If you have been on a workshop with me you will know that I spend as much time as possible sharing the things I have learnt from others. In this section of my website I will try to present some of these in more detail so that you can study and practice them at your leisure. Writing up these guides takes a great deal of time and effort and so I can’t possibly do them all at once. Please check back regularly for new ones or add yourself to my mailing list here.
Supporting Long Lenses in Wildlife Photography
As a wildlife photographer, I use long lenses much of the time. Supporting them in a convenient and flexible manner is key to the success of the work I produce. Whilst much is made of the best camera lens to buy / use seldom do I hear people talking of techniques for using or supporting them but do get asked about it often on workshops.
When you buy your first really long lens you may be mistaken for thinking that the only support options are tripods. Even if you do resort to supporting your lenses and cameras on a tripod its really key that you choose the right head something which in my experience very few people consider.
The reality is that there are many options and, in many circumstances, the conventional tripod is not the most suitable. Equally the tripod head you choose is really key. I cover the choice of heads in depth in another downloadable paper below.
In this article I look at options using tripods but other really useful options too. If you are a long lens user then there will be something in here to interest you. You can read or download the article on my website here.
Managing photo storage and backup in the field
As a professional wildlife photographer running and safaris and workshops in the field, I often find myself shooting over several days or even weeks without access to my home computer and backup systems. Storing the photos, managing and backing them up locally in the field is therefore very important and a challenge to anyone travelling with a camera. I thought I had a robust solution to this problem until a major problem occurred on a safari in Southern Tanzania last Autumn causing me to rethink at least the technology I use.
Maybe you are on a safari trip of a lifetime or shooting a rare animal which has taken you ages to stalk. Whatever your photo shoot if you are away from your home computer backups for a considerable period of time you need an alternative solution. Your photos whenever or however they were taken are irreplaceable. Managing them at home is one thing but managing them safely in the field is often poorly thought through and something we all too often leave to chance.
In this article I consider what I believe, from experience working with photographers at all levels, constitutes good practise. I look at what I used to propose and what I now do after a failure in my system this Autumn in Tanzania that nearly cost me all my photos from the trip.
Developing a sound data storage and backup element in your digital workflow
Are you completely confident that if the worst should happen and you lost a great deal of data and digital images stored on your computer you have a reliable backup you can turn to?
Have you ever lost any data and not had an up to date backup to call on?
Have you a watertight approach to data storage and data backup as part of your digital workflow?
A great deal has been written about digital workflow and I’m not attempting to cover this enormous area in detail in this article. Instead I’m concentrating on the areas that, from my experience working with photographers, are often omitted; namely image backup and image storage arrangements. These are not the most exciting aspects of workflow but are ones that I consider you omit ‘at your peril’. When it happens data loss is a very painful experience which, unfortunately, many of us will go through it at some point of our lives. In my workshops and talks I spend a great deal of time encouraging people to develop a clear workflow that incorporates good backup strategies to prevent data loss. Over time I have come across many different approaches used and promoted by photographers, some of which are quite frankly downright scary. Sadly, for many, it seems that whilst they are prepared to retell the stories of others failures is not until it happens to them that they understand the real need for sound procedures.
In this article I am consider what I believe, from experience working with photographers at all levels, constitutes good practise. I outline and discuss the key things to consider when looking at your own data storage strategy and work though examples of good practise for the hobbyist and the professional.
Gimbal Heads for supporting long lenses
As a wildlife photographer long lenses are very much part of my arsenal and over the years I have tried all sorts of different means for supporting them. If you shoot with seriously long lenses, no other head comes close to a gimbal head in offering the levels of stability, articulation, and flexibility required. There are however many different models on the market from the original Wimberley, heralded by many as the only credible solution through to a UK manufacturer I have learnt of recently, Lensmaster. All have their benefits, many their problems and they vary enormously in price. The Wimberley is nearly £600 but the Lensmaster less than £150.
There are also other cheaper options listed on e-bay but in my view these don’t really come up to scratch and can put your expensive lenses at serious risk in they break. In this article I look at many of the options currently available and recommend solutions from £90 to £250 many of which are as good as the Wimberley at £600.
Unlike many things available for photographers the more expensive or most frequently used are not necessarily the best.
Extension Tubes – Getting Closer A cost effective alternative to Macro lenses
We are always told that if you are serious about macro photography you need to buy a quality macro lens. I would agree up to a point but dedicated macro lenses come at a significant cost. Thankfully there is a more cost effective alternative, a set of extension tubes.
Extension tubes are often wrongly considered as the Cinderella of macro photography and dismissed for serious macro work. Having had over 40 years’ experience using extension tubes as well as many different dedicated macro lenses I strongly disagree. With the right technique you can easily produce images of equal quality to those with much more expensive and dedicated macro lenses. In my view the only real benefit of macro lenses over extension tubes is convenience in that you have just one lens that will focus from infinity to 1 to 1 or life-size magnification. With extension tubes however you do need to change them to achieve different focusing ranges. This is however a very small price to pay for as much as a seven fold saving in costs versus a dedicated lens. (£100 for a set of extension tubes – £700 for a Canon 100mm f2.8 L macro lens).
In many instances it’s even possible to produce images at a higher magnification with extension tubes than with most macro lenses. A true macro lens must focus down to life-size or 1 to 1 magnification. Only very specialist macro lenses go beyond 1 to 1. With the right extension tubes however, any lens – macro or otherwise – can focus much closer and produce a much higher magnification image.
Another very powerful use for extension tubes is to enable telephoto lenses to focus much closer than would normally be the possible and thus produce frame filling photos of timid insects such as dragonflies and butterflies. For that reason alone they always have a place in my camera bag.
Reversing and Coupling Lenses for Extreme Macro Photography
Whilst a very old approach to achieving higher magnification in macro photography the technique of reversing or coupling lenses still has its place. Further its a very cost effective approach for those on a limited budget.
I have worked in macro photography for many years starting to experiment when on a very limited budget. In order to reduce costs, I studied the principles and practice of reversing lenses and used them extensively especially when working on a project on lichens.
The principles are quite simple although the practise is somewhat trickier but definitely worthwhile especially if shooting on a budget. Nowadays I use a specialist macro lens from Canon but that costs about £1,400.
This article needs to be read in conjunction with article on extension tubes above.
Always “Being Prepared” as a Wildlife Photographer
This article – set of tips – first appeared in my Autumn 2013 newsletter where it received such positive comment that I felt it worth including in this section of my website.It was written following a very interesting and thought provoking question I was asked at a camera club where I gave a talk. “What do you do” the questioner asked “to ensure that your camera is always ready for action”.
I gave him a few carefully considered answers time but it’s something that I thought a great deal more about after the talk. There are plenty of comments from photographers on their blogs on various websites which I am sure will add to the debate but these are my top 10 tips.
I would welcome your own thoughts and comments which I will add to this page. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Handy Depth of Field Calculator
Depth of field refers to the range of distance that appears acceptably sharp, the distance between the nearest and furthest sharp objects. It varies depending on camera type, aperture and focusing distance, although print size and viewing distance can also influence our perception of depth of field. Managing this depth of field when creating a photo is an extremely powerful tool when seeking to tell viewers where exactly to look in a frame.
Using a shallow depth of field will turn the background silky smooth, produce a good “Bokeh”, and isolate the subject. Using a wide depth of field will render sharp detail from the very nearest to the farthest object in your photo. One of the questions I am often asked on workshops is what aperture do I need to use to achieve a particular depth of field and the temptation is often to shoot at the widest possible to produce a silky smooth background. This isn’t however always the case and shooting at f2.8 particularly with a long lens or when particularly close can produce a depth of field so shallow that it destroys the photo.
There are a number of online and “mobile phone app” based depth of field calculators but these may not be of use when in the field. The spreadsheet (link below) allows you to select the camera you are using and the length of your lens gives you a printable table of f-stop against distance.
I suggest that you download the spreadsheet – link below – and print a set of tables, one for each camera and lens combination. If you then keep these in your camera bag they can be referred to when required and reprinted when they become tatty.
There are two versions here one for Excel 2007 and earlier and one for Excel 2010. They require no understanding of spreadsheets and should be self-explanatory but if not please do contact me at email@example.com. Equally I would be interested in learning how useful you find these tools.
Back Button Focussing
In wildlife photography one of the really important things is to get the focus in the right spot, for example, on the eye of an animal or bird. Further if you want to get a nice blurred background, or bokeh, you need a very shallow depth of field which makes accurate focusing even more important.
I learnt this technique some time ago and wouldn’t use anything else now. It does take practice and my advice is to take the time to experiment on simple things like birds in the garden before using it ‘in anger’. Once mastered however it does put you in complete control of both focus and exposure. You still utilise the full power of the cameras systems but only when and how you want it.
Focus stacking is a powerful technique for managing, usually extending, the apparent depth of field in a photograph. This same technique can also be used to selectively manage the depth of field rather than just extend it. It is often used in macro where the depth of field is really tiny, but can also be used in landscapes to extend or manage the depth of field. Many years ago, when I first started to experiment with focus stacking, it was a complex technique. Now with modern software and digital photography, it is now much easier and a really exciting and rewarding technique to master.
Making Extenders Works with all Lenses
Many wildlife photographers will own a good quality zoom lens, such as the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM. Whilst this lens will cover most of the range required it will sometimes be necessary to increase this something that can easily and relatively cheaply be managed with a teleconverter. The problem however is that auto focus will no longer work with a teleconverter added to such a lens.
It is however possible to remedy this if you are prepared to accept that the auto focus won’t be as fast and may not work in certain lighting conditions but something is better than nothing.