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Jochen

A simple method of shooting wildlife

72 posts in this topic

30 minutes ago, Soukous said:

As has already been mentioned, this discussion has evolved some way beyond simple tips for beginners. But it is fascinating (to me anyway) to see how similar are the settings that so many of us use.

 

Agreed!

 

I guess the chosen method depends on your "working environment" as well. For example; a visitor to KNP who can only get into the park after sunrise and who must exit the park again before sunset, may have as good results with the "M-mode + 1/1000s + F 6.3" method. But for me, as I'm in Kruger's private reserves and as I'm often out there when the sun's not out (yet/anymore), that method would seriously impact my success rate.

 

And it also depends on gear! As I said; some bridge cams or entry level dSLR's may not make it easy for you to quickly change ISO. Or @xelas's example; his lens is an entry-level one that's not light-strong and that has less than optimal results if you use it at it's lowest aperture.

 

 

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37 minutes ago, Soukous said:

Taking a step back for a moment, I think one of the real problems for most novice photographers - and it is usually worse for those with bridge cameras - is the fact that very few of them come with a proper manual any more. 

 

I think it's more a problem that people buy a cam just before going on safari without learning how to use it. Often they think "the more I pay for it, the better the shots should be". The inverse might be the case! (in the sense that you might have to learn to work with an expensive camera before you can get any decent results out of it)

 

And then there's also a number of people who simply don't want to learn how to use their camera. This group kinda overlaps with the people I described above; they buy expensive stuff and use it on Auto. "I paid a lot for this and now I want amazing results just by pressing a button".

 

Story time!

 

I'm driving guests around on Balule. 5-star lodge, wealthy people. It's after dark and we've got the spotlight on a leopard in a tree. I use my method (as described in the first post of this thread), with ISO set to 2000 and 2 stops underexposed. I fire away in burst. Tak-tak-tak-tak-tak... I show my results to some people behind me. Oohs and aahs.

 

Right behind me sits this guy... he's got the same lens as me (70-200 IS L F2.8) but his camera body is top of the range, while mine is an old 2nd hand one. He aims and fires. Click ...clack. Click ...clack. Exposures of about a second! He instantly get s grumpy, and angry at his camera.

 

I know this leopard. She's skittish, so I know she's not going to sit there for long. So I ask if I can quickly grab his cam and alter the settings. He gets it back within 5 seconds and I say "try again". He fires away. Frrrrrrrrr.... the thing sounded like it was shuffling two books of cards! He looks at the results, and I hear "Oh my God look at this honey! Awesome! I'm going to keep it on these settings as of now!"

 

Noooooo....

 

:lol:

 

 

 

 

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This has proved to be a very interesting discussion but every time I see the TITLE (shooting) I do a double take.

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@Jochen

 

Thanks very much for this.  It's the first time I have read something about shutter speed/ISO that doesn't make me want to switch off immediately.  I own a Panasonic FZ200 bridge camera and for wildlife keep it set on Aperture priority at F2.8 with continuous focusing on burst mode.

 

We were out walking yesterday and saw an owl fly into a small wood, we followed and found it perched in a tree.  I took the following 2 pictures at full zoom for the camera which is 35mm equivalent of 600mm, at F2.8.  I have just looked at the picture properties and it says the shutter speed is 1/125 for the first picture and 1/100 for the second and both at ISO 400.

 

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If I am reading your instructions right, then the shutter speed needed to be at least 1/600 to get a better picture.

 

So the ISO (which was on auto) needed to be increased.

In the case of the first picture that was at 1/125, if I increased the ISO to 1600 that would give me 1/500 shutter speed and that still isn't enough?

So was the answer to actually decrease zoom rather than increase ISO to 3200 (the highest the camera will go) which would have given me too much shutter speed at 1/1000?

 

The only problem with the bridge camera is that it doesn't tell you how far the zoom is at in mm unless you are fully zoomed out in which case you know it is 600mm.

 

Open to all advice from anyone.

 

Thanks.

 

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@Zim Girl; yours is a fantastic example how the "auto ISO" method can be less than ideal. Well, maybe it behaves better on a camera where you can set both aperture and shutter speed. But still...

 

First off; let me start by saying that photography is not an exact science. You don't need exactly 1/600s for a 600mm shot. This is just a guideline! If you've got stable hands, or if you can brace your camera in any way, then you can get away with a lower shutter speed. But the point is; the further you are from the ideal shutter speed, the more you're taking chances.

 

In other words; knowing exactly at what zoom level you are is not necessary. I think that - after having used your camera a few days - you can easily guess at what zoom level you are, and your guess will not be far off.

 

And if you estimate more or less correctly, you can also choose a shutter speed that's more or less correct. The trick is not to fool yourself and don't guess too low. ;)  The only time I allow myself to drift way off from the ideal shutter speed, is when using a stabilised lens. If your lens is stabilised, you only need half the normal shutter speeds, and you can even get away with 1/4th of the normal shutter speed. In your example; you would need only 1/300s and can even try 1/150s.

 

Now, on to your examples...

 

If I understand correctly, you zoomed out all the way, and set your F-value as low as possible. So far so good. But then it seems you relied on auto-ISO, and the camera decided to choose ISO 400, which in turn resulted in a shutter speed that's too low, which in turn might lead to blurry images (the 2nd image in particular seems blurred). 

 

Is your lens stabilised? That might be the reason why your cam decided not to go higher in ISO. Maybe it though 1/125s was enough for a 600mm shot. It guessed wrong though, the 2nd image is proof of that.

 

What I would try in this particular case is this (if your lens is not stabilised); 

- set ISO manually, to 1600. This will increase your shutter speed to 1/500s. Close enough to the 1/600s required.

- set ISO manually, to 800, and zoom out a bit. If you can get to a shutter speed of 1/250s at - say - 400mm, and if you slightly crop that image later in your photo editing software, your result might even be better (still lots of detail in the subject, and very little ISO-noise).

 

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@Jochen

 

Yes, full zoom and set at F2.8 on Aperture priority, so the camera was left to choose shutter speed and it was on auto ISO. The camera does have image stabilisation and I always leave it on but it is only a bridge camera so not sure just how good that really is.

 

Thank you for your comments.  As I say, it is the first time the connection between shutter speed and ISO has clicked (no pun intended) and also I have never even considered actually using less zoom in order to obtain a better balance and therefore better picture.

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Not to try and complicate the issue here, but I don't think that the blurry owl in photo #2 is solely because of a slow shutter speed. If you look carefully, the leaves and branches behind the owl are actually sharp--sharper than the owl itself. Look at the leaves right above its head--sharp! To me it looks like the camera focused on a point slightly behind the owl and not the owl itself. This is where leaving the aperture wide open at 2.8 likely caused or at least enhanced the problem...if it had been more like 5.6 (with of course a higher shutter speed/ISO) then the owl might have been in better, sharper focus.  Its true that the bridge cameras with a smaller sensor inherently give more depth of field, but 2.8 is still pretty low in such a situation.

 

This is a tricky focusing situation for any camera--you can see there's are leaves in front of the owl and of course all around it. With a DSLR you can choose your focus point but not sure if most bridge cameras have that capability or if it was used here.

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Now, here I come with my settings :o: if @Zim Girl would have set the camera on f-stop not fully opened (f/4) then the issue mentioned by @janzin might be avoided. And if the shutter speed would be set at 1/600 sec then there are good chances the hand shake would be eliminated. 

Now the only variable the camera could work on is ISO ! From example above, the ISo would go above 1600 but both the owl would be in focus (f-stop) and sharp (shutter speed). The picture itself might be underexposed and grainy ... but for me, grainy photos is better then blurred or out of focus photos!

 

Using M mode helps both novice and experienced photographer. Novice does not need to think about settings all the time (faster shutter speeds being automatically compensated by higher ISO) and if any of the three elements of proper exposure is to be left to the camera to decide about, ISO is the least harmful to the end result if wrong.

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2 hours ago, Zim Girl said:

@Jochen

 

Yes, full zoom and set at F2.8 on Aperture priority, so the camera was left to choose shutter speed and it was on auto ISO. The camera does have image stabilisation and I always leave it on but it is only a bridge camera so not sure just how good that really is.

 

If it's a stabilised lens, then your needed shutter speed setting is not too far off. But the camera "took a chance", so to speak. Shutter speed should have been 1/250s. This is why choosing the ISO yourself is a better option IMHO. If you would have chosen ISO 800, the shutter speed would have been what's needed to get a sharp picture with this stabilised lens.

 

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1 hour ago, janzin said:

Not to try and complicate the issue here, but I don't think that the blurry owl in photo #2 is solely because of a slow shutter speed. If you look carefully, the leaves and branches behind the owl are actually sharp--sharper than the owl itself. Look at the leaves right above its head--sharp! To me it looks like the camera focused on a point slightly behind the owl and not the owl itself. This is where leaving the aperture wide open at 2.8 likely caused or at least enhanced the problem...if it had been more like 5.6 (with of course a higher shutter speed/ISO) then the owl might have been in better, sharper focus.  Its true that the bridge cameras with a smaller sensor inherently give more depth of field, but 2.8 is still pretty low in such a situation.

 

The blur is not caused by a wrong focus. The blur comes from the owl that moved slightly, or (less likely) the photographer's hands that moved slightly. These are things you can only counter with a higher shutter speed. A higher aperture value would not have resulted in a sharper image, I think.

 

Besides, even if in this case you're right; it's a bad idea to go to a higher F-value just to avoid issues with a few wrongly focused shots. At a higher F-vaue, you'd lose much more shots because your camera cannot get the needed shutter speeds no matter how high he pushes the ISO.

 

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18 minutes ago, xelas said:

 if @Zim Girl would have set the camera on f-stop not fully opened (f/4) then the issue mentioned by @janzin might be avoided.

 

Not really. See what I wrote in previous post.

 

19 minutes ago, xelas said:

And if the shutter speed would be set at 1/600 sec then there are good chances the hand shake would be eliminated. 

 

True. But only if your camera can deliver what you want it to do. It's a subject under canopy so there's a fair chance your wanted F4 + 1/600s would push the ISO all the way up to 3200 (which is VERY grainy and almost without detail in these bridge cameras), and still the camera might not be able to get what you need, resulting in an underexposed image.

 

Bottom line; I still don't see why "chosen fixed aperture- and shutterspeed settings" would result in a potentially better result when compared to using a simple rule that lets you optimise settings depending on available light.

 

Otherwise put; with the exception of subjects in full daylight; light is a rare commodity that you cannot waste by choosing the wrong (fixed) F-values and/or the wrong (fixed) shutter speed. Because if you do, it's going to have an impact on your results (a grainier image, higher in ISO, than you could have gotten ...or even no sharp image at all). Hope this makes sense. :lol:

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2 hours ago, Jochen said:

Hope this makes sense. :lol:

 

Absolutely!

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3 hours ago, Jochen said:

 

The blur is not caused by a wrong focus. The blur comes from the owl that moved slightly, or (less likely) the photographer's hands that moved slightly. These are things you can only counter with a higher shutter speed. A higher aperture value would not have resulted in a sharper image, I think.  I can only respectfully disagree with this :) If it had been movement of the camera, the leaves and branches would not be so sharp. Its true the owl might have moved, and of course a higher shutter speed would help in this respect.

 

Besides, even if in this case you're right; it's a bad idea to go to a higher F-value just to avoid issues with a few wrongly focused shots. At a higher F-vaue, you'd lose much more shots because your camera cannot get the needed shutter speeds no matter how high he pushes the ISO.

 

 

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If the camera @Zim Girl was using was a Sony one like the one I was trying the other day you can alter the focus points in AV mode ( but not in P I don't think)  but they are big blocks compared to the accuracy of a DSLR with far more focus points to choose. It would be easy to pick up the wrong part of the frame to focus on. 

The shutter speed shouldn't really be an issue at 1/100th provided the user has a reasonably steady hand and the subject doesn't move. The camera lens combination is stabilised after all. The maxim that shutter speed should be equal or higher to the focal length of your lens is probably more to do with DSLR/lens combinations where the weight of a longer lens makes holding it steady more difficult.

 

I think Zim Girl's shots  are pretty good and although they might not win a competition I'd be happy to put them in my portfolio of different species.

 

I also think it would be worth having a separate thread that deals purely with Bridge Cameras , the Sony one I tried was not very intuitive to use and maybe P mode with everything auto is the best way to go if the camera is that intelligent.

Which Bridge Camera models are the best? 

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Here's another vote for using the "Scene modes" now i believe found on most lower-level cameras, for beginners or uninterested parties.

 

It helps telling the camera basically what type of photo you want, then letting the camera sort out the detail.

 

I believe the only way to get better than that is to practise and experiment.

 

Another defence for the "manual with auto-iso method": I use this with even more "rediculous" shutter speeds than @xelas: my base setting is 1/2000. 

The reasons are that firstly, i believe usually when you need to get a picture in a hurry, it's because something is happening, and happening very rapidly, which implies that there is movement that needs to be stabilized. When this is not the case, usually you have time to reduce the shutter speed, which on my camera takes just a second or two.

Secondly, by far the majority of photos I take are of birds. Lastly, my camera is really good at not producing image noise. I have acceptable photos taken at ISO10 000...

But, to me this method only works with a camera tbat has at least two adjustment dials, which is only true of the more advanced cameras anyway. If the camera does not have this, it becomes far too time-consuming to optimize the settings. And it requires an understanding of what each variable does, both in terms of basic effect and how it suits your camera and lens combination, so once again we are back to a more interested and advanced user anyway.

 

 

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@Jochen, @janzin, @xelas, @Dave Williams, @Peter Connan

 

Thank you very much for all your comments.  I will re read all of them and try to make sense of what you are saying.  To be fair, the 2nd image is blurry, I was struggling to focus in the time I had before the owl flew away.  I posted both pictures more because they were so recent and I wanted to make sure I was understanding what Jochen was saying in his instructions so just using them as an example because the camera was only giving a low shutter speed /ISO in this situation.

 

I think generally the camera performs really well but I am interested in learning what else I can try when shooting in difficult situations like the owl in the shade amongst the leaves etc, if the camera isn't giving me what I want.  Therefore I was pleased with Jochen's original explanation.

 

More practice needed :)

 

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@Zim Girl and I'll be following in your footsteps. the problem with the FZ200 is ,as you had said earlier on, unable to give the zoom details. but @jochen approximate numbers would help. i've been twiddling with the camera trying to follow Jochen's guidelines and although my brain culdn't compute it all in one go, it has pushed me to try the A and M modes and using that ISO button to play with upping or lowering ISO (no auto ISO to fall back on). Practice practice!

 

thanks Jochen. 

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I am glad to stumble upon this article.  Wish I read it prior to my first safari last year.  As a casually enthusiastic photographer, I found safari photography very challenging.  Many of us do not shoot moving subjects in low light on a regular basis.  I would like to focus on composition, not technicality.  A default setting (my safari-auto mode) is extremely useful.

 

One question I have for more experienced photographers: Do you use matrix metering as default?  When I did my test shoot in the zoo prior to my first safari, I found center weight more reliable.  That was what I used in the field, and I am reasonably happy with the result for the most part.  But I like to hear your thought.

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@Jochen So my cheap and cheerful card reader finally turned up and here are some of my test shots using your method. I'm going to practice a little more as although the 18-140 lens doesn't really have enough reach for Safari. I still like its versatility and so will leave the 300mm shots to Mr R. Thanks again for the great tip, its really helped me get to grips with the relationship between shutter/aperture/ISO that I confess I was struggling with. 

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@madaboutcheetah

Thanks for the link.  It makes sense, and I will give matrix metering another try.  I did find spot metering useful in difficult situations (leopard in tree come to mind).

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