Today I would like to spend a little time talking about shooting modes. More specifically - Manual Mode, Av or Aperture Priority, and Tv or Shutter Priority.
Just as a Crescent Wrench, a Box End Wrench, and a Socket Wrench all will help you remove a nut from a bolt, each may have a little benefit over the other depending on the situation. So the same goes with Shooting Modes.
In the field I have encountered a fair amount wildlife photographers and/or birdographers. For some reason many of these fellow photographers have been convinced that Manual Mode is "the" mode.
I am going to share my humble opinion about shooting modes. Some may debate whether I am right or wrong, some may criticize my opinions, and even others may turn their nose at this post. That's okay.
I will have you know I am not seeking to offend anyone or imply I know all there is to know. I am simply sharing my thoughts in effort such thoughts may be helpful to someone.
Tv - Shutter Priority
Basically Tv is mode in which you select a desired shutter speed. The shutter speed you select will likely have an intended outcome. Since I photograph primarily wildlife and birds, I will focus my opinion of such subject matter.
If I am photographing mammals I may desire to have shutter speeds between 1/125 to 1/500th. Much really depends on the mammal, the activity, the action I am trying to capture, and so on.
If there is a bull Elk standing in a grassy field, do I really need a shutter speed of 1/1600th? In most cases, not in my book. Such high shutter speeds will force me to larger apertures and higher ISO's.
If I am photographing birds, lets say, perching birds, I may want shutter speeds between 1/500th and 1/1000th. Again, much depends on my desired results. With birds in flight I may want shutters from 1/800th to maybe as high as 1/2000th. Without trying to sound repetitive, desired results,, subject matters, and shooting conditions will impact my actual setting.
In Tv, I will select the shutter speed. I will let the camera determine the f/stop. I will use an ISO that helps achieve a desired range. What I mean is this...
If I would like a shutter speed of 1/100th and prefer f/stops to be f/8 or smaller, depending on the conditions and lighting I may choose a slightly higher ISO, lets say, ISO 640.
My point here is more about Tv. By setting my camera to Tv I am ensuring the shutter speeds I want.
Almost exclusively I use Tv for birds in flight shooting. My shutters speeds depend on the kinds of birds and desired stop-action.
With birds in flight there is not a lot of time for adjustments. Often one second the bird is in the sky, then at the tree line, then back in the sky. Tv Mode allows me to focus on other adjustments while not being concerned about my shutter speeds.
Av - Aperture Priority
Av is very similar to Tv except in this case you select the desired aperture or f/stop and let the camera select the shutter speed.
In many cases I may chose to use Av if the lighting is such that I am confident shutter speeds will not get too slow for the subject and scene I am shooting.
A good example when I use Av is when I am photographing small perching birds that may come within close range of me. From about 400mm on up we really need to be conscious of our f/stop settings, especially with focal lengths of 500mm, 600mm, or even higher.
You would be surprised just how short your depth of field (DOF) is at lest say, 20 feet. If you are not careful you could take a very well exposed image of a Dark Eye Junco and only to find out only the eye is in focus with the body and tail out of focus. That is what too short of DOF can do.
So Av, helps you control your desired DOF. If you set the aperture at f/8, the camera will select the shutter speed accordingly. Like Tv, Av allows me to focus on other adjustments while not being concerned about my f/stop or DOF.
To me Manual Mode is perfect when it comes to landscape, cityscape, portrait, and controlled environment photography.
In Manual Mode you will select both your shutter speed and f/stop according to your desired results. Getting this right takes a little time. Evaluating and metering light is often needed.
I find Manual Mode to be ideal when there many constants present with my scene, lighting, and subject, or I have the time to spend on all exposure settings.
If you are trying to capture birds in flight, would you set your camera to single shot and not use burst mode?
Or when taking birds in flight, would take your camera out of auto focus mode and insist on manual focus?
There are all kinds of tools within your camera designed to be used in the right scenario.
You are not less of a photographer if you use Tv or Av Modes.
Heck, there are times I use "P" Mode or Program Mode.
My intention is not to start a debate about the "right" shooting mode. My point is more so about busting any myths out there that have people convinced "pros" only use Manual Mode.
A professional mechanic is going to use all the tools they have in their tool box in order to get the best results.
A professional photographer would do the exact same thing.
Give these other modes a shot. I am wiling to bet you might get some better results and make taking photos a little more enjoyable.
I shoot in a variety of locations with some locations having no need for binoculars. Still, I find them to be a critical piece of equipment when scouting and sighting wildlife. When I scout from my vehicle it is far too difficult to swing around a 600mm lens with hood between me and the steering wheel.
I do not have a super fancy pair of binoculars. I suppose it is up to the individual how much they want to invest. For the purpose I use them for, I was happy with a pair under $100.
I use the Bushnell 13-1056 10x50mm. I like the quick focus, rubberized coating, and they serve the purpose of sighting and identifying wildlife.
Choosing a camera body seems to be a constant debate amongst some photographers. What brand? Full frame or crop sensor? Entry level, semi-pro, or pro? The list of questions seems endless.
For the sake of avoiding argument, choose a camera that makes sense to you, meets your needs, and aligns with your budget. I am sharing my choice with you as a point of reference.
I often shoot with two camera bodies when photographing wildlife. A huge reason is that I use prime telephoto lenses, which I will talk about shortly.
My primary camera body is the Canon EOS 7D Mark II. It is a crop sensor camera which helps me get that little extra reach via the 1.6 crop factor. Some of the key features why I chose this camera for wildlife are:
• 1.6 crop factor from the crop sensor
• Cleaner high ISO’s compared to many crop sensor bodies
• 65-Point All Cross-Type Phase Detect Auto Focus (AF)
• Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors
• Large variety of continuous focus (AI Servo) configurations and adjustments for shooting action
• 10 frames per second at Full Resolution
My secondary camera body is the Canon EOS 7D which is not as feature rich but has produced hundreds of quality images for me through the years. It too is a crop sensor camera and has some nice AF features.
I know some photographers are torn between full frame and crop sensor bodies based on high ISO image quality. I say, make your choice and get out there and shoot.
Yet another piece of equipment that can pose a debate – telephoto prime or telephoto zoom?
I don’t think there is any wrong answer. Again much depends on what makes sense to you, meets your needs, and aligns with your budget.
For wildlife photography I primarily use telephoto prime lenses. What does prime mean? A “prime” is a lens that has a fixed focal length, let’s say 400mm. The lens does not zoom in and out; it is always at 400mm.
I use two different size prime lenses for wildlife photography. My primary wildlife lens is the Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS USM. My lens is the first version. Canon is now releasing second version of many of their popular lenses.
Combined with the 7D Mk II, the EF 600mm provides me with 960mm of focal length power. How so?
600mm x 1.6 crop factor = 960mm of focal length power
There are times I would like and/or need a bit more focal length. Then I add the Canon EF 1.4x II Teleconverter. This increases my focal length by 1.4x’s. So what does that mean?
600mm x 1.6 crop factor x 1.4x teleconverter = 1344mm of focal length power
This kind of focal length can prove to be helpful when your subject is far away, or you have good reason to stay far away….like bears, wolves, and rutting elk.
My secondary wildlife lens is the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM. This lens is rather light, extremely crisp, and very fast with auto focus. This lens was once my primary wildlife lens and has produces hundreds and hundreds of great images for me.
If you are just starting out with wildlife photography, my advice is to invest in a telephoto lens no smaller than 300mm. Now days there are several choices to help you obtain higher focal lengths like 500mm and 600mm. It all comes down to your needs and budget.
As I write this I am beginning to realize there is a lot of photography equipment that people debate about. A set of tripod legs also falls into the debate category.
Hello. My name is Scott and I use a tripod. :-)
For me, a tripod is the surest bet of having a stable lens that helps produce quality images. Don’t get me wrong, handheld shooting and image stabilization has its time of usefulness. I use a tripod 95% of the time. It is just what I do.
I have two sets of tripod legs. Both are of what I would consider a higher quality but they did not break my budget. Given the gear on my tripods cost in the thousands, I did want to make sure the tripod could provide me the confidence my gear will be supported and safe.
My primary tripod legs used with the 600mm lens is the Vanguard Auctus Plus 324AT. The legs are aluminum and a bit heavy at nearly 8lbs. Considering my 600mm is nearly 13lbs on its own, I am good with having a heavier tripod.
The second set of legs is the Giottos MT-9371. These legs are also aluminum, are a bit lighter, but can still handle the 600mm. The Vanguard has some features over the Giottos that I liked and that’s why I purchased the Vanguard.
There are a number of different choices when it comes to tripod heads. There are those better suited for video, there are trigger style heads, ball heads, monopod heads, and gimbal heads. Each has a slight advantage over the other, depending on application.
I have two head setups for wildlife photography. Both have gimbal action, meaning a head with pivoting points for smooth vertical and horizontal action.
My primary tripod head is the Wimberley WH-101 Gimbal Head. This is a straight up gimbal head that supports my 600mm with ease and provides fluid vertical and horizontal motion, making birds in flight shots a little easier.
My second tripod head setup is lighter, a bit more diverse, yet also provides gimbal movement. The ball head is a Giottos MH-3300. In combination with it, I use an Induro GHBA Gimbal attachment. This is really a very diverse setup.
When using the 400mm I will most often use the ball head and gimbal attachment combination. If I want or need to switch to a smaller lens, let’s say a wide angle lens, I can disconnect the gimbal attachment and use the ball head for a landscape or portrait shot.
Bean Bag Support
Whether you are photographing a Great Blue Heron or an Plains Bison, there are times when staying in your vehicle is the best choice and your best blind. Using a tripod in your vehicle would be awkward and not advised…although I have seen it done.
The best support option in your vehicle is a bean bag. I use the XL Bean Bag from The Vest Guy. It is filled with buckwheat hulls, lightweight, and provides great support when shooting from my vehicle, over the hood, or over the roof of my vehicle. When selecting a bean bag my recommendation is to go with a larger one. It will give you more options and more practical support.
Camera Bag, Case, or Backpack
I have been through what seems countless camera bags. Much like a tripod and tripod head, a camera bag is a real personal choice. There is no “right” bag other than the one that you deem right for you.
I have found some backpack options that allow me to pack all my gear into two bags and be able to through them over my shoulder if need be. Of course I cannot carry both bags as backpacks in the field but I have found I prefer backpacks over camera bags and cases.
I have one backpack that holds my Canon 7D Mk II and EF 600mm while connected to one another. The Lowepro Lens Trekker 600 AW has made it easy to keep my camera body and lens connected and readily available for shooting.
All my other gear such as the 7D, 400mm lens, wide angle lens, ultra-wide lens, and a variety of camera accessories, including a small this tool bag, all fits in my Lowepro Vertex 300 AW Backpack.
Lens Rain/Snow Cover
I am not a fair weather shooter. I have been in the rain, sleet, and snow. Only in extremely poor weather conditions will I not shoot.
With that said, it is imperative you protect your gear. Sure your lens and camera may be weather sealed. For a small price I like the comfort of knowing I am taking extra measure to ensure water and moisture stays off my camera body and lens.
I use the RainCoat by LensCoat. There are a couple of sizes. I have one for my 400mm setup and a larger one for my 600mm set up. I have used these covers and rain and snow. The water sheds right off the cover making me feel much better about protecting my gear.
That’s about it for the listing, of what I consider essential gear for wildlife photography. Sure there is probably other camera gear to consider, and we didn’t even touch on clothing and boots. I think I will leave that for another time.
One may look at this list and say, how much is it going to cost me for all this stuff?
Well, to some degree that is up to you. In some aspects of my growth in photography gear I have purchased certain pieces multiple times. In example, I have own eight different ball heads. It can really get costly buying the same device over and over.
At the same time, sometimes your budget limits your ability to invest in that “one” ball head so you will never have to buy another again.
If you don’t already have some of this gear listed, use this listing as a guide and tool. Please don’t fall to the pressure of feeling you can’t take a photo of a bird without spending thousands of dollars.
The specific items within this list are my choices. You need to make your choices and when you are done….get out there and shoot!!
Elk County - Benezette, Pennsylvania
When living in Wisconsin one must travel if you would like to photograph the American Elk in its natural habitat. Most often I have been traveling west to Yellowstone National Park to capture images of elk. This year I thought I would try a location that many view the elk capital the east - Elk County, Pennsylvania.
Through social media and photo sharing sites I have met fellow photographers from Pennsylvania, more specifically within in a short drive from the Pennsylvania Wilds and the heart of Pennsylvania elk herds in Benezette, PA. I now had a chance to meet some of these photographers in person.
Being my first time in Benezette area to photograph elk I was not only unfamiliar with the territory but also lodging/camping accommodations. My wife and I stayed at Campers Paradise in Sigel, PA some 50 miles from the Benezette area. It was a bit of a drag driving back and forth each day but the up side is we were able to take in the beautiful Pennsylvania Wilds countryside.
During our time in Benezette and Sigel we met some of the nicest people.
Charlie Cropp - fellow photographer and admitted elk-aholic
Dan Gomola - fellow photographer which I have chatted with now and again
Dave Wolf - fellow photographer and writer that I learned knew about by Birds In Flight page. :-)
Robert Chubb - a fellow photographer I came upon while chasing elk throughout Benezette
Joe Fenstermaker - the maintenance supervisor at Campers Paradise that was interested in my work
Sorry I missed you David Anderson!
We met several other photographers and visitors to the area, all with a common interest - elk.
There were four-five locations we kept our eye on in search for elk.
Elk Country Visitor Center - Nice lighting in both morning and afternoon but better backdrops with the afternoon lighting. The lighting angle is a little tough. Overcast days are certainly preferred, at least in my my book.
Winslow's Hill - Overall a better place for morning light. The elk are likely off in the distance a bit. A great spot for wildlife scene shot rather than secluded or portrait type shots.
Dewey Road - Still part of the Winslow's Hill area this location can be good in both morning and afternoon lighting. The elk tend to come in the open fields to eat and this makes for some nice shooting.
Dents Run Viewing Area - This is more of a morning location in my opinion. The elk will be fairly far away. Great for a more wildlife scene type shot.
Hicks Run Viewing Area - A great location for afternoon lighting. We never did see elk here but did get a chance to do some birding in the nearby hardwoods.
The Elk Country Visitor Center, Winslow's Hill and Dewey Road are good locations for those unable or not looking to hike too much. For those a bit more ambitious, hiking into the State Game Lands can make for a great Pennsylvania Wilds experience and unique photo opportunities.
Gear of Choice:
Because the elk can tend to get rather close you can get away with some smaller lens choices. I shot with an assortment of lenses. A super telephoto is not necessary to photograph elk in Pennsylvania. I still recommend using a lens that places you in a position to not infringe on the elk which can make them uncomfortable in their own home.
We did not come upon the numbers of elk I had hoped. Being as though we were in Benezette the second week of September we were a little early for peak rut. I was told by those that live in the area the fourth week of September is much better. I figured as much, but the end of September is when I usually head to Yellowstone National Park for the very same reason - peak rut.
Overall I had a very enjoyable time in Pennsylvania. I would certainly head back to Benezette, even if I were a little early in the rut season again. However I would likely find lodging options much closer to save on travel time and fuel costs.
Below is a small gallery of images taken during our adventure in Benezette.
Mack Wildlife Area - Shiocton, Wisconsin
Mack Wildlife Area is about three miles east of Shiocton, almost halfway between Shiocton and Black Creek on Wisconsin State Highway 54. The area I regularly visit consist of marsh land and small ponds formed by dikes. There is another section of Mack that is more wooded but access is limited.
The area I frequent is on Van Patten Drive. There are a few ponds and a newly remodeled observation deck. In spring there are several flooded farm fields that provide a resting spot for a number of ducks and other birds that like being near water.
Van Patten Drive basically runs north. This makes for some nice morning light opportunities on the west side of the road. In spring the ditches often have geese and a variety of ducks. From your vehicle you can see over some of the dike walls and a variety of ducks, some geese, and other birds like Great Egrets, Coots, and Great Blue Herons can also be seen.
In the afternoon I tend to plant myself on or near the observation deck. The afternoon lighting at Mack is often beautiful. To the right of the observation deck there is a channel that often has a variety of ducks and on occasion ducks and other birds will fly up the channel right toward you for some nice flight shots.
Some of the birds I've seen at Mack:
As far as camera gear goes, I would recommend the following for overall shooting and flight shots:
I will conclude this post with an assortment of images I have taken at Mack Wildlife Area.
Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary - Green Bay, Wisconsin
Seeing as though I live in Green Bay, Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary (BBWS) is not just close to where I live, it is also home to a mecca of resident and migratory birds. This makes BBWS one of my favorite locations to shoot and spend countless hours in the open air waiting for the keeper shot.
During spring migration BBWS is easily a favorite location for ducks. BBWS is not far from the bay of Green Bay. The ponds and overall habitat attracts many species of ducks. Some may spend a few days as a lay-over location. Others will spend only a few hours and be on their way.
Species of Ducks Photographed at BBWS:
Other Bird Species Photographed at BBWS:
There is a good chance I probably still missed a few. This place is a birding hotspot!!
In addition to BBWS there are a number of other birding hotspots I visit and will write about. I picked BBWS as my first write-up, not just because it is my favorite, it is a place you might want to plan to visit and spend a few days taking photos.
As far as camera gear goes, I would recommend the following for overall shooting and flight shots:
I will conclude this post with an assortment 20 of my favorite images taken at BBWS.