Wildlife, and particularly moving subjects, will really test the capabilities of your photographic equipment, your stalking abilities to get you closer, your skills as a photographer and your patience.
In the first part of this series, I covered some basic techniques to overcome the shake and vibration associated with a longer focal length. Below are some basic in-camera settings and techniques, which are applicable regardless of the gear you are using. I shoot Nikon, so nomenclature may be different between manufacturers, but the following will work for Canon, Sony, etc. and assumes you’re using a DSLR, since a point & shoot will really struggle.
- Use Release Priority. The shutter will release, even if the camera doesn’t think that focus has been achieved. You might have a blurry shot or two, but as the camera is taking shots, it continues to attempt to focus.
- Use the Center AF point, only for moving subjects. Get the subject focused, and worry about cropping for composition later.
- Use Continuous AF. AF-C for Nikon, which will constantly adjust focus even while the shutter is firing.
- Use 9-Point Dynamic Area. This way, if the moving subject strays slightly from the center focus point, the camera will track to the focus points surrounding it nearby.
- Turn AF Illuminator off. That silly little light isn’t going to help you focus on a subject more than a few feet away.
- Use Center Weighted- or Spot-metering. Expose for the subject, and worry about the background later. A dark bird soaring across the bright sky will be a silhouette, otherwise.
- Use a faster shutter speed, of 1/500 or faster. Animals move fast, and slow shutter speeds will leave the image blurry, due to movement.
- Stop down the aperture a little bit, to improve overall sharpness. The will also increase the depth of field (area in focus, front to back) for things moving faster than your autofocus can cope with. The expense is that backgrounds will become busier, and more light is needed to maintain the other exposure variables (ISO and shutter speed)
Once you’ve done all the above, practiced and have solid technique, you’ll realize there are still limitations that you face because of your gear. 9 and 10 are expensive, and are still not quick-fixes. In car racing there’s
- Go for the pro-body. With an 85mm f/1.4, any body can be used to make a fantastic portrait. With a quality wide angle, any body can make a stunning landscape. The more expensive camera bodies cost more for a reason; typically more rugged, weather proofed, with significantly better autofocus and metering systems. Higher frames per second may also be a benefit, for some models, which can help with action shots.
- Use good glass (e.g., f/2.8 lenses; the exotic telephoto-lenses). I know, I know. But there’s a reason you see the massive lenses out there in the wild; they are super sharp, and autofocus is built for speed. The cost as much as a used car, but when it comes to long lenses, you get what you pay for.