Telephoto lenses by virtue of their large physical size are sort of “glamour” symbols of the photographic world. Just go to any photographic outing or clubs, those photographers with large telephoto lenses get the most envious glances. Telephoto lenses are indispensible for photographing sports and wildlife. They are also very useful for portraiture. While telephoto lenses (especially those with very long focal lengths) are difficult to handle physically due to their large size and weight, they are somewhat easier to use compositionally as they see a very narrow angle of view excluding a lot of unwanted surrounding elements. This makes composing easier.Before we go deeper let us define what a telephoto lens is. It is a lens that provides a view narrower than that of a normal lens. Just as a recap, remember that a normal lens is the one that has a focal length approximately equal to the diagonal of the frame. Thus, for a full frame or a 35mm format it will be 43mm (though 50mm is more commonly used) and for the APS-C format it will be around 28mm. The angle of view (AOV) of such lenses will be around 46°. Here is a table that gives AOV for different focal lengths and formats. The lens with the longest focal length ever produced for commercial use is the 2000mm f/11 reflex lens by Nikon. This is a manual focus length that weighs 17.5 Kgs! It is no longer in production. The longest autofocus lens that is being manufactured presently is the 800mm f/5.6 lens by Canon. Fast telephoto lenses: As you may recall fast lenses have two advantages. They allow you to photograph at a lower light for the same shutter speed or use a faster shutter speed for the same light. Hence, fast lenses are very useful for low light and action (sports, wildlife, etc.) photography. As with everything in life there is no free lunch. Fast lenses are very heavy, especially at long focal lengths. The table below, which shows the weight of four 300mm lenses from the same manufacturer but with different speeds, illustrates this very well. You can see that an increase in one stop in speed has a drastic effect on weight. Price too increases rapidly with the f/2.8 version costing more than four times the f/4.0 version. Handling telephoto lenses: You have seen that telephoto lenses, especially those which are fast and/or have long focal lengths are very heavy. Lifting or handling the lens plus camera combination with the camera alone without supporting the lens can damage the lens mount on the camera (by bending it or by misaligning it). Hence, once you mount a heavy lens you should always pick up and handle supporting the lens rather than the camera. Mounting telephoto lenses on tripods: For heavy lenses, manufacturers provide a collar on the lens which has its own tripod socket to fasten the lens to a tripod head. If such a provision is there on your lens, then you must use it when mounting the camera plus lens on a tripod. If you fix the camera to the tripod head using the tripod socket on the camera then you can cause damage to the camera mount as explained. The tripod collar is designed so that the lens rotates within the collar. This allows portrait orientation without the need to flop (overhang) the camera to the side with a heavy lens mounted. This increases the stability of the setup considerably. Tele-zooms and telephoto prime lenses: As the technology advanced, focal lengths which were once exclusive domain of prime lenses are now being catered to by tele-zooms. Not long ago zooms were limited to just 200mm. Now a days you can get many tele-zooms that go up to 400mm and there are even a few that go up to 500mm. The most popularly used tele-zooms are 55-200mm, 70-300mm and 100-400mm. Only where you need extreme speeds, focal lengths and highest quality does one needs to resort to primes. Examples of such prime lenses are 200mm f/2.0, 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4.0, 600mm f/4.0 and 800mm f/5.6. All of these are very expensive, large and heavy – actually very, very, heavy. Acquiring the subject with telephoto lenses: Please refer to the table which gives the angle of view. From this you can see that when you mount a 300mm lens on a APS-C sensor D-SLR you will only see a very small area that corresponds to a AOV of just 5° 20’. Hence, you will have great difficulty in acquiring a moving target like a flying bird unless you have been tracking it from quite some distance. This problem gets compounded when you use even longer and heavier lenses. Also, a gimbal head will be very useful for subject tracking (more of it shortly). Needless to say practice also helps. If you are using a zoom lens then it is better to start at the shortest focal length, acquire the subject and then zoom in to a longer focal length while keeping the subject under one of the AF area markers in the viewfinder. This is not very difficult but a little practice as with everything else in photography will help in getting you a larger number of keepers. There is one precaution that you need to take. You need to set your camera to continuous autofocus mode. This is the mode that will allow your camera to track and maintain focus as the subject moves. Also, many zoom lenses change focus (even when the subject is stationary) when the focal length changes. This aspect is taken care as well with continuous focusing. Lenses with long focal length are difficult to hold steadily to their high magnification as any shake when the shutter is released will get magnified and will be visible prominently. In fact the single biggest reason for getting unsharp images when using telephoto lenses is due to the shake. So, how do you reduce this problem? Here are a few points that you should consider. Use a Tripod: A tripod is an indispensable aid for any photographer regardless of the type of lens used. However, its usefulness is much more when you are using telephoto or super telephoto lenses. By using telephoto lenses on a tripod you will get a tremendous benefit. A tripod will keep the set up steady and will guarantee a sharp photograph. However, please remember that any tripod will not give you the results you want. At the minimum, to support a heavy telephoto lens you need a tripod with sufficient load capacity. It should be able to withstand the weight of the camera plus the lens and the head comfortably. More important than simple load carrying capacity is the torsional rigidity of a tripod. This is basically the way a tripod resists rotation. Do this simple test. Mount a long lens (at least 300mm) on your tripod. Gently tap the side of the lens while looking through the viewfinder. See how much movement you can detect. Unless this is nil or negligible it simply means that the tripod does not have the torsional rigidity. Remember that longer the lens, higher should be the torsional rigidity. Good tripod manufacturers like Gitzo and Manfrotto specify the tripod models suitable for a range of focal lengths in their catalogs. Having a look at this will give you a good idea of this aspect. Talking about heads, gimbal heads are best suited for heavy telephoto lenses as they offer unmatched tracking ease with little physical efforts. They are the best tools for photographing flying birds. However, they are specialized devices and are not useful for general purpose photography. Next best are high quality ball heads which can take heavy loads and are also flexible enough for tracking subjects though not to the same extent as the gimbal heads. They can be used for general purpose work too equally well. Reduce the mirror vibration: The movement of the reflex mirror in a D-SLR can cause vibration reducing the sharpness. This vibration is most prominent at a certain range of shutter speeds. This range varies from camera to camera but is generally from ¼ to 1/15 sec. Try as much as possible to avoid this range of speeds by varying aperture and ISO. If your camera has the mirror lock-up (MLU) feature use this as it will raise the mirror and keep it static when the shutter is released, thus greatly reducing the vibrations. Of course you will not able to see anything through the viewfinder once the mirror is raised (unless you are using Live View mode) so this is useful only for static subjects. In case your camera does not have the MLU, you can use the Live View mode which will also raise the mirror and keep it there when the shutter is released. However, there is a small complication here, in case you are using Live View with auto-focus (AF) as some cameras offer two options. One option achieves AF through the normal phase detection method and will involve mirror flipping up and down. Avoid this mode as it will involve mirror movement. The second option uses the contrast detection method to achieve AF. This uses the image sensor itself for AF. This is the one you should use since it does not involve any mirror movement once you enter Live View. Last alternative is to use what is called the “Mirror pre-release” or “Exposure Delay” mode. In this mode, the mirror rises when you press the shutter release but the shutter will open only after a short delay (about a second). This delay will ensure that the mirror induced vibrations have died down before the shutter opens. Once again as you can expect this technique is useful only for static subjects. Use a Monopod: A low cost but very popular device is the monopod. Using one will allow you to use shutter speeds up to 2 stops slower than the thumb rule shutter speed. These are easy to handle, compact and light. They are also a lot more flexible compared to tripods. If you are going to buy a monopod, pay particular attention to the head. Many make the mistake of attaching a normal ball head. This is inconvenient in practice as the ball head allows movement in all directions making the set up difficult to handle. Instead of a ball head, buy a monopod head (like Model 234 from Manfrotto). This rotates only in one direction (pointing up or down) and is much easier to handle. These work best with those lenses which have a tripod collar as both landscape and portrait orientations are easily possible. If your lens does not have a collar, then you should use an L bracket. Panning is done by rotating the monopod itself. So, how do you use a monopod? The best way to use a monopod is to use it like a tripod. Since a monopod has only one leg where do you get the other two legs from? Well, you can supply them J! Keep your two legs little apart and lean slightly on the monopod so that the monopod and your legs together form a tripod (see picture). This gives a good stable base. Handholding of telephoto lenses: Not mounting a camera on a tripod or a monopod gives you a lot of flexibility (especially while tracking subjects that move rapidly like birds in flight or move randomly like a football player) but this does not guarantee sharp pictures unless the shutter speed is sufficiently fast. But how fast should it be? A very commonly used thumb rule is that you should use a shutter speed which is the reciprocal of the focal length or faster. That is, if you are using lens with a focal length of 500mm then you should use a shutter speed of a minimum of 1/500 sec. This was formulated during the days of 35mm film cameras. If you are using a full frame camera then the same rule will still hold good. If you are using a camera with an APS-C sensor then the minimum shutter speed should be 1/750 sec since a 500mm lens on such a camera will have a narrower angle of view due the cropping factor of 1.5. If you are using a 4/3 camera, the minimum shutter speed should be 1/1000 since the cropping factor is 2 in this case. As you can see getting such fast shutter speeds is not possible unless the light is very bright and/or the lens has a large aperture. Fortunately, handholding received a tremendous fillip due to two technical advances. First is the excellent performance (that is superb quality images) of the new generation D-SLRs at very high ISOs. You can now get very good results at ISO values up to 3200 and even higher with full frame D-SLRs. Such high ISO values allow you to use high shutter speeds which were simply impossible when one was using film. The second advancement is the shake reduction technology that we will see shortly. There is also a limitation that arises due to the weight of the lenses. This will depend on the physical ability of an individual and hence this will vary from person to person. In any case (unless you are also a weightlifter apart from being a photographer J) fatigue could set in after a while making your hands a bit unsteady and this will manifest itself as unsharp images. During the last decade technologies that stabilize the image compensating against the hand shake have come into the market and it is not an exaggeration to say that these have brought in a major revolution in photography. These which go by commercial names like VR (vibration reduction), IS (image stabilization), OS (optical stabilization), etc., allow you photograph up to 4 stops of slower shutter speed than what your rule of thumb recommends! This feature thus gives a tremendous advantage when photographing in low light and/or long lenses. Important: Remember that this technology compensates for your hand shake. It will do nothing to stop a moving subject! If you want to stop a moving subject like bird in flight, a racing car, etc., then you must use a fast shutter speed. There is simply no other way! Portraits with telephoto lenses: Portraits are a favorite subject for almost everyone – from casual photographers to world famous professionals. When one is photographing a tight head portrait where the face occupies most of the frame, it is necessary to maintain a certain distance from the subject. If you ignore this and take such a portrait from a close distance, protruding features of a human (like nose, ears) can look abnormally large due to the exaggerated perspective that arises due to the short subject distance. So, you need to maintain a minimum distance from the subject to make the perspective more pleasing. Since you will move farther away and at the same time will need a frame filling image, you need to use a lens with a longer focal length. Short telephoto lenses with focal lengths from 85mm to 105mm (when you use a 35mm or a full frame D-SLR) are best suited for this purpose and are popularly known as “portrait” lenses. If you are using an APS-C sensor D-SLR the focal lengths of choice for portrait lenses are from 50mm to 85mm. Such lenses allow you a proper subject distance for a good perspective and at the same time allow certain intimacy with the subject as you will be reasonably close. You can also take portraits with a 600mm lens but then you will be yards away and unless you shout your instructions the subject will not be able to hear! This destroys the intimacy that was referred to. Advantage of Cropped Sensors when using telephoto lenses: Cropped sensors (like APS-C and 4/3 sensor cameras) have a disadvantage as they cannot get most out of wide angle lenses as the angle of view reduces (narrows) by the crop factor. Thus, a wide angle lens will cover less of an area on a APS-C sensor camera than it would on a full frame camera. However, this same property will be useful when using a telephoto lens as now the reduced angle will be beneficial. Though not exactly the same, it is as if you have mounted a tele-converter of 1.5X when you mount a lens on an APS-C sensor camera. An added advantage is that there is no loss of lens speed as it would happen when you use a tele-converter. Just to recap, the focal length will not change. Only the angle of view will. So the next question is if this is so, why manufacturers can’t make cameras with very small sensors so as get a very narrow angle of view. Yes, this is being done in many bridge (prosumer) cameras but remember there are number of factors that inhibit this. First and the foremost is that as sensors become smaller the image quality will go down due to higher noise, poor low light performance and lesser dynamic range. Thus, it is not possible to make sensors very small and yet maintain high quality images. Present day cameras with APS-C sensors are an excellent compromise between these opposing needs giving the best of the both worlds.
The word photography literally means “drawing with light.” What is seen by your camera lens is “drawn” on the sensor by the light that is reflected from the subject. It is the reflected light gives the form, texture, color, etc. to the subject. Most of the subjects that you come across are opaque. That is, they reflect light but do not allow light to pass through them. Glassware on the other hand is transparent and hence has the unique property of transmitting light through it. This singular ability of glassware to pass through light presents some very interesting possibilities and challenges in photography.
Being transparent glassware lends itself to be beautifully backlit. With colored light, glass can produce images that no opaque objects can. The possible combinations are endless, limited only by the imagination of the photographer. This is what makes photographing glassware at once a challenging and a fascinating subject. Glassware photography is a subset of table top photography but it is the trickiest of the lot. In fact it is jocularly said that glassware photography assignments are given to students only by sadistic professors! In this article you will be introduced to some important concepts that you can extend to more complex situations.
A truly transparent subject cannot be easily photographed because it will be invisible! So how do you make the invisible glass visible? This is the challenge presented to you as a photographer. Also note that glassware is highly reflective apart from being transparent. A reflection from a glass surface will obviously declare the presence of glass but these reflections are highly specular and small in size. Hence, these do not reveal the form of the glassware. In fact reflections from glass are generally unwanted. The only way to render glassware and its form is not to record the surface of the subject as you would normally do but to record the edges. For this we need to exploit the property of transparency.
Before you proceed just remember what you learnt in your high school physics – angle of incidence of light is equal to the angle of reflection. I am sure that you have seen the diagram shown here previously. However, this is a much simplified diagram (compared to a real world situation) as it shows just one light ray incident on a flat surface. In practice there will be infinite light rays. Plus glassware generally has curved surfaces. Due to this any light incident on a glassware surface will reflect in all directions. Hence, it is indeed a tricky task to light even a simple glass without reflections. You can only achieve this by placing the light source very carefully where it cannot create any reflections. The diagram shows where you need to keep the light source to get such an effect. Note that you have only a very narrow area where you can keep the light source. While this looks quite restrictive you can get two complementary effects with the same light. How is this possible? Read on.
The two methods used to get these effects are called bright field and dark field techniques. The first renders the edges of glassware as black and second as white. It is technically possible to combine both the techniques in one photograph but this is a bit complicated and we will leave that for another day!
Bright Field Technique:
The lighting setup is shown in the diagram. One way to setup is to use a soft-box or a table lamp with a sheet of translucent material like tracing sheet in front. You will need a stand with a platform to keep the glassware in front of the light. The platform can be a sheet of glass or translucent acrylic. This will allow some light to pass through the platform and the base of the glassware brightening it. Another way is to use an acrylic sweep. This will be similar to the sweep used in table top photography (refer to Basics of Photography, Smart Photography, August 2010 issue) but is made of translucent acrylic. Alternatively you can also buy a gadget called light table which gives you this functionality.
Next step is to position your camera at the right place. This is a critical requirement and needs to be done before you keep the subject. After you choose a lens of suitable focal length you need to move the camera front and back so that the (angle of) view as seen through the viewfinder exactly covers the background, which are the edges of the soft-box (or whatever you have used). If this is not properly done then you will not get the desired effect. If the field of view is smaller than the background then you will notice that you will start getting unwanted reflections on the edges of the glassware. This is not what you want since in bright field technique you need to get dark edges. If the field of view is larger, then your camera will start recording an area beyond the background.
Now keep the subject on the platform. You will notice that as the subject is moved away from the light source the edge definition improves as there will less light reflecting from the edges. Find a suitable position for the subject and then focus.
You are now ready to take the photograph. But what is the exposure that you need to set? To understand that remember the metering “mantra” that you read in Basics of photography, Smart Photography, July 2009 issue. The mantra says that metered area is always rendered as medium tone but you can place it at any tone you want with proper exposure compensation!
With the bright line technique you already know that you need to keep the edges dark than the background light. Your exposure will determine how the background will be rendered. Rule of thumb here is that you can keep background around one stop lighter than medium tone to keep contrast with the edges.
If you are using a continuous light source, then switch to spot meter and then select manual exposure mode. Take a measurement of the top portion of the background and set it to 1 to 2 stops lighter than medium tone. You can experiment a bit to arrive at what pleases you most. If you are using a strobe light then you need to use a flash meter or do some trials with the help of histogram shown in your camera to get the right exposure.
Note: If you are keeping the subject on a platform and since the background is lit, there is a chance that the edge of platform will be recorded. This is not aesthetically pleasing. The easiest way to avoid this is use a sweep made of translucent acrylic as it was done here. This will give you a seamless background and will also help you to illuminate the background as well as brighten the glassware from beneath.
Dark Field Technique:
The lighting set up is shown in the diagram. You would have noticed that it is similar to the lighting of bright field technique, but for a gobo placed between the light and subject. The gobo is just a black opaque card which gives the black background. Its size should be such that plenty of light is visible around it. Here the size of the light source is very important, the larger the better. It should be preferably 10 times the size of the subject. The subject also needs to be kept on a black platform.
As in the previous case the positioning of the camera is very critical. After you choose a lens of suitable focal length move the camera front and back so that the (angle of) view as seen through the viewfinder exactly covers the background, which is the black gobo. To reiterate, this is very important! If the angle of view is smaller than the black background (gobo), then the gobo will block the lighting falling on the edges of the glassware. This will render them dark and they will merge into the black background. If angle of view is larger than the gobo, then your camera will record an area beyond the black background which in this case is bright light.
Now keep the subject and focus.
Determining the exposure in this case appears tricky since the scene is predominantly black. But you are really interested in the highlights on the edges. Remember that the direct reflections are as bright as the light source itself. So, if you are using a continuous light source, simply take the reading of the light source (put your camera in the spot meter mode and manual exposure mode first). This as you will recall will make the light source appear as medium toned which is not what you want. Giving an exposure compensation of 2 EV (stops) will render it close to white and hence edges will also be rendered white. You can experiment around this value and get the ideal exposure. If you are using strobes, you need to experiment a bit, taking the help of histogram.
Tip: You may be surprised to note but most D-SLRs (except high end models) do not have very accurate viewfinders. They show a little less than what is actually captured by the sensor. So, if you frame exactly using the viewfinder you may not get the results you want. On the other hand your camera’s LCD monitor is very accurate and corresponds to 100% of what is being captured. So, it is better to switch on the live view mode of your D-SLR and use the LCD monitor for viewing.
Subjects: One great advantage with glassware is that every household will have some basic glassware for you to start. Even simple glasses will look nice and are a good starting point. If you have wine glasses they would make an ideal subject due to their shape. Apart from these standard items, cut glass and glass figurines also make excellent subjects. One caution: high quality glassware (especially cut glass, crystal ware, etc.) can be expensive. Please handle with care. Broken glassware can cause broken heartsJ!
Tips for light sources: There is a real need for large light sources in glassware photography. If you have a slide projector from your film days, you can make an excellent large light source with it. Project the light without any slide on a screen or a white wall and use the entire illuminated surface as a large light source.
If you have a LCD computer monitor you can get a light source by opening a MS-Word or Notepad file with a blank (white) document. You can even get colored light from the LCD monitor by choosing a colored background (instead of white) in the software. A tracing sheet can be taped in front of the monitor if you need more diffused light.
Alternate lighting techniques: While the bright field and dark field are the most popular, there are several other techniques that are useful in lighting glassware. Here is one such method. This is most suitable for glass statues. The lighting is done from underneath the subject and since glass is transparent the whole subject lights up. No other lighting is needed.
Here, the statue has been placed on a sweep made of opaque black paper. Since you need to light the statue from beneath, you need to cut a hole in the paper with a contour similar to that of the base of the statue but slightly smaller. This will prevent light from leaking out and will ensure that the light is fully confined to the statue. If the cutout is larger, then some light might spill out through the gap between the base and the cutout in the black paper. Since you are lighting from beneath, you need to keep the paper on a glass table or surface. You can also keep gels or cellophane paper in front of the light to get colored lighting. The other end of the sweep should be held vertical so that it will form a seam less background. The statue much be kept exactly on the cutout and should completely cover it.
Monochrome or Color? The examples you have seen so far have all been rendered in monochrome (black and white). While this is the best for color-less glass you can also take wonderful pictures of colored glassware. This image shows one such photograph. The lighting set up used here was identical to the bright field lighting technique shown earlier. The exposure reading was taken of the background as before and the compensation was set to +2.0 EV so that the acrylic is rendered in its true tone which is milky white.
Equipment needed for glassware photography:
· Glassware photography needs minimal equipment. Any digital point-and-shoot (or a bridge) camera with macro capability or preferably a D-SLR with a close focusing lens (that is, one with a moderate macro capability) will do the job perfectly.
· Precise positioning of camera that has been described can only be achieved by using a sturdy tripod. Don’t try handholding and get frustrated!
· Expensive lighting equipment is really not needed. A simple table lamp with a compact florescent lamp (CFL), (See Basics of Photography, Smart Photography, August 2010 issue) will do the job perfectly. Alternatively strobes can be used. You can use portable shoe mount flashes too but these can be a little difficult to use since they do not give continuous light or have modeling lights. You must also have the facility to keep them off camera and trigger them. Remember that you just cannot photograph glassware by mounting the flash on your camera’s accessory shoe.
· Thick black matt paper.
· Cellophane papers of different colors in case you want colored light
· Translucent acrylic milky white sheet (2mm thick) of 4ft X 2ft dimensions for forming seamless back drop behind which light is kept. (Acrylic sheets are normally used for making back lit signboards and are available in hardware shops).
· As you can see, besides the equipment that is needed for general photography, i.e. camera, lens, tripod, the extra equipment that is needed to produce the photographs shown costs very less. So, this is a type of photography that can be easily attempted without busting your bank account.
Some important precautions you need to take:
· The glassware you are planning to photograph must be squeaky clean! You will be surprised how well the camera can capture blemishes like water marks, finger prints, etc. even if you haven’t observed them.
· The room must be absolutely dark without any stray light. This is very important as stray light causes unwanted ugly reflections.
· The room in which you are photographing must be completely free of reflecting surfaces (window panes, glass shelves, etc.). In case they are present, make sure that you have covered them so that there are no unnecessary reflections.
To conclude glassware is an exciting but tricky subject. However, it requires only minimum investment in terms of equipment. Subjects are easily available too as every household will have some glassware. Follow the procedures outlined in this article and you can have endless hours of fun. Plus you can get results that you will be proud to show to your friends and family. Good luck.
Unfortunately, photographing in a zoo has a negative connotation for many photographers. While there is a question of ethics involved (see box), be assured that there is absolutely nothing wrong photographing animals and birds in a zoo. If you take proper care (read on for this) you can get photographs of wild animals and birds which look as if they are in their natural habitat. A zoo is the only place where you can have access to photograph, in relative comfort, a wide variety of animals and yes, exotic birds in one location conveniently. It is also an ideal place to perfect your skills before you embark on that once in a life time photo safari trip to Africa.
Though the behavior of animals is undoubtedly very different in the wild compared to how they behave in captivity, a zoo is still a great place to hone your skills in handling telephoto lenses. It will also help you to improve your reflexes and teaches you the most important virtue of photography – patience.
A few basic rules that you should follow in the zoo
1. Remember that a Zoo is a public place and several visitors will be there along with you. They have as much right as you have to enjoy a visit to the zoo. It is necessary that your photography causes least amount of inconvenience to others.
2. Do not disturb animals by offering food or throwing things at them to attract their attention.
3. A strict no – no is teasing animals. Please do not irritate animals under any circumstances just to get a photograph.
4. Strictly obey the rules that are in force in the zoo.
5. Most importantly do not get yourself in harm’s way by doing things like sticking a lens or putting your hand through a fence or wire-mesh, entering into a moat, etc. It is always safety first.
Open and Closed Zoos: Earlier most animals were caged and hence were difficult to photograph. Also, the surroundings would be very unnatural. Modern zoos however, have open animal pens and these allow much easier access to photography and also present a much better environment. Still, there are few precautions that you need to take as you will see shortly.
Safaris: Many zoos offer what are called safaris where you are taken around in a closed vehicle into an area where the wild life is roaming unrestricted. While in concept this is excellent, it provides few good opportunities for photography. The first is that you are severely constrained in a vehicle and since you are not in control, where to stop and for how long is not in your hands. While you can give safaris a try, I am inclined to say that they are not the best for photography.
Aviaries: All zoos have aviaries with varying degree of photographic access to birds. Most of these restrict you to stand outside the enclosure and take photographs. This can rob you of some good opportunities as you will be quite far if the enclosure is very large. However, modern aviaries have huge enclosures (some several hundred feet in height), where you can go inside and then photograph birds which are quite freely flying inside. This will give you many more opportunities to capture some “bird in flight images” as well as allow you to get close up photographs of the birds. The latter is very difficult in the open unless you have telephoto lenses with more than 500mm in focal length or take the trouble of building a blind and wait patiently.
Special factors to consider when photographing in the zoo:
Avoiding wire-mesh: Most birds and some of the animals (unless it is a totally open zoo) will be behind wire-mesh. This is really not a problem though it might seem so. Just keep your telephoto lens touching the wire-mesh (conditions permitting). The wire-mesh will simply not appear in the final picture. If you are using an autofocus camera, just make sure that the camera does not focus on the wire-mesh. Use a lens hood to prevent lens from getting scratched and damaged by the wire-mesh. A rubber lens hood is preferable here as it will not get damaged when touching the wire-mesh.
Another problem you will often face is the light reflecting from the wire-mesh most of which are quite reflective. A hood is again the solution as when kept close to the wire-mesh, it blocks unwanted light that is being reflected from the wire-mesh from being captured.
People: A zoo is a public place and will be full of people who have as much right as you have to see the animals. Though you can politely ask them to move a bit if they are standing between your camera and the animal, this is always not possible. Be a little patient till they move on by themselves. A more serious problem is when they appear in the image (mostly in the background). This will definitely give the photograph “taken in the zoo” label instantly! Here, either you have to wait till they move away or follow a few techniques which are described in the next section.
Distracting and manmade objects: The most bothersome issue while photographing in the zoo are the manmade objects that may appear in the background. If this happens, change your position and angle so that they do not appear in the photograph. If this is not possible try to throw them out of focus by using a larger aperture (small f number).
Keeping an eye on the background to eliminate unwanted clutter and objects is a good practice, whenever or whatever you are photographing as, in the excitement, we tend to concentrate on the subject and ignore the background. A bad background can ruin an otherwise excellent photograph.
Techniques when shooting with telephoto lenses to get that sharp image:While handling and use of telephoto lenses was dealt extensively earlier (see “Basics of Photography” – Smart Photography, Nov, 2010 issue) here is a quick recap to help you to get sharp images.
You must have read the thumb rule that when handholding a telephoto lens, you should use a shutter speed of 1/focal length or faster. That is, if you are using a 200 mm lens then you should use a shutter speed of 1/200 sec or faster. However, this guideline was framed for the 35 mm format. Now that we have digital cameras with sensors of various sizes, the thumb rule should be modified as – shutter speed should be at least 1/ (35 mm equivalent focal length). So if you are using a 200 mm lens on an APS-C format DSLR, you should use a shutter speed of at least 1/300 sec. Remember this is just a rule of thumb. You can photograph at slower speeds if you practice. This is where trips to the zoo can come in handy in improving your skills.
Using a monopod can give you up to a two stop shutter speed advantage. That is, instead of using a speed of 1/250 sec, you will be able to manage with 1/60 sec. Again practice will help you improve on this. When using a monopod keep both your legs slightly apart and lean forward on the monopod while inclining the monopod towards you. This means that your two legs along with the monopod will from a sort of a tripod. Just make sure not to put too much weight on the monopod.
Zoo enclosures are mostly shaded and hence the light levels will be low. Plus you will need fast shutter speeds as just explained. Mostly lenses with focal lengths of 300mm and more will be slow (f/5.6 or slower unless you want to spend huge sums of money) aggravating the problem. Fortunately, most new DSLR cameras have superb high ISO performance (you can go well over ISO rating of 1000) and still get excellent picture quality. So, don’t hesitate to exploit this feature. However, it is always best to keep the ISO to the minimum value that gives you the shutter speed you want for the best image quality. Auto ISO feature present in most modern DSLRs automatically takes care of this – that is depending on the light, the camera will automatically set the minimum ISO that is needed to get the shutter speed you selected. Check your camera manual as this is an often neglected feature that works wonders!
If you are photographing hand held, keep your two feet slightly apart with left foot slightly forward. The elbows should be close to each other. The right hand should hold the camera and the left hand should be under the lens supporting it. Since most tele lenses are heavy, supporting them with your left hand also has the additional benefit of relieving the stress on the camera mount.
Inhale fully, exhale a little bit and press the shutter release gently.
Bracing also helps. If you have a nearby tree or a pole, leaning against it will steady the camera.
A few more tips:
· Be on the lookout for antics by animals as they make humorous photographs. Animals can also be very expressive and capturing these expressions can give you everlasting memories.
· Use fill flash to open up shadows and to add a touch of catch light (sparkle) in the eyes of the animals as otherwise the eyes, which are normally the center of attraction, will look dull and life less. In worst case they could look like empty dark sockets. Your camera’s built in flash can do this job as you don’t need a very powerful flash for this purpose. However, make sure that the flash is not reflecting off the wire-mesh. If this is happening you need to use an off camera flash.
· Don’t go to a zoo on holidays to photograph. It will be full of people who can be distracting and also cause hindrance when you are photographing.
· Look out for expression of people especially children who are often fascinated by the animals and as a result put out some very nice expressions. These can give you excellent candid pictures.
What you will need:
Camera: A D-SLR or a bridge (prosumer) digital camera. If you are using the latter
be aware of the slow shutter release response and slow auto focus.
Lens: You need a lens of focal length of at least 300 mm (35 mm equivalent) or
more. This means you can use a D-SLR with a lens of at least 200 mm focal
length (assuming your SLR is using an APS-C sized sensor which has a cropping
factor of around 1.5). This gives the same angle of view as a 300mm lens on a 35
If you are using a bridge (prosumer) digital camera, use one that has a lens that
gives you angle of view of a 300mm on a 35mm camera.
A tripod or a monopod: One of these is always recommended when using
telephoto lenses, preferably the former for absolute stability and sharpness of
image. However, a zoo is a public place and a tripod can cause problems for
others. So, a monopod would be a better solution in a zoo. It is a lot less
cumbersome too. If you have neither of these, Smart Photography, has a low cost
solution for you (see box “Make your own stabilized lens!).
All the pictures shown in this article were taken in a zoo. Note that in all cases
careful attention was paid to the background so that the animals and birds look as
if they have been photographed in their natural habitat. The Author is a strong
believer that photography must be fun. So, plan a one day trip to the zoo with your
family to make it a photo trip plus a picnic. That will involve your family in your
favorite hobby and might just get your spouse agree to the purchase of that fabulous stabilized lens you always wanted to buy!