Things I learnt about photography in India part 2 - Technical Tips

May 20, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Here is part two of my photography tips for India.....these tips are the more technical ones! Although these are based on lessons I learnt or lessons that were reinforced by my experiences in India most of them will apply to wildlife photography and safaris elsewhere also, especially forested areas and national parks where you cannot go off road.

1) Use support to stabilize your lens if you are able! I found it difficult to find a system that worked for me in the small vehicle with the gear I had available. Unfortunately in the interests of cutting down my luggage size and weight I decided to leave my gimbal and monopod at home, big mistake as I think this would have been the best solution to the problem of stabilization within the constraints of the vehicle (although you would definitely need a private vehicle in order to use a gimbal and monopod in it). Hand holding heavy long lenses in low light conditions is not conducive to easy photography or sharp images although might result in bigger muscles! The next point provides a potential solution to assist with this problem and help achieve sharper images even without excellent stabilisation. This is how I ended up dealing with my less than ideal situation. See this post for more thoughts about lens/camera support.

2) Consider using a faster shutter speed to aid in "freezing the action" and getting sharp images (for example, this will help if you are hand holding a big lens). You might have heard of the general rule of your shutter speed needing to be 1/your focal length (e.g. focal length of 500mm needs a shutter speed of at least 1/500th sec). I found that this is a helpful starting point but often not quite fast enough, especially if you are hand holding the lens and it is a big one! Unfortunately I found that many of my photos at longer focal lengths were not as sharp as I would have liked, mostly I think because I needed to hand hold the heavy lens due to the constraints of the vehicle. Once I realised this and with some good advice from some kind and more experienced fellow photographers I was able to improve my images by increasing my shutter speed (thanks in particular to Don from Don Davies Photography!).

3) A lens with a wide aperture is VERY useful. It really is incredible what a difference being able to really open up the aperture makes. For example, with the photographs below the first was taken on a aperture of 5.6 and the ISO needed to be 6400 whereas the second photo was taken at around the same time under the same lighting conditions but the aperture was 2.8 and the ISO only 400. The other obvious differences are the shutter speed and focal lengths and of course the interaction between the three elements (ISO, shutter speed and aperture) are vital to understand and also affect the ISO considerably. I will discuss those in the next point.

Life Safari Blog-19Life Safari Blog-19

ISO 6500 519mm 1/800th F5.6

Life Safari Blog-20Life Safari Blog-20

ISO 400 200mm 1/200th F2.8

4) The longer your lens’ focal distance the faster your shutter speed needs to be. This means that you either need to use a wider aperture or increase your ISO or both. Ideally one would decrease one’s aperture but once you reach the limits of what your lens can deliver you then have to start increasing your ISO.

For example the photo below was shot at F5.6 at 560mm, this meant that the ISO needed to be 1600 to achieve a shutter speed of 1/800th (the shutter speed needed to be at least 1/560th but because I was hand holding I knew it actually needed to be higher!).

Life Safari Blog-22Life Safari Blog-22

 

The photo below was shot of the same scene at the same aperture but with a focal length of 160mm and as a result the shutter speed only needed to be 1/160th sec and consequently the ISO just 160.

Life Safari Blog-21Life Safari Blog-21

This also really taught me that the rule above (shutter speed of 1/focal length) works best for shorter focal distances but becomes less accurate at longer focal distances, i.e. it was fine to have a shutter speed of 1/focal length at focal lengths of say up to 400mm but beyond that I found I really needed to increase the shutter speed to at least 1.5 x focal length.

Although this concept was not new to me the conditions under which one tends to be photographing tigers in India really hammered the point home and I think I now have a better understanding of how to deal with a similar situation in the future.

5) Even given all the special considerations discussed above that come with the longer lenses, it is still very much worth taking the longest lens you can get your hands on. There is plenty of wildlife in India but often the animals are not that close to you, especially as the constraints of being in a national park mean you have to stay on the roads, This means that you cannot move closer to an animal which you can see but is still far enough away that it is difficult to get a decent photograph of. Therefore, a long lens (at least 400mm, ideally even longer) will give you a huge advantage in terms of what images you are able to capture.

Unfortunately for most people a longer lens comes with a sacrifice in terms of aperture (i.e. most longer lenses that are affordable have a smaller maximum aperture than the shorter lenses for example a minimum of F4 on a 100-400mm lens at 200mm and a minimum of F2.8 at 200mm for a 70-200mm for a similar price). Fixed focal length lenses tend to be the sharpest and have wider maximum apertures but can be expensive, large and not as versatile as a zoom. It comes down to budget and personal preference. 

If I do not have a lens available that is long enough to get close up pictures of the animal I am looking at my strategy is to try and create images which depict the animal in his or her environment. Actually these have often turned out to be my favourite images. Please see this blog post for more on this subject.

Bonus Tip!

It is possible to rent camera gear if you do not want to or are not able to buy the gear you need but really want for a specific purpose/trip. Companies such as Lens Pro 2 Go in the USA, A Lens for Hire in South Africa and Kayell in Australia (These links are just provided as an example of what is available so please do some research before deciding to proceed! Please note that I have only used Lens Pro 2 Go and not the others so I can only vouch for them but have provided other links based on my research. I have communicated with A Lens for Hire in SA and their customer service seems good although I did not end up renting the lens because I decided to buy it instead!)

​I hope that you will find these tips helpful! I know they are a little technical, if you have any questions feel free to ask me questions and I will try to help if I can!

 

For extra reading to learn about shutter speed, ISO and aperture have a look at the excellent blog posts from Wild Eye - I have learnt so much from reading their blogs and listening to their videos/Q&As - I highly recommend them! You can even ask them specific questions using this page and they will answer them in their Q&A videos. Awesome team of photographers/photographic guides.

 


Comments

No comments posted.
Loading...

Archive
January February March April May (7) June (4) July August September October (1) November December
January (1) February March April May June July August September October November (2) December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December