Learning wildlife photography – Making sharper images – Part 2

June 1st, 2011 by Paul Burwell
Female Purple Finch perched on a branch

Female Purple Finch perched on a branch

Making sharper images – Part 2 - In the previous psot I discussed some of the finer points of using your camera’s auto focusing features to help compose an image and get what’s important (the eyes!) in focus. Let’s look at some additional factors that go into making sharp images.

Lenses – The higher quality the lens, the better images it can produce. And unfortunately, higher quality almost always translates to higher cost. Most camera and lens manufacturers make a line of “professional” lenses. In addition to the higher price for the “professional” quality, the lenses can produce tack-sharp, well saturated images. Spend enough time on Internet camera forums and you’ll come across a bevy of people constantly chasing the latest and greatest body. There are even some individuals who flip-flop back and forth between brands constantly chasing the newest camera body with the best perceived specifications. I’ve always advocated investing in the glass and then purchasing the best camera body you can afford. And I don’t know if I’ll ever understand people who switch back-and-forth between brands. I sincerely doubt it makes them better photographers and I know I couldn’t afford to take the hit on selling all my gear every couple of years only to stock up on gear for another brand.

Squeeze, don’t stab – One aspect that is often missed in the analysis of why an image isn’t sharp is how the photographer releases the shutter.

  • I suggest that photographers learn how to gently squeeze the shutter button to create an image as opposed to stabbing at it.
  • When using telephoto lenses, just the act of stabbing or jabbing at the shutter button can induce enough vibration to make an image soft.
  • Photographing with large telephoto lenses is a lot like being a sniper with a high-powered rifle. Get into a routine of calming your breathing and slowing your heartbeat. Press the camera’s viewfinder tight against your eye. Drape your free arm over top of the lens to further dampen any vibrations. Ideally you’ll shoot between breaths and when you’re ready slowly squeeze the shutter button.
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American White Pelican in flight

Vibration Reduction – Image Stabilization – SteadyShot – Nikon and Canon have a system built into many of their lenses for helping reduce vibration and make sharper images. Sony and Olympus build this ability right into their camera bodies. There’s some disagreement about which approach is better (lens versus body), but regardless, I recommend either buying lenses with this system built in or using a body with the built in system. And if you’ve got it, use it.

On my Canon lenses, I use the image stabilization whether I’m hand-holding or have the lens mounted on a tripod. Again, this is an area of some controversy and you’ll hear all sorts of advice about whether or not to use the image stabilization system while a lens is mounted on a tripod. I never have the lens locked down hard when I’m photographing wildlife. I always have the tension on the tripod head set so that I can move the lens to adjust for an animal’s changing position and I have the lens collar loose so that I can quickly switch to a portrait orientation to make vertical images. My rationale is that as long as the lens isn’t locked down rock-solid, it won’t confuse the lenses image stabilization system. And that even holds true on my 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS lens that features Canon’s first generation of their lens stabilization system. You’ll have to do your own experiments to find out what works for you, but for me, the lens stabilization system on my Canon lenses is always on.

In the next article, we’ll conclude the discussion on making sharper images with some information on supporting your lenses and cameras.

You can find out more about Paul at his website and blog: Paul Burwell Photography

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Check out Paul's Wildlife Photography Academy Workshops here:  link

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