Canon 7D Mark II + Sigma 300-800mm DG EX APO HSM – ISO320, 1/320, f/7.1 + Polarising filter and Gimpro door mount and gimbal head
This Black Shouldered Kite was photographed with a Sigma 300-800mm lens and Canon 7 D Mark II. Shutter speed is 1/320 and the focal length is 730mm, ISO is 320, the final image has been cropped too. Not the sharpest pic in the world but it was far away!
This is extreme for this focal length (with the crop sensor it is 1168mm) and great care needed to be taken. I also used a polarising filter. This had the negative of darkening the image but the positive of reducing glare, shimmer and haze and adding some contrast on the distant bird. Polarisers are very seldom used on long lenses but they can really make a distant shot work.
The final setting is the gain or sensitivity of the sensor. Think of it like the volume on an old stereo. If you have a low volume you may find it difficult to hear but you will have relatively little distortion from the old speakers on the stereo. The sound will be low but faithful to the original.
Turn the volume up and you will start to hear the sound better but also hear more distortion and crackle. Turn it up really loud and you will start to lose the faithfulness and quality and hear lots of distortion, crackle and bass but you will definitely still hear the music as well.
The ISO works in the same way, just with a picture. Too low and you will have a dim but faithful record. Too high and you will have a bright but distorted picture. You have to find the right spot for every image you take.
ISO helps you because turning it up high allows you to adjust the other settings, aperture and shutter speed, down and up respectively. The higher the ISO for a given exposure the less light you have to let in, so the faster the shutter can go or the narrower the aperture can be.
Long lens technique
If you still aren’t getting sharp images at this point, you need to start considering your long-lens-technique (LLT).
LLT involves minimising shake from body movements and slap from the camera shutter. To minimise shake, you will mount the lens and camera on good support and while resting a hand on the forward part of the lens and pushing firmly down against the support you will force your eye and forehead into the viewfinder and the back of the lens.
You will breathe carefully around the shots, take a half breath and hold it, then carefully hit the shutter release.
You can go further than this and use a remote shutter release while standing clear of the lens.
Slap is the movement that occurs due to vibration of the shutter during an exposure. Some camera bodies manage it much better than others. To minimise slap rest a beanbag on top of the lens close to the body or shoot in live view mode. When using live view I’d advise an inexpensive remote shutter release.
Using a flash is an important method to add a little contrast sharpening and detail to a shot and it should not be thought of as just a tool for night-time. Flash also fills in unsightly shadows. In the harsh light conditions I shoot in, it can be really important for allowing me to take shots further into a bright day.
Too often the conditions in summer will preclude photography after 8am. If you have travelled a long way to a site this is a real pain in the butt. I use flash to get around this problem because it can very successfully relieve dark areas.