I hope the idea I have in my head for this wildlife photography series of articles turns out on paper the way I imagined it and you find some useful tips that will help you on your photographic journeys. This first part comprised of a number of tips will briefly touch on light, weather and lens \ focal length selection. Like in my other articles, I will start with a simple disclaimer: what I present here is what works for me and you have to find your own way to what ultimately makes you happy.
My D7000, Nikkor 500mm and I have had some wonderful times together – the shots of a Peregrine chick jumping off the ledge for the first time, the yoga-stretching Osprey that made Audubon’s Top 100, and who can forget the Night Heron flying past with a baby alligator in it’s mouth. But like all relationships, it seemed the initial pizazz was fading. I began to notice how she had trouble staying focused and got noisy when I pushed an issue. Furthermore, with 190,000 clicks under her belt, well, let’s just say her shutter curtains were starting to droop a bit. It was time to move on, but don’t get me wrong, we’ll always be friends. Now I hate to admit it, but I’d been having an online affair with the new Nikkor 800mm for almost a year – I’d link over to her B&H page and run my finger gently around her buy now button. Oh how we teased each other… Then one day we went all the way.
Next week she was there in front of me, the ten pound, one ounce Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR OMG BFF. However, when I unpacked my new lens, it was obviously lacking a proper rear lens cap. How inconsiderate of Nikon not to include a D4s to keep the rear element clean. Nothing a few years of crippling debt couldn’t solve. I dusted off my backup credit card and a few days later the D4$ showed up. So without further ado, my first 29 hours testing the 800mm/D4$ combo for reach, handholding, buffer, burst rate, high ISO ability and general BIFiness.
Let’s start at the end of the day and half of testing – 800mm of reach allowed me to maintain a non-threatening distance from this Common Black-hawk posing in front of the moon sneaking through the clouds. 1/1250, f/6.3, ISO 2500, 800mm, D4s. I cut loose with some artistic experimentation with this – embrace the post-processing noise – it’s pretty much the last you’ll see in the article:
Before everybody kills me about hand-holding, I just have to say this – I was doing some personal testing / photography and wanted to see what this combination could do for me. So please be kind to me :) Let me be clear, the Nikon D4 is a dream camera and I loved that camera to death. I got the D4s, because a friend wanted my D4, so this deal worked out for both of us. Upon purchase, I found it hard to believe the D4 could be improved upon and it’s still too early for me to make a conclusion on that, as I have only had the camera for 2 days. I feel there is an improvement in ISO noise at higher levels, however, the new focusing system got me interested in this camera and today’s trip to the coast to shoot some owls was all about giving me a feel for what was possible. I hand-held this combination a lot today, because I tend to do that when shooting and I wanted to know if I could do it with the 800mm and also get a feel for the D4s abilities. Anyway, here are some real world shots from me, good or bad, it was awesome fun and I got some shots I am very happy with.
I think the Nikon D4s and 800mm might be a marriage made in heaven for me. The Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E snapped into focus on everything I threw at it and I feel it did better than the D4, which I wouldn’t have believed possible.
The first photo sample was taken just after sunrise. The mink was a fast little critter and hard to shoot, only showing himself for seconds at a time – I was panning to get this shot.
I thought I would post this short and sweet article with my experiences so far with the new Nikon 800mm f5.6 Lens.
This lens is just an engineering marvel, but then that is not the purpose of this short article. I mainly just wanted to share my experience with it so far and a few sample photos taken with it in the field. I have actually hand held this lens in a couple instances where the action happened in such a manner there was no time to tripod it or the bird was moving way to erratically.
First, here is a photo of the 800mm attached to the Nikon D4, all dressed up and ready to go. I have many Lens Coat products and I must say they have done a marvelous job on the lens coat for the 800mm, almost every inch of this delicate baby is totally covered and protected, more so than the lens coat for my 600mm.
The Arca handle is a nice touch when dragging this thing around in the field. For those that are interested in side stories, I named the lens Conan which is a play on words as its the biggest lens Nikon has, but yet in Irish it means ‘little wolf’ or ‘little hound’, both of which I find appropriate.
This week is crazy here at PL, because we are bringing in more and more talent from all over the world for our readers to learn and get inspiration from. Today, we are expanding our team of writers with a talented wildlife photographer, Robert Andersen! I am sure you have been enjoying Robert’s detailed articles on Raptor Photography and getting answers to some of the most complex questions related to camera autofocus, handling, hand-holding and much more! Without a doubt, Robert will be an amazing resource as a permanent team member for our readers, so please give him a warm welcome!
I got a lot of feedback and questions from my last two posts and it seems like there is some interest in my articles, so I am yet again inspired to give this writing thing another shot. I just want to re-iterate that what I suggest or talk about here is what I do and what works for me – you will have to find your own way to your photography success.
1) Focus Point
I am going to start with focus point and where it should be, and that would be on the eye of the subject. There are many things that can be forgiven in photography, but a blurry eye is not one of them. All the power is in the eyes and your own eye will always be drawn there without you thinking about it. I am shooting with a Nikon D4 so this is Nikon terminology, I use Single Point AF Mode, because I am a control freak and don’t let the camera make the decisions for me. There is Dynamic Area AF Mode you might want to consider trying and see if it works for you, but don’t try it on a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
The insert in this photo will show you what I mean about ideal focus point location. The longer the focal length of your lens is and the shorter the distance to the subject, it becomes that much more important to precisely place your focus point on the eye. In a multiple subject shot, your focal point should be on the animal that is the closest to you.
What’s the BEST Lens for Wildlife Photography? If I had a nickel for every time I was asked this question, I could retire. It’s a very common and extremely valid question to ask. And to cut right to the chase, there is no one or right answer to this question. And that’s for many reasons from you, the photographer to the subject and most importantly, to the story you want to tell with your photograph. But there is a focal length that gets used over and over again and I feel is the best one to start with.
400mm, you simply can’t go wrong with this focal length however you get to it. It’s the focal length I started with and depended on for the first years of my career. It’s the lessons I learned from that lens and some of the images it created that got me to this point. You can get to this focal length in many ways, 300mm f/4 with a converter, 80-400mm, 200-400mm or a 400mm prime. No matter how you get there or which lens you have, you have the same angle of view and that’s key.
I recently wrote an article on hand-holding large and heavy lenses, which attracted quite a bit of attention and some nice comments and questions from PL readers. I am not really a writer, but a few people asked me about my technique for getting those shots. Let me start by saying that I am not an expert and there are many ways to skin a cat. So this is the way I get my shots and you will have to find your own way to achieving what you want. Let’s start with a “money shot”: what I would say is the shot of the day, the shot that made it all worth it.
I recently bought the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR (see Nasim’s review) and took it out for my first field test. It turned out to be extremely poor light and rough snowy weather, but sometimes that’s when you get some great photos. I have some samples to show here and even though they are not tack sharp because the conditions didn’t really allow that, they are moody and show nature in its true beauty. I also wanted to talk about gimbals on tripods versus hand-holding on large lenses to get flying or action shots. I hear so many times you cannot hand-hold that 600mm, but I do and some of my best shots are because I hand-held.
Since the snowy owls have moved to the Seacoast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts because of a shortage of food on the tundra, we have been travelling down to photograph them and here are some sample images taken with the new Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR lens. This first photo is taken on a tripod with the Wimberley II gimbal, there was no real panning involved and the conditions for photography were pretty terrible. The light was low, the snow was in the way but I would try anyways because the Nikon D4 has shown me it can handle tough situations. It was captured at ISO 2000 @ f/5.6, resulting in 1/1000th second speed. I needed at least a thousandth of a second to stop motion as I was hoping for a landing pose:
You have heard it said, “Shoot first, ask questions later” but when it comes to wildlife photography, if you will ask questions first, you will get to shoot more later. This quick tip for the beginning wildlife photographer encourages you to ask questions. While you might go to a park to find wildlife, some photo ops might be in your own backyard, literally, and if not your own backyard, maybe in your friend’s or neighbor’s backyard.
Some time ago, I was busy frequenting a local park looking for a bobcat that was being seen. I made at least 20 visits and spent considerable time there looking for that bobcat. I found tracks and evidence of its kills but I never found the cat. On one particular day I had been out to the park for about 4 hours hiking and looking, all to no avail. I got home and my wife asked, “Did you see the pictures of the mountain lion that so and so posted on their Facebook page?” I asked where she had seen the mountain lion and it turned out that it was in her back yard. When I heard this, I was a bit frustrated, as I had been within a few minutes of their home when I was looking for the bobcat and had I known that there was a lion there, I would have made a trip over there to try and see it. By this time however, I knew that realistically, it was long gone.