days for them to sink in a little. I’m living with 12 shots from a flowerscape shoot last weekend at the moment, waiting for the memories of the shoot to die down a little, as I had a great time shooting them, and it will make me want to upload them more now than it will in a few days. It’s definitely best to do this, and I find that this helps to make sure that in the most part, only your best work hits the eyes of the rest of the world.
Momentary Break in the Storm
There was a teeny weeny bit of risk in selecting these too shots from the last day of 2008 for my best ten of the year, which I was definitely conscious of. Things to note here though, are that although I shot them on December the 31st, I didn’t actually upload them until the 4th of January. This was really the time needed for to me to through my cooling off process. The other thing to bear in mind is that I didn’t actually put the list together until the 6th of January, so I’d actually had almost a week for these images to become real to me. Even with that in mind, as I said, I was conscious that there was still going to be some of the excitement of the shoot left in me. Almost a month has passed now though, and I’m still happy with the selection, so I think I’m good here. Thanks for the great question though Ken, and for your continued participation in the forum. It’s all very much appreciated.
So, let’s look at one last image before we close for today, and that is image number 2062. The last shot that we looked at was shot at 28 seconds past 11:14AM, just twenty seconds before this on. The brief break in the heavy snow clouds lasted literally just a few seconds, and by the time I shot the same six swans flying towards their roost here, it was gone. This is another one of those images that looks great in a print, as there are a literally hordes of swans in this photo, that you can hardly make out in the Web version. There are three swans on the lake in the foreground, directly below the six flying. Then there are of course the six flying in, but I have counted 115 swans in that roost or breeding ground between that dark line which is like a hard sand bank, and the snow on the land that we see further back in the distance. I just love delving into the details of shots like this, especially in a large print. I shot this by the way at F11 for 1/60th of a second, with ISO 100. Relying a little on the 70-200mm F2.8 lenses image stabilization here, shooting at a 150mm focal length.
So, as I mentioned, I was basically here with my wife. It was one of those relaxing break, with some photography sort of trips, so I didn’t want to push my luck doing too much. I’d had a flurry of images here having spent a few hours on the snow, in total, and was feeling pretty happy with my harvest. I was thinking to go back to the falls that I shot in winter at the beginning of January in 2008, but as the swans had kept me out of the beach for a little longer than I expected, I decided not to push my luck, and asked if my wife was ready to start heading back to Tokyo. The snow was pretty heavy still, so we decided to do just that. The snow stopped just a few miles towards home from here mind. We literally drove into a tunnel feeling like we were at the north pole, and we came out, and the sun was shining, and there was not even any snow on the ground. It felt pretty weird, and just shows how much mountains can affect the weather. We had a nice afternoon drive back to our apartment in Tokyo, and were back just as the sun set. My wife had enjoyed the trip, because I didn’t push my luck with my photography, and I had gotten, what I think at least, were some great shots, so it really was a nice finish to 2008 for the both of us.
So, I hope you enjoyed joining me at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008. I really enjoyed this shoot, and it was great warming up for the Hokkaido Workshop and Photography Tour which is now less than three weeks away. We’re just putting the final touches on the planning and all the participants have the details of the meeting point etc. It’s really now just a case of sending a few things off ahead, and then getting started. I can’t wait!
If you are doing a composite image for the January assignment, remember that we have a very short time to do this in our first assignment since switching to the monthly schedule. You will have until the 31st of January, which is this coming Saturday to upload your image to the Composite Assignment gallery at mbpgalleries.com. I’ll turn on voting from the 1st of February for two weeks, and then announce the winner in the following Podcast episode. We’ll also be kicking off a new assignment at the beginning of February, which will run that in parallel with the voting for the January assignment, so stay tuned for that too. I haven’t even started my composite image yet by the way, so I’m starting to get a little worried. I hope you’re having better luck making time for this yourself. Whether you intend to participate or not though, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.
Hello, and welcome to episode 26. Following on from episode, I’m going to show you some images from a trip to Hokkaido from the 17th to the 20th of February 2006.
Juvenile Steller’s Sea Eagles Passing
First let’s take a look at image number 870, of two juvenile Steller’s Sea Eagles passing mid-flight. The young birds have a distinctive dark outline to their white tails, and speckles of white on the under-wing that they loose as they reach adulthood. This and the rest of the Eagle shots I’m going to show you first today were also shot at the Akan International Crane Center, in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan, and my favourite location for nature photography, both wildlife and landscape.
I had kept my aperture at F11 and my shutter speed at 1/800 of a second, the same as most of the crane shots I showcased in episode 25, but as the sky was now grey as it was about to start snowing, I upped the ISO from 200 to 400. This allowed me to continue to capture these majestic subjects despite the turn in the weather.
At 2PM every afternoon the cranes are fed fish, which is one of the main reasons they congregate at the crane center, but also this attracts Steller’s Sea Eagles, White-Tailed Eagles and Black Kites. I was shooting with my Canon EOS 5D and a 600mm F4 lens. I support this behemoth of a lens with a Glitzo tripod and a Wimberly head. The Wimberly allows me to shoot from a tripod with almost as much freedom as shooting hand-held, which is really necessary when tracking birds in flight.
Timing was crucial with this shot, as I really wanted to get another bird in the frame to add interest. I focus most often using the AI Servo mode, but as this uses the 15 focus points in the center of the frame, when I want to compose with the bird to one side, not in the center, I have to switch to One Shot focusing. Of course, there’s no time to mess around changing the settings of the camera when split second decisions are necessary, so I have changed the 5D’s custom functions to make the AF Stop button of the 600mm F4 Lens switch to One Shot focusing while held down. Conversely, if I am in One Shot mode and hold down the AF Stop button on the lens, I am switched to AI Servo, which really helps.
Daunting White-Tailed Eagle
Let’s move on to another eagle shot, number 872 in which we can see a White-Tailed Eagle in a very menacing pose. Looking very much the part as a raptor, king of the sky, this bird was eyeing up how to get to the fish being handed out to the cranes below. Shot with the same settings as the previous image, I really like the overall feel and balance of this one.
Forty five seconds after the last shot, I captured image number 873, in which you can see that it has just started to snow. You can see here again I was still trying to get two birds in the single shot. In the background I think is one of the juvenile Steller’s Sea Eagles again, but it is too far out of the depth-of-field to be in focus. Again the main subject is a White-Tailed Eagle, displaying the beautiful snowy white tail from which it gets it’s name.
Ruler of the Snow Plains
Five minutes later and it was now snowing quite heavily as I captured image number 874. This is probably in my top five favourite shots from the trip and definitely one of my best shots so far this year. I wanted to shoot the White-Tailed Eagle in amongst the Japanese Cranes, and I managed that in this wintry scene. I had by now opened up the aperture to F10, as I’d lost more light as the snow set in. The ISO was still at 400 and the shutter speed 1/800 of a second.
Japanese Cranes 2006
We spend another hour or so after this at the Akan International Crane Center before going to the bus and driving for a few hours to the hotel in which we’d spend the night of the 17th. One of the last shots at the center during this trip was number 881. You can see that by now the snow had given way to a beautiful blue sky, and the cranes we’re now leaving for the day with their bellies full of free fish.
I’d been awake since 4AM to get to the Haneda aiport by 7 to meet up with the group, so it was difficult to stay awake, though it was great to watch from the bus as the sun dropped lower in the sky, turning the white snow slightly golden before dropping below the horizon.
The following morning once again it was up at 4AM to go to the Bihoro Pass which overlooks the frozen Kussharo Lake, with its distinctive island in the middle, and wait for the sunrise. Although the last few days had seen markedly warmer weather for Hokkaido at this time of the year, at 5:30AM when I was setting up my tripod on the Bihoro Pass it was -20 degrees Celsius or -4 Fahrenheit. Luckily for me I’d got lots of nice warm clothes on and luckily form my EOS 5D, I’d also clad it in a fleece cover with a solid fuel hand warmer in a specially designed inside pocket, so we were both OK.
Kussharo Lake from Bihoro Pass at Dawn
The first shot I uploaded from this spot was 882, but the first one I’m going to showcase today is 883, shot at 5:50AM. I decided to include the road below for this shot and wait for a car to pass, so that I capture a trail left by it’s lights. You can tell how dark it still was at this time not only by the brightness of the car’s lights, but also this image was exposed for 4 seconds at F11, even with ISO 200. I kind of like the similar colours of the sky as it lit up as the sun approached the horizon, and the trail left by the cars lights. I actually shot my trusty WhiBal card a few minutes after taking this shot to set the custom white balance, as with the 5D’s white balance set to the Daylight preset, the shots were coming out incredibly blue. This is of course true to life for these temperatures, but our eyes do a great correction job, and so I chose to help my camera do the same. I ended up taking the white balance reading from the images shot after the WhiBal shot and applying it to the first few images too.
I also played around with the white balance of the RAW image file in Digital Photo Professional to see if I could correct the white balance manually using the Kelvin slider, but even selecting up to 10,000K still had quite a strong blue caste, so I’m pleased I used the WhiBal. It not only allowed me to get rid of the blue cast, it also brought out the red of the sun’s glow. This is actually though more of a difficult decision than it might sound, to correct the white balance as I did, as the blue cast does make the scene look very cold. Remember it was minus 20 degrees C. I’ll post the Daylight White Balance version in the Podcast forum and put a link to the post in the show notes so you can take a look and see the difference. I might even make it a poll so you can tell me which version you prefer.
Moon and Tree from Bihoro Pass
As I climbed the hill to get to a higher vantage point, shot number 884 jumped out at me. In the opposite direction to the sun, the moon was still shining pretty brightly through the hazy cloud from the mountains, and the trees in the foreground set the scene for another of my favourite shots from this trip. This was made at F14 for a 1/6 of a second.
I found when I was descending the mountain that I had actually lost one of the rubber feet and the low angle tripod mount from my Manfrotto tripod, probably when I stuck my tripod into the snow to get this shot of the moon and the trees. Something to be careful of I guess when working in hard deep snow.
We headed back to the hotel for breakfast after the Bihoro Pass shoot, and then set off to the bank of the frozen Kussharo Lake that was visible in the sunrise shot we just looked at. At around 10AM we arrived at Sunayu, a spot where hot springs run into the lake keeping the water relatively warm and stop the lake from freezing over totally for a few meters.
This means that there is a certain amount of steam that rises from the edge of the frozen lake, and this often freezes on the rocks nearby as we can see in shot number 887. I was pleased I took my 100mm macro lens when I saw a few rocks at the side of the lake covered in what the Japanese call ice flowers. These are frozen crystals, but the temperature here now was above freezing, so they were melting quickly. I shot this at F8 for 1/160 of a second with ISO 100. F8 gave me enough depth-of-field at this distance to see the first few centimeters of the ice flowers.
I actually made this photo while walking along the shore to see the Omiwatari, which literally means God’s Walkway. This is a natural phenomenon, caused by the ice which is frozen by the harsh temperatures at night warming up as the sun rises in the sky, causing it to expand and rupture. In shot number 891 we can see the ice ruptured and jutting out of the lake and leading into the distance. This is the God’s Walkway. We can also see a guide explaining the phenomenon to a couple of tourists. At over 10 centimeters or 4 inches thick, there’s not much chance of the ice breaking and them falling in, though the ice is continuously creaking and moaning as it expands, which is really quite spooky, but then every so often, there is an almighty crack, that sounds similar to a couple of trucks crashing into each other head-on, as the ice cracks big-time. The crack that you can see in the right foreground actually rose forming a step of around 15 centimeters or six inches after one almighty crashing sound. The guide actually had the tourists lying down on the ice a couple of times to feel the cracking with their bodies. She was very confident when she first turned up with the tourists ignoring my claims that there had been some big cracking sounds. Apparently it had been -27 degrees Celsius or -17 Fahrenheit during the night here, and was now around 5 degrees C or 41 degrees Fahrenheit, so the ice was warming up quite quickly. Then after hearing a few of the noises herself the guide told us that this amount of activity was quite unusual, as she guided the tourists off the ice.
Steamy Kussharo Lake Swans
The last image from this spot and this episode is number 894, was shot ten minutes down the coast of the Kussharo Lake near the parking area at Sunayu. Sunayu literally means sand and hot water, and this is as I said earlier where hot springs water flows into the lake, stopping the water from freezing for a few meters. This hot water is responsible for the steam in the shot of the swans, all eagerly awaiting the next free meal from a tourist. The swans that fly in from Siberia for the winter stop here because of the warm water and food from tourists. Without this they’d head a few more hundred miles further south to warmer climbs.
This was one of the last shots from Kussaro Lake 12 o’clock midday. This was to be the last photo shoot for this day, as we drove the whole afternoon over to Rausu in the Shiretoko Peninsula, to go out onto the sea in a charter boat to shoot more Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles on the ice floes. I’ll get to that in the next episode though, as we’re already up to 10 shots for this Podcast, and I don’t like to attach too many to a single episode.
So let’s call it a day. At the point of recording this I’ve still to sort through the last two days photos and get them uploaded. I’m an episode ahead of schedule now, so I’ll take my time getting through the rest of my shots and bring you another episode some time next week.
So have a great weekend, and I’ll speak to you again soon. Bye bye.
Welcome to Episode 23 of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast. Today I’m going to talk about what actually constitutes a telephoto lens, briefly touch on some general applications, and the difficulties we face when using medium to super-telephoto lenses. I’ll also introduce some techniques to help overcome these difficulties. Thanks to Marisa, one of the long time contributors in the MBP forum, for suggesting the topic for this week’s Podcast. Also congratulations Marisa on getting your Canon EOS 350D Digital Rebel and the 70-300mm IS lens.
I’d also like to say thanks to everyone for your patience during the upgrade of the online gallery and forum over the last week or so. If anyone comes to the site after a period away and you have any problems logging in, please try to clear your cookie cache to get rid of the cookie from the old version and try again. That should do it, but if you continue to have problems, please mail me from the Contact Form.
So firstly, let’s define what actually constitutes a telephoto lens. On a 35mm format SLR camera, a 50mm lens is considered “standard”. That is, it does not magnify or de-magnify the subject. Strictly speaking, any focal length shorter than 50mm is wide angle, and anything longer than 50mm is telephoto. I’m sure there are varying opinions on this, but generally, from 60mm to 100mm could be termed “short telephoto”, a 200mm lens would be considered “medium-telephoto” and a 300mm long telephoto. Anything from 400mm and above is considered super-telephoto.
There are of course prime lenses at many of these focal lengths, and there are zoom lenses, such as the 70-300mm lens that Marisa just bought, that cover wide ranges from the short to long telephoto ranges. There are even lenses nowadays, such as Canon’s 28-300mm L lens that covers from wide angle to long telephoto, but obviously the price is not to be sniffed at either. Prime lenses will provide better quality images, but they lack the flexibility of zoom lenses and for the majority of applications, the image quality with the zoom lenses is more than enough.
Whether zoom or prime, telephoto lenses have many applications, including shooting things far away allowing you to get in closer to them, such as cutting out the parts of a landscape that interest you, as I discussed in Episode #8 on Composition, called Getting in Close in Landscapes, but can also seen in many shots in my online gallery. Another, and perhaps more common application is for capturing things that might not necessarily be so far away, such as birds, but capturing them large enough in the frame to be able to make out fine detail in the subject, or maybe even sometimes filling the frame with the subject. Yet another application is to shoot things quite close to you, often in my case very close to the minimum focusing distance, filling the frame with the subject.
As I mentioned, there are difficulties when using telephoto lenses. The most serious issue that you really need to bear in mind is that the longer the focal length the more susceptible to camera shake your images will be. This is because you are magnifying the subject more and more as the focal length increases, and so magnifying any movement in the camera and lens when shooting it. Therefore, the degree to which you need to worry about this also becomes greater as the focal length increases.
From episode 1 of this Podcast, a number of times I’ve mentioned a rule of thumb to calculate the minimum shutter speed to help avoid camera shake when hand-holding. I haven’t mentioned this for some time now though, so let’s go over it again quickly. Basically you use the focal length you are shooting at as the slowest shutter speed. This is independent of ISO or aperture, but you do need to work in the crop factor if you are using a digital SLR that has one. Say for example you are using a 100mm lens. The slowest shutter speed you should aim for is 1/100 of a second. If you are using a DSLR with a 1.6 crop factor, the effective focal length is 160mm so your slowest advisable shutter speed would 1/160 of a second. If you have a camera with a 1.5 or 1.3 crop factor, this will make a 100mm lens 150 or 130mm respectively, and the slowest advisable shutter speed of course changes respectively.
If you are using your lens at 300mm on a 1.6 crop factor camera, that’s an effective focal length of 480, so you’ll need a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 of a second. Remember this is only a rule, and there are things that you can do to lower the risk of camera shake, such as those explained in Episode 2 on Stable Posture in Low Light. This will also vary from person to person. Some people can simply physically hold a camera more steadily than others.
Another factor that we must bear in mind here is that many lenses nowadays come with IS, that is Image Stabilizer for Canon and VR or Vibration Reduction for Nikon. This can reduce your necessary minimum shutter speed by up to 3 stops, and for the Nikon VRII system it seems up to four stops. So say you are shooting at 300mm, usually this would need a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 of a second on a 1.6 crop factor DSLR, but if you turn on Image Stabilizer, that becomes as low as 1/60 of a second if your IS gives you three stops. Remember to calculate the time you gain per stop, simply double the shutter speed for each stop. When we’re working in fractions of a second, that basically means halving the number. The first stop from 1/500 of a second takes you to 1/250 of a second. The second stop takes you from 1/250 of a second to 1/125 of a second, and the third stop takes you from 1/125 to 1/60 of a second. If you get four stops from your lenses image stabilizer, that would give you an amazing 1/30 of a second. Of course, this is all based on the example of 1/500 of a second, and this will change depending on your focal length and amount of available light.
If you are still a little shaky on calculating how much time a stop will increase or decrease your shutter speeds or aperture value, or both, take another listen to episode 10 of this Podcast on Exposure and Manual Mode. This Podcast is pretty heavy going, but should help you to understand how to calculate increases or reductions shutter speed and or aperture in stops to achieve the same Exposure Value.
Now, in theory, you could go down to shutter speeds as slow as this with a 300mm lens, but I my experience, relying on IS or VR will only prove successful some of the time. For still subjects the success rate will be higher, but in wildlife photography for example your subject will also more than likely be moving. It’s no use shooting animals at 1/60 of a second as they are likely to move during that time, even just very slightly, and that will cause motion blur in the subject.
Of course, another option to avoid camera shake when using telephoto lenses is to use a tripod. I know that many people shy away from using a tripod unless absolutely necessary, but using one will without a doubt improve your images. It will also help you to be more methodical in your composition and perhaps improve composition too, but that’s going off topic a little.
Using a tripod is not going to solve all ills though. There are times when you can’t use a tripod, say if there are rules against using a tripod in the location you’re shooting from. Also, for many situations, such as wildlife photography when the subject might be moving around a lot, using a tripod can restrict your movement. Both of yourself physically moving around and the movement of the camera, even from a static position, and this can limit your ability to successfully capture your subject on film. If there is enough available light, I personally like to use up to 400mm hand-held for this reason. And of course, as I mentioned earlier, in wildlife photography or any type of photography where the subject can move around, subject movement will cause problems if you go with too slow a shutter speed. If you are shooting birds in flight for instance, you really want to aim for a minimum shutter speed as calculated by the rule of thumb I mentioned earlier, or maybe one stop slower if you are using IS, especially when using super-telephoto lenses of 400mm and longer. Much slower than that and your success rate is going to drop dramatically.
If there is simply not enough available light to enable us to get a fast enough shutter speed we need to start thinking of other options. The first thing you’ll want to think of is raising the ISO. Most cameras will start to introduce grain from around 400 ISO though, especially in the shadows, so you don’t want to rely on this too much.
Also popping in a little fill-in flash or using a reflector may be an option if your subject is in range. The range of your flash will depend on the guide number. You can usually check the distance your flash will reach in the instruction manual. There are actually zooms available that you fit on to the front of your flash that project the light further than normal. One I’ve heard of but do not yet use myself is the BetterBeamer. Apparently the Better Beamer will add approximately 2-stops of light output to your flash by concentrating the light emitted and is recommended for use with telephoto lenses of a focal length of 300mm or longer. This and loads of other great photography gadgets can be bought from the naturephotographers.net gift shop. I will add a link to the show notes in case you’re interested.
Even having when putting all of this into practice you’d be well advised to shoot in bursts when using long lenses. That is, don’t just take one shot then wait for your subject to change position or you yourself move on to another location, take bursts for 3 shots or more. I don’t mean for exposure bracketing. I’m talking about with the same settings. What you usually find is that the bird moves at exactly the time one of your exposures is made, or you get camera shake that affects some, but not all shots. If you take a minimum of three frames, more if possible, you give yourself a better chance of getting a winner out of the batch. I often find, especially when shooting birds in flight, at least half of the resulting shots are too soft to be of any use. You’ll probably also find that shooting single shots will introduce a snappy movement, that you can avoid by simply keeping the shutter button pressed for a number of frames, allowing you to concentrate on tracking the subject.
Before we move on to another problem you may not be used to if you are new to longer telephoto lenses, there’s a lot talk happening here, without much to look at, so let’s take a look at a photo I made last Sunday, that is February 5th, 2006. It is shot number 834, which is of a Whooper Swan cygnet about to touch down on the Kotokunuma Pond in Ibaraki Prefecture, a couple of hours north of Tokyo. This shows the results of putting much of what I’ve just said in practice. The sun was now behind some trees, almost below the horizon, so the cygnet was in total shadow. I was using a super-telephoto lens. The Canon EF 600mm F4 IS USM L lens and had the ISO set to 400. The aperture was F8, just about enough to get the entire bird in the depth of field and the shutter speed was 1/500 of a second. I had IS turned on, and was using mode 2, which will only stabilize horizontal or vertical movement, allowing me to track with the swan and not have the lens try to stabilize the whole scene.
I should just mention that I was using a tripod. It really is just not possible to hand hold this behemoth of a lens. Earlier I mentioned that I like to hand hold up to 400mm when there’s enough light, because it gives you more freedom of movement. To help me when using this 600mm lens, I use a Wimberley Head on my Gitzo tripod. The Wimberley Head uses gimbal-type design that allows you to rotate your lens around its center of gravity, and is really the closest you can get to the freedom of hand holding with a lens this size.
If you are not shooting wildlife or sports shots where the subject is moving, you can of course use a tripod and go to much slower shutter speeds. I’m really focusing here on the difficulties when shooting things that may move.
So, moving on, the second thing you’ll need to bear in mind when using a telephoto lens is that the depth-of-field gets shallower and shallower as the focal length gets longer. I shot the image that I just introduced of the swan coming in to land at F8. I could have possibly gone to F5.6, but at the distance I shot this at, which was probably about 20 meters or 65 feet, I’d have ended up with a depth-of-field of just 40cms or 12 inches, and with a bird this size, that would have meant that the wings were quite out of focus. Even at the aperture I chose, F8, I only have 57cms or just over 18 inches of DOF, but this is just about enough to get most of the bird in acceptable focus.
Also note that the closer the subject is, the shallower the depth-of-field gets. And likewise, the further away the subject, the deeper the depth-of-field gets. I’ll add a link to an online depth-of-field calculator to the show notes, so you can have a play and see the relationship between the focal length, aperture, distance to subject and size of the film or sensor. This calculator actually gives slightly different results to that of the one I have installed on my computer, and I don’t know which is more accurate, but it is going to be accurate enough to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
Basically, what I’m getting at here is that when using telephoto lenses, you have to be much more conscious of the widest aperture you can shoot at and still have enough depth of field to get your subject in focus. Of course, the benefits of this are that it is really easy to get the background out of focus enough to stop it from being a distraction. If the background is not distracting though, it is often nice to be able to make out the environment of your subject if it’s a wildlife shot. Take a quick look at shot number 830 on my Web site. This is a Black Kite also shot last Sunday, at probably three times the distance of the last image, at about 60 meters or almost 200 feet. I actually cropped a little, about 20% off the left and 15% off the bottom, of this shot, so the bird is a little larger in the frame than the original. This was shot at F5.6, which is plenty at this distance to get the smaller bird of prey totally in focus, but you’ll see that the background is quite out of focus. You can though make out the environment enough to know that there are trees and hills in the background. This again was at ISO 400, and the shutter speed was 1/800 of a second.
So, that is about it for today’s episode. To briefly recap; the longer the lens, the shallower the depth of field and the higher the risk of camera shake. Use the rule of thumb to determine your slowest advisable shutter speed based on your focal length, and bear in mind not to blindly rely on image stabilizer systems when your subject is moving around.
If you are interested to see any of the other images from the Kotokunuma Pond last Sunday shot with the 600mm F4 lens, I’ll drop a link into the show notes to list them all. There’re just six of them. Next week I’ll be following on from this episode, talking about Extenders as Canon terms them, or Teleconverters. These allow you to increase the focal length of your lenses relatively cheaply, but, at a cost. Tune in next week to find out more.
Here is a link to an online Depth-of-Field calculator to have a play with and see the relationship between the focal length, aperture, distance to subject and size of the film or sensor: http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html