We’re getting ready for three wildlife trips coming up, including one to Africa. We’ll be bringing all the latest gear and technology with us, so naturally we will get the shot…right? We hear this question a lot…how can I improve my wildlife photography? Or just photography in general. As good as animal/people eye detect is, you still have to get the lens pointed in the right direction, and be able to pan with your subject. And there is no technology that improves this motor skill. Instead try old fashioned practice, practice….practice.
I once had someone ask me (you know who you are!) how long it would take me to find the moon in a 500mm F4 and take a bunch of sharp photos…they mentioned a minute to find the moon in the frame. Instead I picked up the camera, pointed and rattled off about 10 frames in a few seconds, each with the moon in the frame. Now this isn’t me saying how great I am with a long lens, I miss plenty of shots all the time (you got that shot, right?). But maybe what it is illustrating is I have panned and shot 500-600mm for thirty years, so I have had a lot of practice, which helps in the field. I started with a manual focus 500mm F4 in Alaska panning eagles and wildlife, not only do you have to get the animal in the frame, you have to manually focus as well. Thankfully the Z9 takes care of focus issue these days. And using a gimbal head really helps too.
When I am at home in the office, I take short shooting breaks. What is this? Near my house I have nesting cliff swallows that fly up and down a stream. I’ll head down there with my 600mm and practice panning with the birds and seeing how many I can get sharp. I’ll experiment with different focus modes. And most importantly, I’ll just practice to keep my hand to eye coordination working well. I don’t want to miss a flying bird in Texas, or a running cheetah in Africa. My latest test is trying to track things with our 800mm PF. Talk about a narrow angle of view, try finding a flitting warbler in the trees. But I have noticed that I can find it pretty quickly now, even with the 800mm. Tracking it with the ‘wide angle’ 600mm seems a lot easier!
The other day Cree and I were photographing flying yellow-headed blackbirds. We’ve shot thousands of these birds. But we sat in the marsh for an hour practicing our long lens technique, often hand held, just to stay sharp. I didn’t really care if I got one image. It was great to be out in the morning light listening to the blackbird chorus in the reeds. And it was also great to keep fine tuning my ability to find the moon in a second or less with a long lens!