zaterdag 5 februari 2011

Photographing roe with a manual focus lens.

Last Sunday I went to the Amsterdamse Waterleidingsduinen, this is a forest near the sea and a lot of roe live there. Really a lot, I can almost guarantee that if you walk in this forest for more than one hour you will have seen some of them. Having this in mind I always take my telephoto lenses and my tripod with me when I go there. Since there are so many roe living there they are relatively used to humans, as long as you keep on walking they won’t move, especially if you stay on the tracks. This is not weird, imagine you were one of them and all you see is humans walking on the tracks. If I were a roe I would probably think that these weird creatures can’t get off or something like that.

Anyway, it is not that hard to come close, which is a good thing for the photographer. But when I go out I always go out early. This is because most of the roe seem to get up around sunrise, eat and after a while hide in the forest to start ruminate. This is when you can’t find them as easy as when they’re eating. And the light is much better as well, if not a bit weak in the forest. I usually solve this with bumping up the ISO to 800 or 1600 if needed. And this is very important: get a proper exposure. There will be less noise in your photograph if you expose a photo properly at 1600, than if you underexpose on 800 and try to solve it in post. I only have a Nikon d60, not a camera which is known for it’s great noise performance, but I get acceptable results at 1600. Even if I didn’t get acceptable results I would still bump up the ISO, because a extremely noisy image is still way better than a noise-free blurred photo.
The only problem with raising the ISO is that you have less freedom in post, of course there will be some noise so your can’t crop as extreme as you can at ISO 100 without losing detail, changing your white balance will also show more noise. Bottom-line is that it is even more important to get everything right in camera.

Now the use of a MF lens: this is hard. Telephoto lenses are the only lenses where I really miss having autofocus. Mostly because your object is fast moving, and your DoF is relatively short. To be able to take photos I always pre set my focus, since I use a prime lens I know at which focal length the animal will fill the frame. If the animal is further away I can always adjust it, the amount you have to turn the ring isn’t as large when you focus on something further away as when you focus on something more close. This works relatively well, but still you will need some time to fine-tune the focus. Therefore I don’t pay attention to running roe, just on the walking and sitting ones.
To be able to get more control over the scene I always use a tripod. (also because the light in the forest is very dim and I just can’t get to 1/400th of a second to handhold a 300mm lens). Your camera will not move, this makes it easier to fine-tune your focus. And your frame won’t move as well. With the large magnification of a telephoto lens it is harder to maintain your composition handheld. You have to keep really still to get your desired photo, and a tripod solves that.

But now the most important part about wildlife photography, enjoy it. Don’t walk through the forest with the camera attached to your face. It is hard, the light won’t be perfect, nor will the pose of the animals and you will have a lot of photos which didn’t work. And there will be branches in front of the animals, there’s no forest without branches :) But that doesn’t mean that the experience is bad. Enjoy the forest, the animals, the atmosphere. Keep in mind that to be able to do so next time you have to behave as a human and not as a photographer-psycho-robot who is determined to get his shot no matter what.