I recently hung my show Plight of the Condor at Flagstaff’s High Country Conference Center. It’s an honor being recognized as so talented, egocentric and stupid that I’d dump hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to fill an entire gallery with just my work. As this is my last, er, I mean first, one-artist show, of course I want to make a gargantuan impression. My subject is the California Condor, the largest bird in North America and with a population of only 425, one of the most critically endangered species in the world.
If it isn’t obvious from the photos I share on Photography Life, the camera equipment I use makes it quite clear: I am not a wildlife photographer. In fact, my longest lens weighs in at 105mm — nowhere near the super-telephotos used by most wildlife pros. However, although I rarely seek out wildlife opportunities, animals do not avoid me. I have been fortunate enough to see everything from whales to reindeer while taking pictures, and I’ve learned some tips for photographing wildlife with a short telephoto lens along the way.
Most people who enjoy taking images of birds will attest to the fact that it can be especially challenging to photograph hummingbirds. These little ‘pocket rockets’ dart around constantly and very seldom stay in one place long enough for us to find them in our viewfinders, let alone actually get an image. If you’re like me even being able to capture a decent image of a hummingbird on a feeder with its wings spread is an uncommon feat.
As a dedicated sports photographer, I look forward every year to fall. The American school year starts, plus horse polo season is just around the corner. So you can imagine my reaction when my wife announced that we would be taking a month long vacation in September; my heart damn near stopped. I looked sadly at my new D810, with the attached 70-200mm f/2.8G forlornly staring back at me. Football, Golf, Swimming and Volleyball seasons were just starting, and I would not be there. Instead I would be at the beach for the next month, with nary a chance to photograph any sports. So I packed up the D810, the D800E (with an attached 24-120 f/4), threw a 50 f/1.8 in the bag for good measure, grabbed a tripod, some memory cards, etc., and off to the beach we went. A felt like a fish out of water (or, since we would be at the beach, a bear chained to a stake). Just what would I take pictures of?
I had a chance to play with the new Canon 7D Mark II this past weekend and I wanted to provide a little bit of feedback regarding the performance of this speed monster. I received my copy of the camera earlier last week, along with the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L lens, so that I could exclusively photograph wildlife with this setup. The Canon 7D Mark II is specifically targeted at sports and wildlife photographers, so I did not think it would make much sense to evaluate the camera for everyday photography needs. With the Canon 6D being in the same price range, it is a given that a full-frame camera would be much more desirable in terms of image quality for other photography needs.
Just when my wallet was getting over the hangover from buying a D810, along comes the Nikon D750, a 24mp full frame DSLR with an improved AF-system and 30 percent faster burst rate than the D810. Both are great attributes for the wildlife shooter. Moreover, the D750 sports a new 24mp sensor that’s touted as even better than that in the D600 and D610. I always liked the files my D600 cranked out – could the D750 files look just as yummy and have even less noise? I told myself not to touch the D750, that nothing good could from having a fling while still on my D810 honeymoon, but the D750 was so light and sleek and I was oh so weak…
Maybe my self-esteem was dipping that day or maybe I was just feeling like seeing how the little people lived. Whatever the reason I decided I needed to humiliate myself a bit so I decided to slap a third party lens on my Ferrari, er, I mean Nikon D4s. The choice – the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC USD. For the last 30 years I’d never shot anything but Nikon glass – no cheap third party lens would dirty up my cameras.
We are continuing our coverage of the Nikon D810 and today we want to talk about the capability of the D810 to photograph wildlife, particularly birds. Bird photography is complex and very demanding in terms of gear when it comes to autofocus speed, accuracy and response time. While mirrorless cameras have become a superb choice for everyday photography, they are hard and sometimes impossible to use for photographing fast-moving subjects, like birds in flight. Most mirrorless systems today don’t even have fast telephoto lenses longer than 300mm. Hence, DSLR cameras are the default choice for wildlife photography today.
After my review of the Tamron 150-600mm VC telephoto zoom lens appeared here at Photography Life, a number of readers had questions on how that lens compared to the long telephoto zooms from Sigma. As luck would have it, I was able to borrow a recently purchased Sigma 150-500mm OS from a friend and this article captures some initial thoughts about photographing birds, including those in flight, with this lens.
Over the past week or so I’ve been out taking a lot of images to prepare for my upcoming review of the Tamron 150-600mm VC lens. At this point it looks like my review will be completed and up for Photography Life readers to see at the end of June.
In advance of the full review I thought another very short article with a few more sample images may be of interest. This article has some photos of cormorants taken at a large nesting colony that is located just off Eastport Drive adjacent to the Hamilton harbor in Ontario. This is a favorite photo site of many area bird photographers. In this area you can also find black-crowned night herons, a wide variety of gulls, the occasional swan, and if you scan for small, fast moving birds…you can also spot the odd kingfisher.