Here is a list of the hints and tips I learned from the wildlife photography workshop with Laurie Campbell last month:
1) Photographing birds in flight.
The best way to photograph a bird in flight is to have your camera set to manual mode (M). Point the camera at a neutral subject, such as a grey wall or patch of grass. Dial up a fast shutter speed (such as 1/1000th sec) and a moderately fast ISO (such as 640) and use the camera’s meter to choose an aperture which gives you a good exposure. If there isn’t enough light, increase the ISO. Take a test shot of the neutral subject and make sure the histogram looks ok. If the bird has light markings on it, take another test shot of something with highlights (such as a cliff with white bird droppings) and make sure the highlights are not blown out. If they are, increase the shutter speed until your test shot looks ok. Now set your camera’s autofocus mode to continuous servo (AF-C on a Nikon camera) with a single focus point in the middle of the frame. If your lens has vibration reduction, turn it off (it’s not necessary when the shutter speed is much higher than the focal length, and it interferes with the autofocus). Set your shutter release to continuous shooting. Now look through the viewfinder and track the bird. Try to keep the bird in the centre of the frame while holding the shutter release halfway down. When the autofocus kicks in, take a series of shots. Keep trying. If you find it hard to lock onto the bird, you can change the autofocus mode to 9-points or 21-points.
Some of us had a problem with this technique when the bird flew in and out of a shadow. Laurie told us in this situation you program the camera for one type of lighting (shadow or sun) and only take shots when the bird is under that lighting. (I am wondering if an auto mode with spot metering and exposure compensation might help you follow the change in lighting?)
2) Macro photography
Laurie gave us a number of hints and tips about macro photography. He uses a large heavy tripod to hold his camera and lens. The problem with most tripods is that they hold the camera and lens in only one place, which allows the lens to wobble slightly around that pivot point. Laurie solves that problem by pushing a rubber door stop into the gap between his lens and tripod. (This works if you have a large lens and large tripod head, like Laurie.)
Laurie uses manual focus for most macro work, and he focusses by moving the camera back and forth.
To keep macro subjects from moving in the wind, or to hold extras such a reflector, you can use a gadget called a Wimberley Plamp, available here:
I was so impressed with this gadget that I am now the proud owner of one. :) It’s the sort of gadget which solves the problem of needing a third hand to hold something. I discovered each plamp can hold a reflector up to 20 inches in diameter. Larger reflectors need to be held by two plamps.
Laurie also pointed me to this inspirational video on macro photography:
You can improve the lighting in macro photography by using a diffuser to soften the light and a silver reflector to lighten the shadows. (The famous plamp can hold the diffuser for you.) If he doesn’t have a diffuser or reflector handy, Laurie sometimes uses a Corex envelope stiffener as a diffuser or a piece of aluminuim foil as a reflector. A piece of foil is particularly useful, as you can mould it to the ground underneath a plant and shape it to reflect the light the way you want. (Note: During the session I used a piece of bubble wrap as a diffuser, and it seemed to work.)
3) General hints and tips
Laurie told us that one of his best value gadgets is a 77mm Canon 500D close-up filter. This is a high quality close-up filter which is more expensive than others on the market, but he believes the extra cost is worth it. He saves money by buying the largest filter size available (77mm) and uses step-up rings to attach it to lenses with a smaller thread size. Using step-up rings means the filter does not vignette your field of view, and you will be using the highest quality central part of the filter. You can use this tip whenever you need to buy an expensive filter – a 10 stop ND is another example. Never use a step-down ring, because this will vignette your field of view. (Note: For wide angle lenses, I think you need to check that the angular field of view of the lens is less than the opening angle of your step-up ring.)
Laurie likes to use Singh-Ray neutral density grad filters.
He also mentioned that if you can’t afford a very long lens, you can obtain a very high equivalent focal length by attaching a Nikon V1 (which has a very small sensor) to a standard Nikon telephoto lens using an adaptor.
Laurie is always on the look out for new and interesting lenses and gadgets, and he sent me links to some interesting lenses that have recently appeared on the market:
Did anyone else pick up any hints and tips I haven’t mentioned?
All the best,