In Africa just a few weeks ago we had some warm, sunny weather. Not scorching hot, but just hot enough that midday was pretty hot. On some wildlife drives we were still out in the middle of the day, especially in the great migration. Thousands of animals just kept coming over the horizon, how could we stop shooting?!
But midday shooting did bring up a challenge; heat shimmer. Almost everyone in our group was shooting a 400mm or longer lens, and getting a sharp image on a distant subject became impossible. This might surprise some folks. But it doesn’t matter how good your lens is….if it is hot outside, and your subject is further than a few hundred meters, heat shimmer may degrade your image. I was shooting Nikon’s best big glass, the 600mm S with built in 1.4x. But even with perfect technique, no movement at all, I couldn’t get a sharp image of distant animals in the middle of a hot day. And I wasn’t alone…everyone with long telephoto lenses couldn’t get sharp images of distant animal herds in the intense heat. Heat shimmer is worse the longer your lens, and the more distant your subject.
But during the evening hours when things were cooler, this wasn’t a problem since the heat was gone and cooler temps had arrived. Take a look at this distant elephant heard at the top of this post….about a mile away but still tack sharp at 840mm.
Don’t be discouraged if your images are soft using long lens on hot days…at distant subjects. Get closer, or wait for cooler temps, and heat shimmer won’t affect your images!