Does this make my glass look big?

(Alright, sorry for the cliché pun, but I couldn't resist.)

A couple days ago I took a half day "inspiration day" with a couple of my coworkers by getting out of the office and having some fun. We headed to Hueston Woods State Park for some old fashioned wildlife photography. For me, it was my first time using long lenses in nature, so it was a learning experience. 

I made a lot of mistakes that day, learned from them, and became a better photographer because of them.


Jeff with his baby.

Jeff, Ricardo and I needed a change of scenery from the usual "sitting in front of a computer editing, filing and uploading." It's necessary, but it gets old fast. So we took out a couple 7D Mark iis, some 5D mark iiis, one 300mm, one 400mm, one 100-400mm 4.5-5.6, a few 200mms, and a bunch of other wider lenses. Needless to say, we were stocked and ready to photograph some wildlife.

Ricardo shooting the jumping fish.

Always gotta be on the lookout.

I handled the 100-400mm for most of the day. As the amateur wildlife photographer in the group, it made sense I would take this one. Here is why:  

The hardest part about shooting big glass is finding your quickly moving subject within the very small frame you are looking through. A small swallow can fill your frame! It takes lots of practice to get good at seeing your subject with your eyes then finding it within your frame. With the 100-400mm, though, you can zoom out to 100mm to see more of the setting and find your subject, then zoom in while keeping it in your frame. For example, if a seagull is flying in the sky, zoom out and find it, and while you can still see it, slowly zoom in while keeping it in your sights. Once you are at 400mm take the shot.

Even with the 100-400mm lens, it another issue arises: focusing. I was lucky enough to be shooting with a 7D Mark ii which has amazing autofocus features and speeds, but it still takes some practice. You are trying to catch a fast moving object against a background very far away, so if you miss, you miss bad, like you see to the right...

Click the image to enlarge and see the missed focus.

Other than that, I just made rookie technical mistakes because I was shooting something I was not yet comfortable with. My shutter was too low, or my aperture was too low, or my ISO was too high, you know the drill. For this kind of stuff, shoot no lower than f/5.6. This will allow 100% of the animal to be in focus (usually). Nothing is worse than catching focus on the wing and not the head of a bird. Also, throw your shutter HIGH. I had mine above 1/1000 at all times. These birds move faster than you think. 

Useful tip for your shutter speed:

I always shoot on manual, but when I was shooting the wildlife I tried TV mode. This allows you to lock your shutter and make the camera do the other settings by itself. This way, you can keep that shutter fast enough to freeze the subject, and your camera will make sure it is lit up enough. Once I did that my pictures looked a lot better.

Overall, I had a great time shooting big glass in nature for the first time. I learned so much, and things like tracking a small target through a narrow frame really helped me shoot better. I will definitely be out there again soon, maybe next time with the 400mm 2.8 (if Jeff lets me).

(Enjoy some landscape/feature shots I took while I was there)