Below are some of the photography questions that people ask me, and my replies. I hope you find it helpful!
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What settings do you recommend for bird in flight photography? Any related tips and techniques?
I always shoot as early as possible after sunrise up until the light gets too contrasty/harsh, and/or in early evening up until sunset when the light gets soft and nice again.
When you shoot, try to keep the sunlight at your back or at a slight angle, so your subject is lit well and you aren’t shooting into the sun and don’t have weird shadows on the bird cast by its own wings.
I shoot Manual mode, always. Spot meter a known-tone in the same light as your subject (I like white objects so I can make sure I expose for the highlights without blowing out the details, especially for a subject like these Baldies). Then set your SS, F-stop, and ISO as needed to dial in your exposure (see below), doing a few test shots and reviewing your histogram (I have RGB and Luminosity histograms on my LCD during image review). Then adjust those settings if you think the light is changing or your subject moves to different light (I do a test shot every so often to confirm the light level and exposure)
I generally try to keep my shutter speed at least 1/1500 or even faster if possible (I really like 1/2000 or 1/2500 for flight shots, or faster for small fast birds), as you will get sharper photos and freeze the action. I set my shutter drive mode to high-speed multiple, so I can shoot rapid bursts when the action is happening. This gets you various wing positions, poses, and other action elements which you might miss if you have slow or single shot drive set up.
Aperture will vary depending on subject size, as well as distance. As a general guide, use a smaller aperture (larger f/number) as the subject size increases and also as subject distance decreases. More magnification means more depth of field is needed. For example, Eagles at a decently close distance would require at least f/8 to f/11, but so would a tiny bird if it’s large in the frame.
I set my ISO to whatever is needed to obtain the aperture and shutter speed that I desire in the current light.
Many people have varying opinions on what to do with a lens that has image stabilization, when shooting from a tripod and in other scenarios. For newer Canon super-teles like my 500mm f4 IS II, there are 3 IS modes. Mode one for static subjects, mode two for panning horizontally or vertically, and mode 3 which is sort a hybrid mode which just measures your movements and tries to determine what kind of IS to apply. The thing about mode 3 is that it does NOT stabilize through the viewfinder, and thus makes it much easier to track moving subjects. I use mode 3 on my lens 99.9% of the time, for everything. With the newer lenses, also, you can use the IS ON even with a tripod. I find no problems whatsoever with IS mode 3 on my gimbal head setup, whether panning or even shooting stationary subjects. I will also sometimes handhold my 500mm setup if I feel the tripod is restricting me too much.
Then you will also want to look at your camera’s AF settings – there can be a lot of options and it can get somewhat complex in a hurry, and sometimes the options are in separate menu screens. Best to review the camera manual, test the settings a few times in the field, and use what works best for you, how you shoot, and what you shoot.
I use back-button focus technique / settings, with AI Servo AF mode. Google that if needed.
Canon 7D mk II AF settings – I have the AF set to be “locked on” to the subject, so if I can’t perfectly keep the AF point on the subject, it does not lose focus to the background too fast (assuming I get the point back on the subject reasonably fast)…Back button focus also helps in this regard. Other important AF setting is the one which you set regarding whether or not the subject is erratic. For birds in flight I usually set it at a medium setting. The AF “point switching” setting is irrelevant for me since I almost always shoot a single focus point.
Keep the focus point on the bird’s head / face whenever possible.
Once you have the technical settings ironed out, it’s important to get your technique and skills down (and also know as much about the subject as you can). Just practice your panning movements to be as smooth and consistent as possible. You’ll also want learn to “anticipate” things. Watch what is happening, try to guess where a bird may go, what may happen, what moments or actions might be coming up, and stay focused/tracking the subject through the viewfinder with AF, then push the shutter just before or as you anticipate the moment. Hold it down for action sequences like when the eagles come over the water and dip in to catch fish.
Another thing that takes a lot of practice to perfect is to spot the subject quickly through the viewfinder. When you have a crop sensor camera and/or a very long lens, plus extender, it starts getting pretty narrow there..my setup has about a 1 degree angle of view for up close subjects, out to maybe 2 or 3 degrees for far off subjects. That kind of narrow field of view is tough to spot a moving subject through. I’ve practiced shooting moving subjects and birds so much that I’ve got it down reasonably well, to where I can just pull the camera to my eye, look through, and sight the subject almost immediately, but it was extremely difficult when I first started.
Besides practice, the main key to spotting is to make sure you are panning/moving the camera and lens with the subject WHILE you are pulling it to your eye, so you are following the subject for spotting. If you miss it, peek over the top of your camera slightly, find the subject, then look back to the viewfinder and try to sight again. Remember to keep the lens and camera moving the entire time. I just do the “sight” “peek” “sight” “peek” motion until I find the subject in the viewfinder. If the bird is past you or the wrong angle, or going away, just wait for another bird or another pass.
What is your opinion on using a x1.4 extender with the canon 100-400 ii (with the 70D)
* Short answer
For bird photography, using the combination of equipment that you listed, I would not recommend using an extender. Your camera can only autofocus at f/5.6 or wider, but the 1.4x on the 100-400 II creates an effective aperture range of f/6.3 – f/8. This means that you would lose autofocus capabilities with the extender, rendering your gear essentially useless for bird photography in all but the most ideal situations (a large bird, standing still, in good light, which you could manually focus on).
* Full explanation / Long answer
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding if, and when, to use a teleconverter / extender. Some, but not all, of those considerations are:
– What lens and what camera combination?
– Which extender? (brand, version number)
– Do you need Autofocus capabilities? (for wildlife, the answer’s almost always “Yes”)
– If yes, how speedy and accurate does the AF need to be?
– What subject are you shooting? (Size, static or mobile, etc)
– How much light are you working with?
– Can you get closer to your subject as an alternative to using an extender?
– How much image quality degradation are you willing to deal with?
– How much cropping will you be doing in post-processing?
Answering all of those questions (and maybe others) will help you determine whether or not it is feasible, or even possible, to utilize the desired lens, camera, and extender combination.
In general, when looking at telephoto photography setups for wildlife, the most important factor will be:
“Will the Autofocus perform as required, with the combination of camera, lens, and extender.”
In most cases, if the answer is “No,” then you will need to forego the use of the extender.
What effects does an extender have on an equipment setup and the resulting images?
– Reduction in max aperture
– Reduction in light
– Reduction in AF speed, accuracy, or elimination of AF entirely for some gear combinations
– Reduction in the number of AF points and point coverage available
– Degradation of image quality
– Elimination of IS capabilities for some gear combinations
When a 1.4x extender is used, you lose 1 stop of aperture and light. For example, if a lens has a f/5.6 max aperture, it will become an f/8 max aperture, effectively reducing the light by 1 stop.
When a 2x extender is used, you lose 2 stops of aperture and light. For example, if a lens has a f/5.6 max aperture, it will become an f/11 max aperture, effectively reducing the light by 2 stops.
For most Canon DSLR camera bodies in the consumer range (70D included), the smallest aperture at which Autofocus can be achieved is f/5.6. Other bodies in the prosumer (7D Mk II) or professional (some of the 1 series and 5 series), line are capable of AF at f/8 (albeit with added limitations, such as only being able to utilize the center AF point). On bodies that can only AF at f/5.6 or wider, AF can be achieved at smaller apertures when using Live View and focusing on the LCD screen – however, this is not a workable solution for bird and wildlife photography.
The best solution(s) would be:
– Get closer to your subject by using field craft techniques such as blinds, camo, gaining trust, etc. You can also attract wildlife to you with audio or food, where and when it is legal to do so, and always with restraint and knowledge of how you will affect the subject.
– Get a longer lens
– Get the Canon 7D Mk II camera body, which can AF at f/8, however, you would still be working with a number of limitations – AF with center point only, AF slower and less accurate, smaller aperture and less light, higher ISO to counteract, and the list goes on. Therefore, I would not really recommend getting this camera solely as a solution for the AF with an extender…although the 7D Mk II is a sensational camera body for many other reasons, so it wouldn’t hurt to pick it up if you can.
Is there an advantage to using the new Canon extender 1.4 III instead of the older Canon extender 1.4 II?
The Digital Picture is a great source of info and reviews about Canon equipment.
Excerpt from the site:
“A microcomputer integrated into the Series III Extenders promises faster autofocusing and increased AF precision when used with the Canon IS Supertelephoto Series II lenses mentioned above and (I expect) all future compatible lenses. Better optical quality is also expected.” – The Digital Picture
Do you routinely clean your sensor, or only if you see spots?
I rarely get dust or spots, and I rarely shoot at a small enough aperture to have them visibly noticeable anyway. I have not yet cleaned either of my Canon 7D2 sensors and have had them since the camera was released. Unfortunately I did get some dust in one of my 7D2 bodies because I was using a rented zoom lens which had dust in it (just one of several reasons I don’t like renting equipment)
Although you can certainly clean the sensor yourself, or take it to a local camera shop, personally I would only send the camera directly to a Canon Factory Service Center (the “official” Canon service, not to be confused with a Canon service center, which can be just about any camera shop).
I believe you can arrange for service via their website and then mail the equipment to them. Here’s a link for more info:
What are the best exposure settings to reduce noise?
The direct answer is that I prefer to expose to the right (ETTR) in the majority of cases, being especially careful if there is a risk of blowing out highlights (in those cases I avoid ETTR just to be sure, or shoot multiple shots with different exposures, if time allows). Learn more about ETTR by visiting the link at the bottom of this answer, and/or doing some web research. To be clear, ETTR does not mean you are “over-exposing” the image; instead it means you are exposing the scene for the optimal signal to noise ratio, and then you will adjust it in post processing. I always judge my exposure by the following criteria (and only the following criteria), when reviewing the photo on the LCD of the camera: 1. RGB histograms, 2. Luminosity histogram, 3. Highlight warning (“blinkies”)
If you have a subject that will not move at all (a landscape, for example), then the best settings would probably be to set your ISO as low as you can (you can also ETTR in combination with that, if appropriate for the scene).
The indirect answer is that, while you should definitely be aware of noise and the best ways to mitigate it, you shouldn’t become overly concerned with it. Noise can be dealt with in post processing (editing), especially when you get into advanced techniques in Photoshop, such as local noise reduction with masks. Further, depending on how the images will be used, the noise may be even less of an issue (for example, if you only print or display them at a small size).
There is more to say on this topic, but I think those are the key points I would like to make.
ETTR info on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposing_to_the_right
When do you increase the ISO, versus increasing the aperture or increasing exposure time?
For wildlife (and most other subjects) I always choose my aperture and shutter speed, then set the ISO as needed to get the exposure I want. I very rarely change my aperture or shutter speed for the sake of a lower ISO, because those are the two most important factors in getting the exact shot I want to get, whereas ISO has very little effect (other than noise, and slightly reduced dynamic range).
If I have a stationary subject, such as a landscape, then I usually lower my ISO and use a slower shutter speed. It all depends on the shot you’re going for.
I am terrible about post processing. I just do not like sitting at the computer. Do you have suggestions for work flow to make it less daunting?
The following information should be taken from the point of view that it is my opinion and experience, and may not necessarily apply to your or your work, since I don’t know what level you are at, or what your specific goals are.
I used to feel the same way. I hated post processing, It was overwhelming, boring, and I was not very good at it. That was, UNTIL I started making better images. As my work improved, my enjoyment of post processing also grew. When I captured images that I was more excited about, I felt compelled to increase my knowledge and skill in editing; then the processing stage became a newfound sense of pleasure and creativity. I have grown to love it, and in fact I don’t feel that I have created any image until I’ve perfected it in Photoshop – often when I review a nice shot on my camera LCD, one of the first thoughts that comes to my mind is “I can’t wait to edit that”. That said, I consider myself an artist, not a photographer, so it may not be same for you.
So my suggestion would be to incrementally, continually improve your knowledge and skill in editing, and to be sure your photos are always improving, as well. The best way to learn editing, especially Photoshop, is to read/watch tutorials on one particular tool or technique, then practice. When you feel you have it down, move to the next tool or technique. Start with the basics (layers, then masks, then selections, etc). When you see what’s possible, and how much better the images look after editing, I suspect that you’ll start to enjoy it.
A few other tips that will have a big impact:
I would recommend creating a standardized workflow “checklist” that you follow every time, from ingesting, to the finished image.
I would recommend simplifying your workflow. I use LR and PS, and that’s pretty much it. Since LR does a decent job of importing files, I don’t see the the need for another software for ingesting.
Be sure you are properly culling your work so that you are keeping only the best images, and trashing everything else.
Be sure you are only doing “final” processing on the best images. If you edit everything, it will become a real chore.
Don’t feel that it’s necessary to edit things in the order you shot them. I have a Lightroom collection for shots that I want to process. I drop the RAW files of my best images in there, then manually pick and choose the ones I feel like editing at the moment. I might edit something I shot months ago, before editing something I shot last week. I go with my instincts and desires at the moment, because it puts me in a more creative and efficient flow.
Be sure your monitors are calibrated.
Make sure your workstation and environment are properly set up to be comfortable, easy to work in, and exclude distractions. I like to listen to relaxing music while I edit, and a little tea doesn’t hurt either.
I want to get the 500/600/ 800mm lens for more reach. Any thoughts?
First of all, those lenses are superb and do provide much more reach for wildlife, and I love my 500 and 1.4 extender. That said, there are two things you should know. First, even with that reach, it will not seem like enough. Second, don’t depend completely on focal length – you should always work on learning, improving, and properly utilizing good field craft so that you can get closer to wildlife (without stressing them). Some examples of things that will be useful are: Understand animal psychology, utilize proper approach techniques and angles, wear camo when appropriate, use a blind, shoot alone when possible, and so forth.