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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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