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Thread: focal distance

  1. #1

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    focal distance

    How close do you have to be to something, say a hawk maybe, in order to get a decent photograph with a 300mm lens.

    I see hundreds of photos all over photography boards of closeups of raptors, and when I ask everyone insists that you can get the shots with a 200 or 300mm lens. Some people say you have to get close but they don't say how close, and there's no way to get closer to something that's up a tree or flying over head unless you can fly as well.

    The only thing my 300mm lens seems to be good for is getting better shots of dragonflies that I can't get close enough to with my shorter lens. Otherwise it seems to be completely useless for anything.

    I have taken photographs from my balcony of birds on neighbors balcony (I'm on the third floor, they're on the second). Those aren't so great either. I could probably crop them and have an OK shot but the neighbor's balcony is a mess and ruins the images no matter what you do.

    Nothing out here is tame - you can't just sit and wait for them to come up in your lap, it's never going to happen. The minute you move they're gone. The birds that nest over the air conditioner won't even fly up to it if I'm sitting on the balcony or standing at the door.

    The other advice is to learn your subject and learn when it's best to get those great shots. Well I know my subject, they sit in trees or out in the fields ... they fly around all over ... they are anywhere and everywhere but where my 300mm seems to reach.

    Everyone says birds are hard to photograph and yet at the same time they say it's so easy - "set up a bird feeder" "you can get good shots with a 200mm lens".

    Well I'm sick to death of asking questions about this on boards specific to nature photography - all they do is confuse me. I'm sitting here looking at some shots I took last Sunday and they're simply a waste of film and effort. The bird is too stinking small and I can't imagine how cropping and enlarging would help (though that too has been suggested).

    Am I just clueless? Am I missing something - like I need to take a ladder with me into the wilderness?

    I don't get it. I really don't. My thinking is a 600mm lens would double the focal length and double the size of the subject and that still wouldn't produce a shot worth getting excited about - not when comparing to the results I've gotten. It seriously looks like you have to be within 10 to 20 feet of your subject and I don't see how that's possible unless your shooting animals at the zoo.

    Any clarification on this matter would be appreciated.

  2. #2

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    From what little experience I have with nature photography you have already identified the 2 main points.

    The longer the lens the better (even with a 500mm lens a small bird will only fill about 25% of the frame from 20 feet away.

    So that also brings us to being as close as possible. Many of the best shots are taken from hides and lots of patience over several days, also many people bait the scene within distance of the hide to get the birds there and keep them there long enough to shoot. Others will set up "false" perches for the bird to land on again within distance of the hide. 200-300mm is fine with wild birds that have become accustomed to human presence allowing you to get reasonably close with slow movement to get the shot.

    Many of the "better" pictures these days are I tremble to say produced by digi-scoping. Hope that in part answers your question. I'm sure there are many more experienced photographers here that may be able to add more information. Good luck it's a very frustrating but rewarding area of photography.

  3. #3

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    300mm with a doubler, maybe. I also here a blind works wonders or a remote shutter release. Here are the lengths I have read about

    Set blind up and hang around in it for four days without leaving so your scent is not as prevelant, wait three more days for raptor to get used to your BO and then maybe if you are lucky you will oly have to wait a couple of more days to get those really powerful shots.

    Put camera in tree or on rock near nest or perch. Wait for rapter to get used to it. set up a remote movement sensor shutter release and pray.

    Get lucky as hell and then lie about it on an internet forum.

    You choose which one those folks on the other board are doing. This is a rough thing to do. I looked into it and realized it took much more patience than I have. I don't have to stalk and wait out a flower of a mountain. Those damn rocks keep getting away from me though.
    Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI

    So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004

  4. #4

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    PM David Goldfarb and ask him, he is an experienced bird photgrapher and I am sure will give you good tips.

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    do a search for a program (freeware I believe) called fCalc. You can work out all the measurements using this little ripper of a program.

  6. #6

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    anyte I use an 80-200mm zoom with a 2x converter. This seems to be ample for most, though sometimes wish I had more. 600-800 is a commonly talked about focal length for wildlife and birds in particular. Much beyond that and a fast enough shutter speed starts becoming elusive.
    If you got a 2x converter on the 300mm, I recon that would be pretty good. The attached images were taken handheld on 50 ASA film at effectively 400mm.
    Last edited by John McCallum; 08-25-2004 at 09:25 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  7. #7
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    I know it's almost like cheating, but have you considered checking out the local zoo? At the very lest, it would be practice, and the handlers are usually quite knowledgeable about thier "wild" habits and habitates.
    Last edited by rogueish; 08-25-2004 at 07:52 PM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: submitted before finished typing

  8. #8
    gma
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    A 2X tele extender will fill the frame and at the same time reduce the effective f stop and resolution. Combined with a 300mm lens, it is your solution for wildlife unless you want to spend a lot for a 500 to 1000mm lens that you might not use all that frequently. When I was in the USAF in Alaska I had a cheap 400 mm (f/6.3 I think). I made moose "portraits" at lunch time at distances of 20-30 feet. The cows are about as smart as a domestic cow and pay little attention to people. Canadian geese were photographed at distances of 50 yards or so with good success. Of course they are enormous birds. I think for any serious wildlife work you will need an effective focal length of 500mm or longer. Mirror optics are available as well at bargain prices.

  9. #9

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    John,
    Those are really nice shots.
    Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI

    So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004

  10. #10
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    Frame filling raptor shots made with a 200mm lens are often of captive birds or involve doing something ethically questionable like baiting them (a recent photo.net "Photo of the Week" is a good example). If you have a feeder or have access to one, then 200mm or 300mm is a possibility, if you have a window or a blind (and a car can serve as a blind if the feeder is accessible to, say, a driveway) that's close enough, or if you set up a remote triggering system.

    That said, most bird photography starts at 400mm. I use a 400/4.5 mostly for handheld flight shots and a 600/4.5 on a tripod. If you're comfortable with manual focus, a lens like a 600/4.5 may be less costly than you think.



    How close do you have to be? Well, 15 feet is ideal for a bird at rest. This usually involves finding where the birds hang out--favorite perches, foraging spots, watering holes--situating yourself where the light is in your favor, and waiting for a long time and shooting a lot of film. On a full day of bird photography, I typically shoot around 6 rolls of 36 exp., and I'm pretty conservative. I've often been set up next to photographers who shoot at least twice as many frames as I do. I could afford to shoot more, but it's just not my style. I usually toss out about half of the shots I take in the first edit--a fairly normal ratio. I spent a few hours by this stream where I photographed the bluejay, and about half a dozen species came by, but this was the nicest shot of the day. I was using the 600 and a 25mm extension tube at about 15-20 feet.



    A blind helps. I haven't really gotten into using a portable blind--eventually I will--but if I'm in an area where blinds are set up, I'll take advantage of it. The goldfinch was at Jamaica Bay Natural Wildlife Reserve, which has a few blinds set up, some with feeders. Really hardcore types will build floating blinds for photographing water birds on lakes and ponds.

    Some photographers are great stalkers. Franz Lanting will dance with the albatrosses. Art Morris will slither on his stomach in the sand to get close to shorebirds without frightening them off. There's a guy named Douglas Herr who is active on some of the Leica forums who takes great shots with old Leica R equipment and a shoulder pod, mainly by using careful stalking techniques in the field, looking at the bird obliquely (i.e., not like a predator), prefocusing and raising the camera at the last moment to get the shot like Henri Cartier-Bresson.



    Flight shots are tough, but the bird is larger with wings extended. I'd say the ideal distance is around 50 feet. Closer than that, and the bird is usually moving too fast even for autofocus. The shot above is a composite of four sequential slides of the same osprey. You'll notice that most bird photographers don't show too many flight shots. I've been working on that, and I have a bunch that I need to scan and add to the website (go to http://www.echonyc.com/~goldfarb/photo/ and click on the mute swan for the bird gallery).

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