Strutting Turkey Close-Up Picture
Turkeys are challenging subjects - they don't stop moving. This movement combined with a background that is not great in all of the directions the movement goes makes getting nice pictures challenging. For this shot, I moved in to completely remove the background from the frame.
600mm f/5.6 1/320s ISO 400
Sometimes, Everything Comes Together Brilliantly – Monster Bull Elk
Wildlife is unpredictable – and too often lives up to the "wild" in its name. Getting warm light from a very late day sun to hit an animal directly from behind your back (shadow pointed to the subject) with a good background is challenging. Having the animal be an incredibly-large bull elk and the background be maple trees in peak red fall color definitely increases the image value to me. Having the broadside bull scratch itself with its antlers, aligning the shoulders within a green portion of the background, the antlers within the glowing red section of tree and the head in front of the brightest background (high contrast draws the viewer's eye) was more than I thought to pray for.
This huge 9x8 bull elk had been bedded in the sage and grass. The sun was setting rapidly and while I captured many images of the head and antlers rising above the obstructions, I really wanted a full (or nearly full) body image in this setting. Fortunately, that happened. I was in a great position when the elk stood up. However, the bull's head, looking forward, was in the shade of trees on the horizon behind me. The back scratch was precisely what I needed to leave only the legs in the shadows, completing the image.
While I prefer to use completely manual settings, the light falling on the subjects was changing frequently and the shots were often being captured in haste. So, I opted to use manual mode with Auto ISO for much of my elk photography on this trip. The color of the elk bodies and their environment was neutral enough in brightness that, at most, only a small amount of exposure compensation was needed. In this case, I exposed this image 1/2 stop brighter than needed. The 5Ds R did not have any trouble recovering the red channel pixels that exceeded a 255 RGB value. This brightness adjustment left just a tiny patch of red pixels retaining 255 values, though even more headroom is available.
Based on the movement of the elk at the time of capture, ranging from standing (often looking at me) to running away, this exposure method meant that I could simply roll the top dial to select the shutter speed I needed for the scenario (to keep the image sharp) while keeping the ISO as low as possible. If only one elk was in the frame, the aperture was nearly always intended to be set at f/4, so don't read anything into my f/4.5 actually used aperture for this image. I must have inadvertently (sounds much better than "user error") adjusted the rear control dial at some point during the action. Bull elk are huge and at the distance required to keep the entire elk in the frame, f/4 was still not shallow enough to completely erase the background in most scenarios encountered.
The 600 f/4 is a large and heavy lens. Using it without support is asking for a shoulder injury. While a tripod with a gimbal head is the ideal support for this lens, I find a strong monopod (with twist-locks for quietness) to be much faster to setup and adjust. This speed is very important for positioning in wildlife photography as the subject seldom stays in place for very long. Setting up fast and quietly can mean the difference between getting a great shot and getting no shot.
As you may have guessed, I have recently returned from a photography trip. This one was a 10-day wildlife and landscape adventure to Idaho and Wyoming. As usual, the trip was exhausting but amazing. The in-the-field experience is not only great fun, but also extremely important in fully understanding how gear works in the situations it is designed to be used in.
This trip featured the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR camera that arrived just prior to my leaving. I rotated the 5D IV and a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies between the primary lenses I was using at the time, namely the EF 100-400mm L IS II and EF 600mm L IS II for elk and other wildlife. The 5Ds R happened to be behind the 600 on this day and the resulting image is incredibly detailed, but I would not have been disappointed to have had the 5D IV behind this lens at this time. It too is a great camera. My 5D IV is quickly approaching 10k frames and completion of its review remains a very high priority.
600mm f/4.5 1/1600s ISO 640
Small White-tailed Buck Feeding
Looks like a simple photo to capture right? Guess again. I'll explain.
Often, the best height to shoot wildlife from is level with the subject. Typically, the head is the most important part of that subject. And when that head is on the ground feeding, level means shooting from right down on the ground. shooting from the low position has the benefit of a more distant background that becomes nicely blurred.
Usually, the best wildlife lighting is a low sun at your back with your shadow pointing directly toward the subject. Since wildlife does not care about your lighting needs, patience is often required to get good lighting on a particular subject. And sometimes a LOT of patience is required.
The young white-tailed buck shown here was constantly moving. Its path was unpredictable and the head was constantly moving back and forth. I spent a lot of time trying to predict where it would feed to, aligning my position with a clean background for the predicted subject location and focusing immediately when taking the shot just as the head moved into a frame of the deer's front legs.
The narrow angle of view a 600mm lens provides makes this challenge even harder. I happened to cut off the tip of the buck's antlers in the fast-framed shot, but was able to piece the rest of the image together using another image.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 100
Bald Eagle Flying with a Fish
"How well does the Canon EOS 7D Mark II perform when shooting birds in flight?" has quickly become a frequently asked question. The Canon EOS 7D Mark II, especially because of its high performance AF system, high density imaging sensor, fast frame rate and modest-for-what-you-get price, is quickly finding favor with bird photographers. And, one of the biggest challenges faced by bird photographers is maintaining focus on birds in flight. Thus, the question is getting asked.
I had the privilege of spending the larger part of a day shooting bald eagles below the Conowingo Dam in northern Maryland with the 7D II this week. My goal was to discern how well this AF system could track the often-erratic movement of these beautiful birds in flight (and to hopefully come away with some nice images).
The day's moderate-to-heavy cloud cover eliminated any harsh shadow issues, but made the sky a white canvas (white sky is OK, but is not my favorite) and provided low light to further challenge the AF system. The bottom line is that I'm really impressed with my success rate from this day.
I was using the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens with and without a Canon EF 1.4x III Extender behind it. Tracking these fast and erratic-moving birds with such a narrow angle of view was quite challenging, but when I kept the selected center AF point or one of the 4 neighboring AF points (based on the AF area I was using) on or even close to the bird I was tracking, most of the images were properly focused. Especially impressive was the ability of this camera to maintain focus on the birds even with backgrounds that the birds visually blended into and even more impressive was this camera's ability to maintain focus on the birds even with high contrasting backgrounds including electrical line towers and bare tree branches against a bright sky. I was using the AF Case 2 to instruct the camera to be slow to leave a tracked subject due to obstacles.
This camera is a great choice for bird photography. The consensus that I'm hearing from the other photographers frequenting Conowingo Dam is that their 7D Mark II experiences mirror my own.
After catching its dinner, this eagle in the above picture flew directly toward the camera. I began tracking and shooting at 10 fps. I have numerous good images of this eagle, but this was the most-frame-filling that did not cut off any significant amount of the bird. This image is essentially right out of the camera. I extended the canvas slightly to the bottom, added the extreme tip of the two bottom-most feathers and removed imperfections from a couple of other feathers. I changed the Picture Style to Standard (in DPP), changed saturation to "1", white balance to "Cloudy" and added a touch of noise reduction.
I have added a 10 fps burst example of flying eagles (a juvenile chasing an adult with a fish) to the Canon EOS 7D Mark II Review. The wing positioning shown in this series of images will assure you that 10 fps is definitely not too fast and at times, I needed a frame between the neighboring frames – such as at the moment the eagles grabbed a fish in the water.
600mm f/5.6 1/1250s ISO 1000
Huge Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska
Katmai National Park in Alaska has long been on my destination bucket list and I recently had the privilege of crossing off that line item. Well, that crossing off does not sound quite right as the experience was great and I would jump at the chance to go again. This destination will probably remain on my places to go list forever.
Finding the defining image for this location became a huge challenge. The problem was a good one as the gear and techniques used worked very well, yielding a huge number of images with nearly 7,000 of those being dissimilar and keeper-grade. Finding the single best of that take ... is going to take a long time. I'll pick a handful that I especially like and will share those over the next few months (hopefully not years).
With the brown bear being symbolic to Katmai National Park, it just seemed right to select an in-your-face, nothing-but-brown-bear image as the lead for my Katmai photo series.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 640
Wood Duck Drake
Photographing amazingly-colored wood ducks has been on my bucket list for a long time and, when I located some potential subjects, I dropped everything and made the 6-hour round trip drive to photograph them.
While I had done some intelligence gathering (via a friend), I went prepared for the full range of bird photography scenarios. This included taking the just-reviewed Canon EOS 80D mounted to a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens and a Canon EOS 5Ds R mounted to a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens with a Canon EF 1.4x III Extender behind it in a MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L Backpack.
Upon arrival, I was able to quickly locate the wood ducks. However, they proved to be a big challenge to photograph due to their constant, often-quick movements and the ideal lighting angle required, minimally, for their iridescent colors to show.
I ended up using the 600 with 1.4x on the 5Ds R the entire time due to the distance and rather small size of the ducks. The 840mm focal length gave me a deep ideal subject framing distance. I captured environmental portraits when the birds were distant and tight portraits when they came close, a logical tactic that provided a variety of subject framing in the take-home.
The subjects were in constant motion and that means AI Servo AF mode was required to keep them in focus. Specifically, a focus point needed to be constantly placed on the wood duck's eye. I shot in Case 1 (general purpose) and Case 5 (instant adjustment for erratic motion) AF Modes on this day with Case 1 showing the best results. I also used the 5 fps burst drive mode, in part because birds blink with some frequency. Capturing minimally a few frames at a time usually results in at least one fully opened eye.
In the end, the daytrip was very worthwhile, with hundreds of keeper-grade images resulting from the effort.
As seems often the case (I think that Murphy has a law to cover this), the image with my favorite pose had some minor motion blur due to the drake raising its head rapidly. To counter this, I reduced the overall size of the image (down-sampled) modestly. Along with some modest cropping, the remaining 5Ds R-captured image still has about 15 megapixels of resolution, an adequate amount for many uses. I used a layer mask to darken the background modestly, helping to place emphasis on the drake.
840mm f/8.0 1/1600s ISO 840
Huge Bull Elk and Fall Foliage
My favorite wildlife subject lighting comes from a low-in-the-sky sun behind me, but ... wildlife is not always (not often?) cooperative. In this case, the elk was in the shade while the incredibly-colorful background remained in direct sunlight of a setting sun.
When the subject is in the shade and the background is in direct sunlight, you are most likely going to have a different white balance for each. Usually, the sunlit background will be warmer in color than the shaded subject. However, that is a difference I sometimes welcome. Adjust the overall white balance for the subject and the background becomes especially warm/golden. This is often an ideal situation for fall foliage, making the colors especially vibrant.
For this image, I used an exposure that pushed the red channel nearly against the right side of the histogram (nearly R=255) and let the rest of the image fall where it may. I initially thought I would have a complete silhouette (totally black elk), but there was plenty of light remaining in the shade to work with. While I could have very significantly increased the brightness of the elk in this photo (and did use a +3 shadow adjustment), I chose to keep the animal dark to emphasize the outline.
A mature bull elk with a set of headgear this big is ... really big. Creating a very strong background blur while including most of or the entire animal in the frame requires a large sensor camera, a long telephoto lens and a wide aperture. The Canon EOS 5Ds R and EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens at f/4 created what you see here.
600mm f/4.0 1/3200s ISO 640
Old Fence Post and Rusty Barbed Wire
The Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM Lens has the great capability of making the background into a smooth blur of color. The smooth blur of color in this example is a pasture being lit by a nearly-set sun.
The rusty barbed wire and old post are placed into the frame using the rule of thirds. I can't say that I was thinking about the rule of thirds when I took this picture, but that is apparently what worked for my eye in the viewfinder.
600mm f/4.0 1/125s ISO 100
7 Cute Ducklings on a Log
Seven Black Duck ducklings sit on a log in a variety of poses including drinking, yawning, stretching legs and simply resting. Too cute.
600mm f/10.0 1/160s ISO 125
Sending the Ball
A young soccer player delivers the ball to her forward teammate.
I find it easier to properly frame larger field sports images when using longer focal length prime lenses than when using shorter focal length primes due to the longer focus distance sweet spot the longer lenses have.
Still, when shooting sports from a distance with a prime lens, cropping is frequently necessary. I try to stay with the native aspect ratio (3:2 or 2:3) when cropping, but sometimes free cropping gives the best result (as shown here) - as long as the intended output method supports the size ratio.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 160
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
This Eastern Cottontail Rabbit is seen where they typically are seen - in the grass.
Animal photos are often best when taken at the animal's level - far down when the animals are small and on the ground like this one. I was sitting on the ground shooting handheld.
This rabbit is angled slightly away - better would have been a slight angle toward me or simply aligned perpendicularly to my line of sight. I was slowly moving toward the better shooting position and taking the insurance shots I could get while on my way there. The rabbit bolted before I made it to the perfect shooting location.
The eyes of course (usually) must be sharp for an animal portrait keeper.
600mm f/4.0 1/200s ISO 800
Patient Button Buck
This little button buck gave me plenty of opportunity to try various shooting angles. But, because of his position, this is the only angle that worked (there is a tree *just* outside of the frame on the right). With the near motionless subject and ISO 800 selected, I was able to use a narrower aperture than I usually use, giving me more depth of field at this close focus distance. The added depth of field specifically allowed a more in-focus nose and ears.
600mm f/8.0 1/125s ISO 800
Huge Bull Moose, Katmai National Park, Alaska
With Alaska being such a massive state, it is only fitting that many of the Alaskan animals are also large. This huge bull moose looked very impressive walking down off of the mountain, initially with only its antlers rising above the trees.
Know what our bear guides were most afraid of? Moose. We spent days sitting among brown bears, some weighing well north of 1,000 lbs, with nothing more than minor issues, but a huge bull moose walking down off the mountain directly toward us definitely got the guide's attention. To reduce the drama, I should also say that part of the attention grab was because the sighting was so unusual in this location – this was the only land mammal other than brown bears that I saw in coastal Katmai National Park.
While moose were not my primary photography target at the time, I consider myself an opportunist and didn't hesitate to turn the camera from the bears when this bull showed up.
The moose was walking at a steady-but-leisurely pace and I could easily fill the camera buffer whenever I chose to, but that would have given me too many images that were similar to each other. Instead, I timed the frame captures with body positions that I thought would make a good composition with an eye also on the background. The body position I often chose had the far front leg in a forward position.
While I did not hold the shutter release down, I did shoot more images than I thought I needed. Aside from having insurance shots, I was trying to use a marginally long shutter speed, allowing a lower ISO setting to be used for less noise. Though a handful of my images were slightly blurred, the tactic proved to be a good one as I still ended up with many good images.
When the bull moose came to the edge of the high tidal stream bank, it proceeded to smoothly drop right over the edge. I caught that action nicely and might share it later, as soon as I get over being slightly bothered by the antler covering the eye. What I didn't correctly anticipate was the speed of the moose's decent and the base image for this shot, the one with the far lead leg in the air and sand flying, became cropped slightly too tightly on the bottom of the frame. Capturing some quick additional shots with different framing allowed me to create a panorama in post, correcting the tight crop and resulting in a 76-megapixel image.
With that much resolution available, cropping into the bull moose much more tightly remains an option, but I like seeing the environment the moose was in and especially like the fall-colored fireweed in the background.
What do you think? Should I have cropped this image tighter?
600mm f/4.0 1/1250s ISO 2000
A Late Day Gallop
I frequently use galloping horses for lens autofocus testing as they are challenging for the camera, lens - and me. The Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM Lens is very impressive in its AF capabilities - and is able to track the speeding horse until only half of the rider fits in the frame.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 250
Shaking Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska
This was a big trip for me and I did not want to be limited by the gear I was taking. Therefore, I spent a lot of time thinking about and researching my wildlife lens selection for Katmai National Park, Alaska.
Choosing a lens for the first visit to a location must be based on advice given by others and on understanding/visualizing the situations that will be in front of you. As indicated, ultimate image quality was a baseline for my decision making process. The lens focal length was another primary consideration as perspective, framing and background blur are strongly influenced by this choice, affecting the look you get in your images.
Brown bears were my primary subject in this location and a significant interest I had for this trip was to capture frame-filling brown bears in action. For that purpose, I needed a long focal length lens with excellent AF performance. Since the weather conditions could range from sunny to full-on rain, I decided that a wide aperture was also needed (f/4 or wider) for those darker days.
One thing that I knew was that my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was going to be along. This lens has everything I wanted for a wildlife lens including a size and weight that I could carry for long distances and handhold, but this is an f/5.6 max aperture at the 400mm end.
Which big lens to accompany the 100-400 remained the question. I love my Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens for wildlife. That I already had this focal length range covered by my 100-400 was not a big decision factor as the 200-400 had the significant benefit of a 1-stop wider aperture. But, that I was uncertain that 400mm was going to be long enough was a bigger factor. The 200-400's built-in extender takes this lens to 560mm with the throw of a switch, but a 1-stop impact on the max aperture yields f/5.6. An f/4 max was my preference. Note that I was not at the popular Brooks Falls where the 200-400 L lens may have been the first choice.
Another option was to rent a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. This lens would give me an extra 100mm and still have an f/4 aperture. The 500 f/4 is considerably smaller than the 600 f/4 and easier to pack, carry and use.
In the end, I made the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens my primary long wildlife lens choice. The longer focal length paired with an f/4 aperture is what was the primary decision maker. It seems that wildlife is never close enough and if it does get too close for 600mm, much harder-to-get headshots and similar become possible.
When setup on location, I had the 600 f/4L on a Wimberley Tripod Head II mounted to a Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod. A second camera with the 100-400 L II mounted was at my side, ready for capturing environmental-type images or for closer subject distances when needed.
Packing the 600 around Alaska required some effort, but I was very happy with my decision. Many of my images would have required cropping (or more cropping) if a shorter focal length was used. And, an f/4 aperture along with the required action-stopping shutter speed meant that ISO 3200 by far the most used as about 50% of the time in the field was under dark skies with light rain. I know, some of you are thinking that 600mm would be about 1/2 as long as preferred to keep an acceptably long distance between yourself and the bears.
The mamma brown bear in this image was snorkeling for salmon. Each time that it would lift its head above the water, it would shake. It didn't take long to figure out this behavior and I began timing a burst of shots as the water flew. A 1,000 lb animal shaking a significant amount of water from its fur is an impressive sight. A window in the cloudy skies gave me enough light to use f/5.6 for this image, gaining a little depth of field to keep more water droplets in sharp focus.
600mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 800
Cold Weather Soccer
A young, warmly-dressed soccer player appears to have the ball on the wrong side of her in this picture.
My Canon EOS-1D X's Custom Mode 1 is set to f/2.8 (automatically goes to f/4 with this lens), 1/1600, Auto ISO and AI Servo with high speed frame rate. When I'm shooting action with a long lens, I simply select Custom Mode 1 and I'm ready to shoot. If the lighting is constant (typically a clear sky), I will sometimes select a specific ISO value to use.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 160
Photographing Sports with the Canon EOS 5Ds R
While the Canon EOS 5Ds R is not marketed as the ideal sports camera, it is what I've been using for my spring sports photography so far this year. The reason? I sold my Canon EOS-1D X to fund the purchase of a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. At the time of the sale, the 1D X Mark II was " ... scheduled to begin shipping to authorized Canon USA dealers in April 2016." [Canon Press Release] My spring sports photography starts in mid-April, so I thought the odds were good that I would have a 1D X II in time or just into this season.
B&H currently lists the expected 1D X II availability as May 1st. While this is only 1 day past "April", it is also 1 day past worst case from the press release's expectation.
So, I have been using a 5Ds R with a BG-E11 Battery Grip for spring sports photography. For this purpose, the 5Ds R has only one limitation. As we know, this camera has a great AF system and it has no problem tracking fast action. The image quality this camera delivers is likewise excellent and, with extreme resolution, high resolution images remain even after heavy cropping. This means that a focal length or focal length range can effectively be used to cover a much greater percentage of the field than the 1D X II will be able to.
That one limitation I referred to is the frame rate. Capturing frames at 5 fps is not fast enough to catch the ideal moments happening during a play, including providing the ideal capture of stride position for a running athlete. The workaround is to time the shutter press with what is expected to be the ideal point of the play. Using this tactic, anything happening prior to the initial shutter press will of course be missed. The first shot timing takes more skill than simply holding the shutter release down, but can be effectively used and once practiced, can be used very effectively.
I still hold the 5Ds R shutter release down after the initially timed press as additional good shots are often captured subsequently, but capturing at 10, 12 or 14 fps makes a huge difference in getting the ideal shot while reducing the skill needed to do so. While the 5Ds R is delivering great sports images for me, I anxiously await the 1D X II.
600mm f/4.0 1/2000s ISO 160
Baby Turkey Picture
A turkey poult calls to its siblings. I was sitting low in the grass to capture this eye-level image. Being at the bird's level often provides the best overall look, including a strongly out of focus corn field background in this case.
600mm f/5.6 1/320s ISO 320
Airplane Over Harvest Moon at 1680mm
I decided that, with a clear sky, I was going to stack a pair of extenders to the back of my Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM Lens and capture the "Harvest Moon" (the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox).
Stacking a Canon EF 1.4x Extender with a Canon EF 2x Extender requires a 12mm extension tube to be mounted between the two – to make the fit possible. The result is 600mm x 2 x 1.4 = 1680mm = Wow!
While you should not expect amazing image quality from this setup, the tight angle of view delivered by 1680mm is quite amazing. So tight that tracking the moon through the frame is a constant task. And, avoiding vibrations is a challenge. I opted to use mirror lockup with the 10 second self-timer to make sure that the camera fully settled down before the shutter release.
I was trying different exposure settings and verifying the results on the LCD. During one such check, I saw a black spot on the moon. My first thought was that I had a piece of dust on my sensor. Zooming in revealed otherwise.
I live well over an hour from the nearest large airport. The sky was black and I had no idea that there were any airplanes in the area. Using the 10 second timer, with the narrow angle of view, meant that I was predicting where the moon would be in the frame at shutter release. Not only did the airplane happen to cross the moon at the exact time of the shutter release,, it happened to be in a perfect location over the moon. The timing was divine.
This image is an un-touched and uncropped (but reduced in size of course) conversion of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III RAW file. Photography is so fun.
1680mm f/11.0 1/80s ISO 800
Vintage Military Plane
The new-at-this-time, lighter Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS II USM Lens is going to be a good choice for air show photography. I have not yet had the opportunity to shoot an air show with this lens, but ... I was sitting on my Walkstool shooting a soccer match when this large vintage military plane flew overhead. I quickly reduced the shutter speed enough to allow some prop blur (showing that the plane in indeed flying), lifted the camera and lens (and monopod), tracked the plane and grabbed a few shots.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 100
Brown Bear Catching a Salmon, Katmai National Park
From my coastal Katmai National Park trip, I have lots of images of brown bears chasing and carrying salmon, but this one surfaced for several reasons.
First, there is significant splashing. The splashing adds drama, showing that fast action is taking place.
Second is that the pink (humpback) salmon's tail and head (including eye) are both showing along with the bear's eyes being visible. Having the eyes in an image can make or break a shot.
I of course love the ideal timing of those enormous claws about to hook the fish.
That the bear's head and the fish are sharply in focus is definitely a positive factor as splashing water along with an erratically moving subject presents a significant challenge to both the camera's AF system and to the photographer's skills (including rapid AF point selection).
Put all of those attributes together with the impressive image quality of the Canon EOS 5Ds R and EF 600mm f/4L IS II Lens combination along with the primary subject being the impressive-by-itself brown bear and ... the image rises into my favorites album.
600mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 1000
Pronghorn, Grand Teton National Park
Pronghorn were on my to-photograph list for my time in Grand Teton National Park and I had some success in this pursuit.
Upon arriving at the park, I made a scouting drive around the main loop and then drove through Antelope Flats where a large heard of bison roams and pronghorn are frequently found. In this last section of the drive, a line of short trees in brilliant red and orange fall colors caught my attention. I made a mental note about working these trees into an image, perhaps as a background to a bison or pronghorn portrait.
The next morning, the buck pictured here and I spent some quality time together. It didn't care that I was there and I was mostly moving away from it to maintain my distance. The pronghorn was walking and feeding in what appeared to be a random route. After about 30 minutes and over a mile covered, this buck crossed the road and unbelievably walked right up into the beautiful red and orange trees I had been admiring. I was of course seeing what could unfold in front of me and made sure that I was in place to capture the visualized image.
Pronghorn are most typically seen with grass and sage surroundings, so capturing one in front of fall foliage was unique for me.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV performed splendidly behind the EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens and another favorite image joined my collection.
The 5D IV's increased resolution over the 5D III was appreciated in this situation. While the entire frame looked nice, I decided that modest cropping would greater-emphasize the beautifully colored animal.
I very much appreciated the 5D IV's fast 7 fps high speed continuous frame rate as I was able to select an image with both good body position and good alignment with the background. The animal was in constant motion, so AI Servo AF mode was selected with a single point selected and held on the eye or base of the horns. I rapidly changed the selected AF point to match the animal's current position (this is often a challenge).
With heavy cloud cover yielding a varying amount of light, a relatively neutral-brightness subject/scene and my focus being on getting a well-framed shot, I gave the camera the job of determining the brightness. Although I utilized the camera's AE capabilities, I still used manual mode so that I could choose the aperture (wide open f/4 for maximum light and background blur) and shutter speed (I adjusted this as needed to keep the subject sharp). The Auto ISO setting took care of the brightness (I adjusted this image +.13 EV in post).
Note that I was using a monopod instead of a tripod in this situation due to the faster setup and height adjustment it afforded as I worked fast while maintaining good position with the pronghorn. The downside of this strategy was the challenge of keeping the animal in the frame due to very strong winds I was shooting in. This large lens catches a lot of wind.
A tripod would have better kept the lens in place and made the job easier (if I could have set it up in time). However, this better support would not have resolved the issue as the tripod head would not have been tightened due to the animal being in constant motion and the wind would have remained an issue. Removing the large lens hood could have helped greatly, but I was shooting in rain some of the time and even the huge hood was not deep enough to keep all of the rain off of the front lens element.
Grand Teton National Park is a very popular photo destination – for more than one good reason. The wildlife is one of those reasons and I was able to check off the pronghorn line item on my to-photograph list during this trip.
600mm f/4.0 1/1000s ISO 320
A large gobbler struts to impress the ladies. A picture does not do justice to the show these birds put on - complete with thumping sounds.
600mm f/5.6 1/320s ISO 400
Is that a Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS II USM Lens you are using?
Your backyard or nearby park likely has more potential photography subjects than you think. The Eastern Gray Squirrel is a very common animal subject that will, in some locales, tolerate humans. Get low to the ground to help throw the distracting background out of focus.
600mm f/5.6 1/800s ISO 200
Facial Expressions of Soccer
Shoot enough soccer action pictures and you will notice a trend - this sport causes funny facial expressions.
A big benefit of using long focal length wide aperture lenses is that the distracting background can be blurred away.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1000
Canon 7D II Captures Bald Eagle in Flight at Conowingo Dam
I generally prefer to avoid the hand-of-man in my wildlife images and when setting up at the Conowingo Dam, I positioned myself to best avoid the dam, wires and other non-natural objects in my backgrounds. But ... those man-made objects were not always avoidable and ... the Conowingo Dam is a big reason why the eagles are there in the first place. And, it is a landmark among bird photographers. It is not unusual to find half a million dollars worth of gear on the shoreline below this dam. So, I find it fitting to include the dam in the background of a bald eagle image. In this example, I like the evenly-repeating pattern of the heavily blurred dam in the background.
The 7D II performed very well this day. I used the 600 L II IS lens for maximum reach and used the 1.4x III extender some of the time. The 1344mm effective angle of view proved challenging for tracking the erratically-flying eagles and I eventually removed the extender. However, some of my favorite shots of the day would not have been nearly as good without the extender in place. So, the with or without extender decision must be weighed in light of circumstances.
840mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 1600
A Black Duck duckling dabbles in the water, causing small waves to radiate from it. While I would have preferred a closer to water level shooting position, such was not available at this time. But, the higher shooting position better-captured the circular ripples and their reflections.
600mm f/5.6 1/640s ISO 200
Alert Bull Elk
While stalking elk on this ranch, I was focusing on areas with the potential for fall maple tree colors in my backgrounds. The sun had set, but the light, though somewhat dim, was still very nice when I noticed antlers approaching in the distance. I was working in heavy sage a moderate distance out from the maples and this bull's approach was as I would have directed.
I captured many images of the bull, but I selected this one to share for a few reasons. One was that I didn't cut off the antlers even at this relatively close distance and that the bull was large in the frame was another. That the bull is alert with a head angle that reflected the sky in his eye, adding some life to the image was another. I also like the body position displayed here. The bull is mostly broadside but approaching and his head and antlers are about 1/3 of the way into the frame facing toward the 2/3 side for good balance. While the animal itself is beautiful, a beautiful background adds greatly to an image.
When photographing antlered animals, I frequently try to keep the complete antlers in the frame, preferring the legs and sometimes the body to be cropped if desired.
600mm f/4.5 1/800s ISO 1600
Fast Soccer Action
The Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM Lens is a great choice for large field sports when using a full frame DSLR. This lens allows action ocurring deep in the playing field to be framed tightly. Of course, you might want to have another camera body with a 70-200mm lens mounted if the action you are following gets close.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1250
Angry Pennsylvania Black Bear in the Rain
The 600mm focal length may not be the best for creating a sense of presence for the viewer, but ... it certainly helped me to distance myself from this bear's presence. And, I think the bear did a nice job of creating a presence all by himself.
The bear has apparently experienced trauma in its life as it is missing the bottom of its right front leg and one of his canine teeth is broken. Although such an accident would be enough to make any bear angry, I really don't know for sure if this one was angry or not. But, saying that it is angry sounds more dramatic and people seem to like drama these days. And, almost universally, animals lay their ears back when angry, helping to justify the thought.
The EOS-1D X Mark II has been very reliably focusing on the bears' eyes (bear noses often get in the way of this) even in bad weather conditions and this camera and lens combination easily erased the distant background, making the bear the unmistakable subject.
600mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 1250
Bedded Button Buck
I have a lot of pictures of this little Shenandoah National Park white-tailed button buck, but most have the deer appearing less alert. To momentarily get the deer to direct his ears toward me, I threw a small handfull of leaves into the air and shot quickly. Try this trick with other animals - including horses.
600mm f/5.6 1/200s ISO 400
Partially Cloudy Partial Lunar Eclipse at 1200mm
It seems that, every time there is an astronomical event scheduled, the sky turns cloudy where I am. I'm sure that this is one of Murphy's laws, but ... sometimes everything works out anyway.
This particular lunar eclipse was happening early in the morning and I setup my gear the evening before. After checking the weather report immediately prior to going to bed, I turned off the alarm. The odds of the cloud cover clearing were very low and I decided that a clear mind from a solid night of sleep was the wiser decision.
Fortunately, my Mother-In-Law was wiser than I was (or more excited about the event) and, upon seeing some clearing in the sky, she called me at 4:30 AM. I crawled out of bed, dressed warmly, hauled the ready-to-go gear out to the front yard and found a chair to sit on. I established the focus distance and changed the lens to MF. I then established the exposure needed to keep the moon very slightly darker than blown (mostly avoiding pure white/blinkies on the LCD). The clouds indeed cleared (mostly) by the time of the event and I was able to capture many good shots.
As is generally the case with landscape photography, I had to embrace what the weather provided me and in this case, some remaining clouds moved across the moon at times during the eclipse. The brightness of the moon was much for the clouds to remain visible in the frame most of the time (except when the moon was very obscured), but I wanted to show the clouds in some images with the moon only slightly obscured. Thus, I used an HDR technique involving two exposures stacked and merged in Photoshop.
The result of this particular image is that the eclipsed portion of the moon is not as dark (due to the presence of the clouds) as those captured without clouds, but the clouds appearing to radiate from the moon yields a different look to this infrequent occurrence.
Obviously, for this lunar eclipse, I opted to fill the frame with just the moon vs. including a landscape in the frame. The 600mm f/4L IS II is a much-appreciated part of my kit, and this was an instance where the 2x extender proved useful.
1200mm f/8.0 1/200s ISO 500
Double-Crested Cormorant Drying Wings with White Pelican Background
It is not unusual to find double-crested cormorants drying their wings. Images of these birds doing so are often entertaining, but I am always looking for positive additional elements in my images.
The first positive additional element in this image is the still, shallow, reflective water the bird is standing in. The reflection doubles the primary subject of interest and brings in the blue sky color.
The reflection also pulls in the white and orange color of a flock of white pelicans standing in the water behind the cormorant. White pelicans are not so common in the places I frequent, so having a large flock of them behind my wing-drying bird provides me a positive additional element. That the light-colored reflection provides higher contrast on the cormorant's dark head, where the viewer's eye is to be drawn, is also positive.
The location for this photo was Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida. The choice of the 600 f/4 L IS II Lens with a 1.4x III behind it was made for maximum reach for the 1D X (along with the superb image quality the combo provides).
I love tightly framed bird portraits, but in this case, my 1D X was focal length constrained, limited to the angle of view provided by the 840mm lens combo (unless I cropped and that option still remains). Composing good environmental bird photos is often more challenging tightly-framed portraits, but when done well, they can look great. In this example, I chose to have a clean bottom border of water and a mostly-white top border. If you follow my work, you know that I like how borders free of contrasting lines keep the viewer's eye within the frame. Beyond that strategy, I was trying to balance the elements remaining in the frame.
While that last sentence may sound easy, the cormorant was constantly changing its head angle. If the bird was looking to my right, I needed to frame farther to my right. And, vice versa. That meant that I had to either change the selected AF point very quickly or that I had to recompose after focusing. My choice here was to quickly select the AF point to one that landed on the bird's head. I made this choice over the recomposing options because I was counting on capturing more than one image before the head moved to another position.
I ended up with many keepers from this short session, but ... I think that this image is my favorite.
840mm f/8.0 1/500s ISO 320
Brown Bears Fighting, Katmai National Park, AK
My coastal Katmai National Park brown bear photography trip was a big one for me and I wanted to take the best-available gear with me. As the camera is the foundation for a photo kit and the Canon EOS 5Ds R, with its incredible resolution, great color and very good noise performance with a handling, feature and AF package to match has proven to be, for me, the ultimate camera to build a kit around. With a pair of these bodies in my kit, it was not hard to select them as two of my bodies. The question remaining was, what was going to be the third body?
On such a trip, I seldom take less than three camera bodies. Although I sometimes use all three at once, more frequently is that the third is ready for backup use in case something unfortunate happens to one or both front line bodies. With a significant amount of wading in various depths of water (including salt water) involved on this trip, one fall and the unfortunate could easily become a reality. And, I wasn't going to be receiving a next day air shipment via UPS or FEDEX out there.
Back to the which camera question ... my options included taking my Canon EOS-1D X, taking my Canon EOS 7D Mark II or getting another 5Ds R (rent or buy). Great AF was paramount in this decision, but ... all three cameras are excellent in this regard.
The 1D X's extremely fast frame rate was an especially attractive feature for bears in action and that I already owned this camera made it a cost effective solution. That I would need to take an additional charger/batteries was a downside as was the "only" 18-megapixel resolution.
The 7D II's primary advantages were not dissimilar from the 1D X: the fast frame rate and the budgetary concern as I already owned one of these as well. That this camera shared the 5Ds R's battery system was a positive feature. That the smaller APS-C sensor would show more high ISO noise at the same output dimensions and would not produce the same amount of background blur as the full frame options were negatives.
My primary question about the 5Ds R option was the frame rate – would 5 fps was going to be fast enough for the bears in action? Not far behind the frame rate concern was the additional cost factor. In the end, the 5Ds R's ultra-high resolution full frame sensor with 7D II-matching pixel density (reach) and along with the latest-available feature set won my favor. And, I simply love this camera. While this need was ideal for the rental option, I opted for the additional purchase in this case. My camera math said that the over-two-weeks rental cost was greater than the purchase price minus resale value minus additional use value. I'll get plenty of use from this body to justify the cost of ownership.
Having three identical cameras meant that switching bodies required no thought (though the 7D II is essentially the same also). They all had the same controls, the same menu options and the same setup configuration.
Was 5 fps fast enough? It was. While I am an opportunist when it comes to subjects, my primary photography subjects were brown bears. Bears (unless sleeping) are in nearly constant erratic motion and present an AF challenge, but they were mostly moving in slow to medium speed. One exception was when they were trying to catch salmon, but even then they weren't moving close to the speed of a bird in flight, as an example. I had plenty of photo opportunities and could often time single frames with body positions I found favorable.
Would a faster frame rate have been better? Yes, there were probably some shots I missed due to the frame rate not being fast enough, but ... having to sort through a 2x higher image volume a faster frame rate would have generated would have completely buried me. It will take me many months to work through the daunting roughly-10,000 bear images I captured on this trip.
Was high ISO performance important? Definitely. The trip started out with an approximately 28 hour float plane departure delay due to rain and heavy fog and things didn't get much better with 2 of the four remaining days on the coast holding the same weather. My most-used ISO setting was 3200. The ultra-high resolution, full-frame 5Ds R has a noticeable advantage at ISO 3200 when resized to a similar resolution as the 7D Mark II.
Was the ultra-high 50 megapixel resolution an advantage? Definitely. While I'm still teaching myself that it is OK to frame a bit looser with the ultra-high resolution being delivered by the 5Ds/5Ds R, I have many 600mm images that will be cropped due to the distance of the subject. These images can be cropped down to a 960mm-equivalent angle of view with the 7D II-equivalent 20 megapixel image remaining. With the range of focal lengths I had along, a majority of my images will remain at or near full resolution, resulting in great detail for very large output.
While I titled this photo "Brown Bears Fighting" and technically they are fighting, this is a mother and her second year cub. The mother is teaching the cub to fight, but the fierceness was toned down to more like hard playing. This is an uncropped EOS 5Ds R image captured with the EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens.
Fortunately, the playing lasted a long time and I was able to capture a large variety of shots of the behavior. I varied the aperture during the event, but only between f/4 and f/5.6 with some additional depth of field being the narrower aperture goal. In AI Servo AF mode with the one-up-from-center focus point selected and placed on the left bear's leg, the plane of sharp focus aligned ideally over the bears' noses. This placement kept both faces sharp even at f/4 and the wide aperture removed all background distractions.
I have no regrets regarding my camera choice - I would make the same decision again. Hopefully my camera decision logic made sense to you. If not, ask questions!
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1600
Chillin Brown Bear, Katmai National Park
The bears I encountered in Katmai National Park were primarily catching salmon, eating salmon or resting. I thought this bear chillin on a mound of dirt looked humorous.
600mm f/4.0 1/800s ISO 1250
Bull Elk in Idaho Fall Setting
Put a large specimen of one of my favorite animals in front of my favorite tree trunks in front of my favorite leaves and ... an image I like is shaping up nicely. The leaves are from Idaho maples in the peak of their fall color. The tree trunks are aspens and their white color makes most images look better. Of course, a large bull elk makes practically any photo look good.
What is the easiest way to create panorama image? Crop a wide aspect ratio from a single image. While successfully capturing multiple images and seamlessly stitching them together can create a higher resolution image, it is easier just to use a wider angle lens and crop them to the desired aspect ratio. Using the cropping method also avoids issues with subjects in motion (waves, clouds, people, animals, etc.). Especially if a very resolution camera is used (one of the 5D Mark IV's upgrades was resolution), there can still be plenty of resolution for large output remaining after cropping.
In the example shared here, the "wider angle lens" was due to a focal length limitation at the time of capture. I was stalking the elk, didn't have an extender with me and the bull was walking towards the woods (the moment was not going to last). The cropping technique is often useful in helping to mentally justify the result.
I'll save the argument as to whether or not the angle of view from a 600mm lens covers a wide enough view of an area to qualify for the definition of "panorama" for another day, but the wide aspect ratio is at least in the spirit of these images.
600mm f/4.0 1/1000s ISO 800
Knowing Your Subject: Mid-Air Bald Eagle Attack
Knowing your subject allows you to predict their behavior and to be prepared for the optimal moment. Knowing that bald eagles will frequently attack another eagle with food is one key to getting great photos of these birds. Of course, capturing the initial attack on the prey is great, but the secondary eagle against eagle attack is often at least as appealing.
In this example, the eagle on the left had just caught a perch out of the Susquehanna River. The rightmost eagle had been watching and almost immediately attempted to steal the fish from the rightful owner.
Knowing that an air-to-air attack was a high probability, I continued to hold the shutter down after the initial catch. The EOS 7D Mark II's fast frame rate (and deep buffer) was able to catch this ideally-timed action – the moment the opposing eagles met. In this case and in many others, neither bird ended up with the fish and the fish is seen flying through the air in subsequent frames.
840mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 1600
Seemed like the appropriate photo to post on Valentine's day. This is a mother brown bear playing with/training her second year cub. I think they are trying to make a heart shape together.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1250
Great Horned Owl in Nest Cavity
This mother great horned owl may be the most popular and most photographed of its species in the Mid-Atlantic states at this time. Being able to photograph a primarily-nocturnal bird, very visibly sitting in its nest throughout the day, is an unusual situation and MANY photographers took advantage of this opportunity. I made this opportunity a priority and carved most of a day out of my schedule to get my great horned owl photo.
The viewing area of this nest is in a public park with a significant bank and stream separating viewers and the owl family (two owlets are deeper in the cavity). This meant as much focal length as possible was needed in front of a full frame camera (and a significant amount in front of an APS-C model). For me, this meant the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens in front of an EF 2x III Extender along with the ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R.
While this uncropped image indicates a clear view on the nest cavity, that was not completely the case. Getting the right position for a semi-clear view of this owl was challenging and I spent much of this day leaning to the side so that I could use a tripod position immediately next to another cooperative photographer for the best-available view. My primary concern was getting a clear view through the tree branches on my side of the creek as these branches became very defocused and lowered contrast over a significant portion of the image if in the frame. The branches on the nest tree were of a lower concern as the healing brush in Photoshop made branch removal a trivial task.
While the owl spent most of the day sitting nearly motionless, it occasionally changed positions. When a loud motorcycle came into the park, the mother great horned owl showed her personOWLity, making for one of my favorite shots of the day.
1200mm f/11.0 1/500s ISO 800
Watching the Game through the Player's Eyes
When I'm shooting field sports, my favorite images are very frequently tightly cropped shots that include the subject's face and the game ball. Because these fields are generally very large and invariably, my subject is deep in them, the Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM Lens is what I'm usually using.
Tracking action with a narrow angle of view is somewhat challenging, especially when implementing the tight framing I'm referring to. When the framing is ideally-tightly cropped (in camera), it is extremely challenging to release the shutter the moment the ball enters the frame. That is where another strategy combined with the Canon EOS-1D X's 12 fps frame rate comes into play. I follow the subject in the viewfinder and watch the game through the player's eyes.
In this photo example, I knew that the opposing keeper was going to kick the ball and that my player was in position to potentially receive of that kick. I half-pressed the shutter release to begin focus-tracking in AI-Servo mode. As I watched her eyes and facial expression (sports bring out the best of these), I could tell that she was about to intercept the ball. I fully-pressed the shutter release and, along with a few before and after shots, captured 3 with-ball frames of the player's approximately .3 second interaction with the ball. One frame had the ball entering (shared here), one included the ball just after impacting her foot and the third included the ball leaving the frame in the same position it entered from. Using a wait-until-I-see-the-ball strategy to begin shooting and estimating a .2 second reaction time as being best-possible, I would have been very fortunate to get even one frame with the ball included.
This image is actually a composite of two of those frames. The image with the ideal-for-compositional-balance ball position was framed so that the ref's face was cropped at the eyes. This was no problem since I had a handful of other images captured at the same time and some had more of the ref's head included. I simply aligned one of those other images under the main image to add to add the missing details to the top of my preferred image.
Another comment I should make about this image is that it was captured under full sunlight at a terrible time of the day for lighting (1:18 PM). This lighting typically creates harsh shadows under eyebrows, creating the raccoon-eye look (see the ref's eyes for an example). Unfortunately, photographers do not usually get to schedule sporting events around their ideal photographical lighting times. You must deal with what is available. Because my player was looking upward in this photo, her face is fully lit.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 200
Brown Bear and Leaping Salmon, Katmai National Park, Alaska
Did I ever find the 600mm angle of view too narrow when photographing bears in Coastal Katmai National Park? Sure, that's why I had the 100-400mm L IS II lens mounted on a second body and ready for immediate use. When I saw action moving closer, I would quickly switch cameras and continue shooting. The gap between 600mm and 400mm usually meant that I could begin using the 100-400 maxed at the 400mm end with plenty of time before I needed to begin zooming out.
But, I didn't always make the right choice. Sometimes, something unexpected happened. When the 600mm choice was wrong, sudden movement taking the bear out of ideal framing was usually the reason. Or, something happened at the border of the frame, such as another bear coming into view. The result was that I have some frames that are cropped too tightly in camera and this was one.
Really, I would never have guessed that a salmon was going to leap out of the water this high while in such a small stream (quite a feat actually) and that the leap would be this far ahead of the bear, but ... the unexpected is certain to happen on occasion.
The too-long focal length problem is not limited to the 600mm focal length. Even full-frame-mounted 100mm was slightly too long for some enormous brown bears that approached very closely (well under 20').
The big question is: "What do you do when your focal length is too long?"
It is far more common to be focal length limited on the long end and recovery in that situation is simple: crop. Though cropping reduces overall image resolution, it is usually better than having an important part of the scene missing.
The solution to being focal length limited on the wide end: shoot a panorama. If you ever find your lens framing a photo framed too tightly, shoot multiple images and merge them into a panorama later.
Planned or Unplanned
Here is the key for wildlife and other action photography: the panorama technique is not limited to very intentionally captured still life/landscape images. Even if you have a subject in motion and can't recreate the original subject pose, a panorama can sometimes be created. A frame with a cut-off in motion subject can be hard to recover, but adding border space to a fully contained subject is often easy.
As immediately as possible after the capture of a frame needing more border, switch the lens to manual focus and the camera to the last-used exposure settings while retaining the selected focal length (easy with a prime lens). If the focus distance and/or focal length changed after the primary photo was captured, do your best to reset them. Then photograph enough additional images to cover the framing that was missing in the original image. Back at the computer, merge the images together in Photoshop or your favorite image editor.
Fortunately in the case of my Katmai National Park brown bear and leaping salmon, I was able to take another frame from the burst and merge the two together. While Brooks Falls is known for salmon leaping toward bears standing at the top of a falls, capturing salmon leaping away from pursuing brown bears was one of my biggest goals in coastal Katmai National Park. When I saw this capture meeting my goal, I knew that the extra time required to piece a panorama together was going to be worth taking.
Apply this technique to your own photo subjects. Did you photograph your kid kicking the winning goal in the soccer match but not leave enough border on one or more sides of the frame? Another frame in the capture sequence may hold that missing border. If not or if you are not sure, capture a couple of additional identical-settings frames to work with later. It may even be possible to go back at a later time or date to recreate the missing portion of the frame (with similar lighting strongly desired).
600mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 1600
Wood Duck Close-up
This happy-looking wood duck drake was swimming in the Wissahickon Creek just outside of Philadelphia.
A key to good swimming duck photos is to get as low to the water as possible. Then, use a long focal length and a more-distant duck to get the camera angle even closer to level.
840mm f/8.0 1/1600s ISO 1250
Amazed Pronghorn, Grand Teton National Park
The obvious reason to use high speed burst mode to photograph wildlife is because wildlife moves and you want to capture the ideal body position and behavior. Use your fastest frame rate to capture the frame with the perfect body/angle/leg/wing positions against the best possible background. When the wildlife is in fast action, that motion is obvious and further discussion is probably not warranted. But, the motion can be more subtle – I'll call it "micro-motion" – and micro-position differences matter.
One of the most frequent subtle wildlife motion issues I encounter is blinking and birds especially cause me grief in this regard. The bird may appear completely motionless, allowing you to take your time to set up for and capture the perfect shot. The image looks great on the LCD, but when you get home and load the images, you realize that the nictitating membrane is covering half of the eye (this is not technically "blinking", but the problem is similar). While this issue can sometimes be remedied in post processing, correction is challenging and time consuming even on the easiest repairs. If 5 or 10 images of the same scene had been captured in rapid succession, the odds are very good that at least one of them would have had a clear eye.
Another issue I find problematic is animals chewing their cud. Even when I'm aware that this is happening, it can be quite challenging to capture a single frame without the animal's fast-moving lower jaw in a strange and usually detracting position. Ear position is a similar issue. Certain ear positions are often preferred and since these features are often moving, a burst can help capture the optimal positions.
Sometimes it only takes a subtle movement to make a big difference in the desired catchlight in the subject's eye. One of the frames captured in a burst may have this key difference, giving that particular image the extra sparkle needed for greatness.
Did you ever have an image degraded by something passing through the frame? This is often a photobombing insect or bird that shows up at just the wrong time. While these can sometimes be removed in post processing, that is not always the case and even if removal is possible, the process may prove time consuming. Grasses blow in light wind, passing into out of ideal positions. Leaves on trees do the same. A frame burst may contain an image void of the undesired objects.
Speaking of the blowing, most wildlife photography takes place outdoors and there are many factors out here trying to reduce your image sharpness, including wind. Not every frame may be sharp, but an increased number of images brings an increased chance that sharp images are in the mix.
On occasion, I find that I need to merge two or more images from a burst to get the ideal subject framing. Especially when using a long telephoto lens not locked down on a tripod, I often get a modest variety of subject framing in a burst set. While the differences may not be big, I sometimes find it optimal to add a side of one frame to another image to provide the ideal framing or to expand the frame. This is an especially good option to use if the focal length is too long and the scene is being cropped too tightly.
Even when not moving fast, wildlife is often moving. Capturing just the right point in time can make a big difference in wildlife imagery and using the camera's burst mode may be all that is necessary to bump your image quality up a notch.
In this regard, a camera with a faster frame rate has an advantage over those with a slower rate. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV used for this capture has a faster frame rate than any 5-Series predecessor, but the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Canon EOS 7D Mark II make the 5D IV seem slow.
Using a high frame rate-capable camera in high speed burst mode greatly increases the volume of photos captured. Be ready for this and be heavy handed when selecting down the keepers. It is OK to delete good images (and far better to have too many good images than missing the optimal one). You probably can't use them all – keep only the best.
Humor has a value in wildlife imagery and a high speed burst rate is advantageous for capturing humor. I photographed this pronghorn having a sit-down dinner (it was eating the green plant in front of it) in Grand Teton National Park in very heavy wind. This wind was so strong that I was having trouble keeping the animal in the 600mm frame. Yes, I had the hood on the lens, increasing the wind load, but it was raining lightly and rain was hitting the front lens element even with this giant hood in place. By using burst mode, I came away with a very satisfying set of sharp, well-framed keepers from this encounter, including this humorous one.
I can still hear him saying "Is that a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II Lens?!"
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1600
How to Photograph a Flock of Flying Snow Geese
I've wanted to add an image of a densely-packed flock of flying snow geese to the porfolio for a long time. But, it was not until this year until I accomplished this task.
The first priority for photographing a flock of snow geese is ... to find a flock of snow geese. For many of us, when flocks of snow geese arrive is based on the birds' migration patterns. Find where these flocks typically travel and time your visit with theirs.
A good method of determining when the birds have arrived (or are expected to arrive) is to use wildlife management area status reports, including the historical reports as history in this form tends to repeat. While these reports are great aids to finding the flocks, remember that an entire population of these birds can completely leave an area within minutes. A location that is great on one day may be completely empty the next.
With a warmer winter than normal, the snow geese migrated early this year and, at the urging of two friends, I too went early. The location was Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. Located at the border of northern Lancaster County and southern Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, this WMA is an about-2-hour drive from my house. While this is not a famous snow geese bucket list location that photographers most-target, the population at this location was estimated to be at least 50,000 on this day. And, that's a LOT of geese.
Mostly the white geese were swimming on the small lake, appearing as a large iceberg, or they were feeding in a nearby field, causing a small hill to appear snow-capped. While the huge numbers of geese in either of these two environments were interesting, the real show happened when they flew as a group. Even if one wasn't paying attention when the geese took off, a low thunder-like rumble was unmistakable and, if the flight path was overhead, the sky would darken (and an umbrella may be desired for protection from the strafing).
When photographing an individual bird, framing decisions are made in an at least somewhat more-controlled manner than when photographing a flock of birds. One reason that geese flock together is to make it more difficult for a predator to single out one bird as its prey and these flocks can have the same effect on photographers. With seemingly random chaos occurring, how does one create an attractive image?
Here are some thoughts for the flock:
The first thought is to simply go back to the basics. Start with focal length selection.
Perspective comes into play, but if you are photographing a flock of now-flying geese, it is likely too late to get a different perspective. Plan for that earlier, but ... geese always fly wherever they want to and predicting where they will fly will often be challenging. Predict as best you can (they like to take off and land into the wind) and react quickly to what happens.
How far away are the geese, how large is the flock and how wide of an area are the birds covering? If it is a small flock a long distance away and the birds are densely packed, a longer focal length will likely be best. That is, best unless more of the landscape is desired to be in the frame in order to create an environmental-type image. If the geese are close, the flock is large and/or the birds are widely spread out, a shorter telephoto lens might be a better choice.
For my Middle Creek WMA shoot, the birds went where they wanted to go, access was limited and even if it wasn't, moving fast enough to catch a flock of geese required some form of powered mobility. So, embracing what was available was, as often is, the thing to do. To handle this situation, I had a full frame Canon EOS 5Ds R and 600mm f/4L IS II Lens tripod-mounted using a Wimberley Tripod Head II. In the MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L at my feet was a second 5Ds R with a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II mounted. When the flocks were far away, I used the 600. When the snow geese storm moved overhead in big numbers, I grabbed the 100-400. And when the squall became widespread overhead, I had the EF-M 15-45 on the EOS M5 ready to catch that scene as well.
Note that I started out this day with a 1.4x extender behind the 600mm lens, but quickly determined that the heat waves were too strong and sharp results were not possible at this magnification. Even at 600mm, many of my distant images were not tack-sharp until after the sun went low enough in the sky to end the heat source creating the air disturbance. So, yes, it is very possible to have too much focal length even if that focal length is more ideal for the scene as the additional magnification may be wasted.
The shutter speed required for sharp birds depends on how fast their details are moving across the pixels on the sensor. A large-in-the-frame bird moving at high speed across an ultra-high resolution imaging sensor requires a much faster shutter speed than a small-in-the-frame bird sitting on the lake does when using a lower resolution camera. Aperture and ISO settings are then balanced for depth of field and noise with the desired brightness being the other side of the equation. In regards to brightness, use care to not blow the white highlights on the birds, leaving no details in the white. If the birds were flying, I was mostly using a 1/1600 shutter speed and an aperture of f/8 or narrower was usually best to keep more birds in focus. Once the light faded, I began experimenting with much longer shutter speeds for a panning motion blur effect.
Bryan's Law of Bird Photography: The frame in a high speed burst containing the perfect wing position, head position, background alignment and lighting will time perfectly with the bird's blink.
When photographing birds, using the camera's high speed burst mode is often the rule. Especially with multiple birds in the frame, having many images to select from is going to be a big advantage for many of the above reasons.
I usually use only one specific AF point or one point plus the surrounding points. But, when a huge flock of geese is filling the frame, using the all-points-active can work very well, allowing you to concentrate on composition while the camera figures out which of the closest birds should be focused on.
Composition always matters and usually, the goal is a balanced composition. When such a huge flock of birds is flying, you need to figure out what a balanced composition is very quickly and see that in the frame no later than as it happens. The bottom line is that, unless you are shooting for someone else, if you are happy with the image, you nailed it. But, we are always trying to improve our skills and there are some composition variants that work well for the snow geese storm.
If the goose density is extremely heavy, just fill the frame with the geese and shoot away. Singling out specific birds is very challenging if they are not large in the frame and you are unlikely to notice the background through all of the geese. The huge quantity of birds essentially becomes a pattern and everyone likes pattern images, right?
If possible, determine which direction (in relation to the camera) the birds are flying and focus on your preference. I prefer an approaching side view, but all of the other directions have their own photogenic advantages, showing differing views of the geese bodies. If a large flock is flying within a location, such as over a lake, they may fly in a circular motion and you may sometimes have a choice. So, be ready to identify what you are looking for.
If the birds are not dense enough to hide the background, the background showing through must be considered in the composition. If the background is mostly a solid color, such as the side of a mountain, there may not be much concern in that regard. The background will be evenly colored and that often works well for flock backgrounds. It is hard to go wrong with a blue sky background for the white birds and images with birds flying against a sunset sky often look great.
Contrast draws the viewer's eye. If the background includes strong lines of contrast, such as where the land and sky meet or a waterline (often present where there are waterfowl), it is good to carefully position these lines in the frame. Use your landscape photography skills here – perhaps taking advantage of the rule of thirds.
When sitting or swimming snow geese flocks take off, they often peel away from one side of the flock in a surprisingly orderly fashion. The line between the stationary and flying birds can be incorporated into the composition.
When the birds are not filling the entire frame, additional compositional elements must be considered. Where the flock is positioned in the frame is a big consideration and again, the rule of thirds may be a good choice in these cases.
In the image I am sharing here, I could have filled the entire frame with a rather-high density of geese, but chose to include the water in the very bottom of the frame. I often like to keep a clean bottom frame border, giving the image a base to be built upon. Having the water in the frame in this case meant that some geese can be seen landing in addition to those still in flight.
When the flock was farther away, I often kept additional frame borders clean (void of geese) as well (especially the top border).
Especially if using an ultra-high resolution camera, don't forget that you can crop the image to create a better composition later.
Lighting always matters. At this location, I arrived early in the afternoon, giving me time to do some on-site scouting and planning to be ready for the late-day, low-angle, warm-colored light. Again, the birds fly when and where they want to fly and good images can be made at various light angles, but the sun at your back, your shadow towards the birds, early and late in the day is usually a sure-thing for wildlife lighting conditions. As mentioned earlier, shooting into the sunset can also work well, but be very careful to not look at the sun through a telephoto lens as serious permanent eye damage can occur. On a clear day, the sky opposite the nearly-set sun will also turn pink, creating a pastel background for your birds.
While a cloudy day will not provide the same illumination, the giant softbox effect from a cloudy sky results in a soft light with a lower dynamic range for greatly-reduced shadows and easier to control exposures. Ultra-bright, solidly cloudy skies may cause a background brightness issues when the birds are above the skyline. In this case, consider exposing the sky to be pure white for a high key effect. Or, there is nothing wrong with a gray background and silhouetting the birds is a strategy that can work.
At the onset of this trip, one of my goals was to capture frames densely-filled with geese, perhaps even with no background remaining. While I don't think any of my images were completely void of background, many images have multiple thousands of geese in them and some have very little background remaining. In addition to getting some fun images, it was a great learning experience and it was especially great to experience this phenomenal nature event.
Now, check the forecast and go find your own snow geese storm!
600mm f/8.0 1/1600s ISO 500
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