Life in the Bush

A General Guide to Wildlife, Nature and Bird Photography

A General Guide to Wildlife, Nature and Bird Photography

I sometimes teach students of photography, and also game rangers whose academic levels vary from highly academically educated, to “not-so-great”…

My main objectives are more a case of how to understand and use cameras, the general principals of photography, together with the specific end goal of becoming better photographic guides for their guests. https://www.wildweb.co.za/blog/tag/game-ranger-photography-course.

Photography can be really intimidating and confusing. My methods are unconventional, and I choose to rather use very basic terminology, designed to make the science of photography, optics and light, more easily understandable in general layman’s terms, rather than use the scientific vernacular.

In my personal approach to photography, I choose basic logic of understanding first, then building your own style thereafter. I manage to achieve results which please myself and others from time to time, so I guess that this proves that there is no absolutely right or wrong way of achieving acceptably good end results.

Kindly note that the content and opinions expressed in this article, are my own personal interpretation of my craft and views, which work for me. All views expressed by me, are intended to be constructive, and certainly not to cause any ill-feeling to others who don’t share my views.

“Am I right, or wrong?” I think this should be better stated as… “Is the image provocative, pleasing, abhorrent, funny, sad, or evoke any other emotions?” If an image can elicit one or more of these emotions, in my opinion, it has succeeded in telling the story which I saw at that moment in time.

Equipment

Most camera bodies are built to generally capture an image, but what sets them apart, is their ability to achieve specialised results, such as freezing a moment in time (Fast shutter speed / High frame rates); Capturing an image in extreme lighting circumstances (High ISO capabilities); Capturing posed moments under special circumstances, and intricate lighting (High pixel count sensors), just a casual scene, or just a quick a selfie.

Big brand manufacturers build cameras for differing specialised purposes, and a good “rule of thumb” gauge is that technology costs money… A camera body with fewer features and physical capabilities is usually one with a lower price tag, progressing to the large “Flagship” models which boast the fastest, largest, best features and carry the price tags to match! While all cameras will capture a reasonable image, it is their build features which set them apart. “Photography 101” states that you must understand what you require from a camera, and then seek out the model with those specific features, best suited to your personal needs. You can get to town walking, riding a bicycle, a small car, or a Rolls Royce. Or you may have to use a specialised 4×4 vehicle to cope with certain terrain constraints. Cameras are no different.

It is important to understand that in today’s world, photographers have many varying needs, and no longer simply purchase a general-purpose camera body if they specialise in a particular genre of photography. Specific needs are served by specific camera models, which make it extremely important to understand and know what your “end game” or goals are, in order to equip yourself with the most appropriate equipment to suit your needs and budget.

Photographing wildlife, nature and birds, all in their natural surroundings can be extremely frustrating, and often impossible, without the appropriate equipment.

Without being brand-specific, here are some basic principles which need to addressed to maximise full potential in order to achieve the desired results. If you are satisfied with “portrait type” images of statics subjects, and “happy snaps” which you can post on social media, then a regular point-n-shoot with a 10x / 20x zoom, or even a cell phone will suffice. However, if you aspire to capturing action images of animals and birds, actively participating in their everyday life, you really do need to equip yourself with the appropriate, specialised equipment with which to get that job done efficiently.

Fast action images demand fast action equipment offering high frame rates of no less than 7-10 frames per second and more, with high shutter speeds, fast focus tracking functions with lowlight capabilities.

Full frame or cropped sensors?

16 Megapixel – 20 Megapixel sensor cameras or more, will be sufficient for publishing in books, magazines and media. I have even had images from 3 Megapixel cameras published, so publishing becomes secondary for consideration. I personally like large Full Frame sensors because they allow me to crop for composition.

Cropped frame sensors will give your extended focal reach without any F Stop handicaps and will also produce excellent images for publication.

Landscapes and static images usually don’t require cameras with fast frame rates, but rather higher megapixel rated sensors to capture maximum fine subject definition. Many of these images are displayed as fine art images which demand greater, fine detail.

High pixel rated sensors are also used in the advertising and graphic industries for bill boards and large format posters etc.

Lenses: Zoom lenses are the most versatile, but are a little “slower” by comparison to the long f2.8 and f4.0 prime lenses which are bigger, heavier, faster and also more expensive.

100mm-400mm Zoom: The most affordable, recommended as ideal general-purpose shooting for fast moving subjects. A second rig of 70mm-200mm f2.8 or f4.0 is extremely handy and will also deliver very good results covering a wider variation of focal reach and opportunities.

I always carry a second rig mounted with a 70mm-200mm f2.8 MKii which provides me with a total focal reach from 70mm through to 400mm at my disposal. It also saves me changing lenses in the field which is time-consuming and stands a good chance sucking dust into the sensor housing.

The Middi and Long prime lenses such as 300mm f2.8, 400mm f2.8, 500mm f4.0, 600mm f4.0 are really good glass (aka: lenses), great for specific jobs, but in my personal opinion, rather limiting in their variation of opportunities, not to mention heavy and necessitating bean bags, camera mounts, monopods and tripods to achieve maximum potential.

I am extremely fortunate to use a Canon 200mm-400mm f4.0 zoom lens, but Canon also make an excellent 100mm-400mm f4.5-f5.6 http://www.kenrockwell.com/canon/lenses/100-400mm-ii.htm

NIKKOR 80mm-400mm f4.5-f5.6 https://www.ephotozine.com/article/nikon-nikkor-80-400mm-f-4-5-5-6g-ed-vr-ii-review-22065 which are really versatile and very successful lenses for wildlife, nature and birds, as well as action sports.

NIKKOR 200mm-500mm f5.6 https://www.naturettl.com/wildlife-photographers-review-nikon-200-500mm-f5-6-lens/ is a great lens with an affordable price tag.

A more budget-friendly option is the SIGMA 150mm-600mm f5.-6.3 “Sport” lens which is great value for money, but still does a great job. http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Sigma-150-600mm-f-5-6.3-DG-OS-HSM-Sports-Lens.aspx

FUJI 100mm-400mm f4.5-f5.6 http://www.kenrockwell.com/fuji/x-mount-lenses/100-400mm.htm

SONY 100mm-400mm https://petapixel.com/2017/04/19/sony-reveals-100-400mm-f4-5-5-6-g-master-lens-longest-e-mount-yet/ This lens has yet to be released, but it looks spectacular due to its really compact size.

Important features to understand and consider.

F Stops: The “F Stop” rating / description of a lens is simply stated as “the ratio of the diameter of the “hole” at the back of the lens barrel, in relation to the length of the lens barrel” eg: A lens which is rated as f2.8 means that the diameter of the hole at the back of that lens, goes into the length of the barrel 2.8 times… Or in simple terms, a large hole which lets in a lot of light quickly, which allows a faster shutter speed.

But the trade-off is a very shallow depth of focus, unless you stop the aperture down by a few stops… This is known as a “fast” lens because it allows a lot of light to pass through in a short space of time, and enables a fast shutter speed to freeze a moment of action.

Fixed Prime lenses are lenses which have a fixed barrel length (As opposed to a zoom lens which is able to telescope longer and shorter) The F Stop is stated as just one number eg: f2.8 or f4.0

Zoom lens has the telescopic ability to lengthen or shorten the lens barrel. ie: The fixed diameter size hole at the back of the barrel, but the barrel changes length eg: f4.5 – f5.6.

Strong Recommendation: As a rule of thumb, I always strongly recommend rather using proprietary brand lenses on their own matching proprietary brand camera bodies.

SIGMA and TAMRON are excellent lenses, and are also built with Canon and NIKON mounts. They produce excellent results, but the ultimate desired partnering, and best optical results happen when you use the same brand of lens and matching camera body.

Hard as it may be to accept, there is a limit to the point where skill does give way to the physical attributes of the equipment you use. You get what you pay for in photographic equipment, and this is directly commensurate with performance at the professional end of the equipment scale.

Shutter Speed and most “prosumer” (between professional and consumer level) camera bodies offer up to 1/8,000th second shutter speed, which are perfect to freeze action.

Note: While a lot of photography teachers advocate a shutter speed which is a little over the length of the lens focal length eg: A 400mm lens should be used at a 1/500th second or faster, I prefer a rule-of thumb estimate to the make the shutter speed no less than twice times (2x) the focal length of the lens being used… eg: 70mm-200mm lens should be shot at no less than 1/400th second to successfully freeze movement in an image.

In bright light, the shutter speed should be pushed to its absolute maximum, to enable the histogram (aka: “Little mountain”) to remain in the middle of the review screen at the rear of the camera. To achieve the correct shutter speed, the histogram at the back of the camera body should sit roughly in the middle of the review frame without breaking into the left margin or right margin. The Ideal setting should result in the “little mountain” having its peak just to the right of centre of the overall screen, at the rear of the camera body. (aka: Exposing to the right)

Histogram: A histogram is a graphic resembling a “little mountain” as seen in the review screen at the rear of the camera. A histogram simply displays the tonal range of light in an image as a graph. Enabling the histogram display: On most modern camera’s there is a button marked “Info” at the back of the camera body. This is set by a) recalling / playback an image, then b) double click the “Info” button will display the histogram during an image recall as a default setting.

It is strongly recommended to set the replay to display the histogram during the replay of the image after it has been captured/ reviewing.

Highlight Alert: (aka: Blinkies) In addition to the histogram, it is highly recommended that the internal “highlight alert” menu setting is enabled.

The over-exposed pixels on histogram will flash on/off indicating over exposure… To mitigate this, simply set a higher shutter speed until the blinking stops. Immediately after an image is captured, check to see the shape and location of the little mountain in the review screen frame. If there are any parts of the image which are pulsing/flickering, you simply adjust the shutter speed faster until the “blinkies” no longer blink/pulse. But this should always be read in conjunction with the histogram positioning.

If the image is too dark, the “little mountain” will be sitting against the left-hand margin of the histogram frame. To lighten up the image, slow down the shutter speed. (Allow more light into the sensor)

Keep doing test images of the anticipated action/capture focus area until the “little mountain” and “Blinkies” are in the correct position and the actual play-back image looks fine.

Note: If the image looks fine, the histogram is centred in its frame, but there are still “blinkies”, you should still be able to correct the slightly blown areas during the post-processing of the image. It simply takes practice… By perfecting this checking process during a shoot, you simply prepare yourself for the “action” moments, and then you can simply blast away, knowing that you will have the appropriate metering/lighting in the images.

Frame Rates: You will also require a body which can offer a higher frame rate, starting at about 10 frames per second or faster. Logically, this extrapolates to grabbing more frames of one action sequence, and increases your chances of catching that split-second, perfect frozen moment.

ISO Speed: Most modern camera bodies allow very high ISO Speed options, but I strongly recommend capping the ISO speed at no greater than ISO 1,600 or less, to minimise the presence of noise in the image. Remember that noise hides in shadows. Cropping also enhances noise in an image.

Some manufacturers claim to produce minimal or no noise at high ISO speeds, but that is totally dependent on so many light factors. Therefore I prefer to shoot in AUTO ISO, capped at ISO 800, with a manual over-ride option to set to a maximum of ISO 1,600 and no more. This is my personal preference, but each person should try to find their own personal preferences, and what is acceptable to them.

Pixel Count: I have had images captured on a 3 Megapixel camera, published very successfully in magazines, but in modern times I would recommend bodies which have sensors rated from 16 Megapixels or greater. This gives some allowances for cropping of images, helping to get the final composition right.

Storage Media Cards: Most common are the Compact Flash (aka: CF Cards) and Secure Digital (aka: SD Cards) There are other forms such as the specialised CFast 2.0 cards as used specifically by the Canon 1DXMKii and also SDHC and SDXC which resemble the SD cards in size and shape, but the performance is slightly lower. The attached article in this link is a perfect explanation http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/education/infobank/media_cards/media_cards.do

It is advisable to use storage media cards with write speeds of no less than 60 Meg per second or greater. The faster the better for reducing buffering times.

Sensors: “Full Frame” Vs APS-C (Cropped sensors) https://www.camerajabber.com/full-frame-vs-aps-c-cameras-whats-real-difference/

A full frame sensor will deliver the same focal reach as stated on the lens being used on that body. ie: A 400mm lens will deliver 400mm focal reach, but a camera body with the physically smaller APS-C, cropped sensor, actually delivers the stated focal reach of the lens, multiplied by the crop factor. Ie: A 400mm lens on a camera body with an APS-C cropped sensor with a eg: 1.5x crop factor, will deliver an effective, focal reach of 600mm, without changing the aperture factor of the lens. ie: That f4.5 – f5.6 lens, still maintains its f4.5-f5.6 aperture rating.

Extenders / Converters / Tele Converters: These are short insert barrels, fitted with glass lens elements, secured between the camera body and the main lens. Their lens elements magnify, and their electrical contacts enable the electrical operating auto-focussing system to be operated by the body of the camera. (*Depending on the brand, these can magnify by the factor of 1.4x , 1.7x and 2x)

Extenders / Converters / Tele Converters add length to the overall barrel of the lens mounted to the camera body, and this increases the ratio between the diameter of the hole at the back of the lens and the total length of the barrel of the lens, which is why this changes the F Stop. IE: The 1.4x

Extender increases the F Stop by one aperture stop of light, and the 2x Extender is physically longer and increases the F Stop by two aperture stops of light.

Usually extenders should NOT be used on Zoom lenses as they cause the lens to become much slower, and also very often the AUTO FOCUS functionality is lost, resulting in focussing having to be done manually. This is really impractical.

What is a digital image?

To understand a digital image, you must first understand an old film image.

In the days of film, a strip of celluloid (aka: Plastic) was embedded with randomly distributed, fine dust particles known a zinc halides, which were sensitive to light. As the camera shutter opened, it allowed light to strike and expose the halides in varying levels of intensity, thereby creating a negative exposure.

The celluloid film was kept in its own light-proof cassette, and only removed from that cassette in a darkroom where the film was washed through a series of chemical processes and the exposed zinc halides were chemically “fixed” in order to hold their exposure.

The film strip was then loaded into a controlled light projector and aimed at chemically treated, light sensitive paper for a certain period of time, depending on the requirements of the person processing that film and printing the image. Once that was done, the paper was then placed in a bath of chemicals for a fixed period of time until an image appeared, then the image was washed in a bath of “fixer” chemicals and left to dry.

In order to emulate the zinc halides in the celluloid film, an electronic, light sensitive sensor is built in a matrix (aka: Grid). Each halide is replaced with a photo site, which is essentially a tiny light meter capable of reading 256 intensities of light from white to black.

As a shutter is triggered, an amount of light hits the sensor which is comprised of various intensities of light all over that sensor. It is these variations of light at different places on that sensor, which appear as an image. Instead of zinc halides being exposed, each photo site measures the intensity of light which hits it, and this reading is recorded as a number. Coupled with a mathematical algorithm representing its position on the grid (eg: 157 across x 998 down) the light reading is converted into a mathematical algorithm of its own.

In order to get colour, the light travels through a RED, GREEN and BLUE filter. This again creates a new algorithm.

For the sake simplicity, there are one of two other processes which are described in the form of a mathematical algorithms, and all these different algorithms are combined to create one large algorithm per photo site. The size of the matrix (aka: Grid) of an eg: 20 Megapixel sensor means that the processor/s in a camera have to calculate a set of algorithms for intensities of light, RGB colour, position in the matrix plus one of two others, then ALL multiplied 20,000,000 (twenty million) in order to arrive at one digital image, which is really nothing less than a bunch of numbers, expressed as one very large algorithm.

It is important to understand this because post processing software is simply a visual means of using a series of sliders to physically manipulate mathematical algorithms, and which make it possible process a digital image on a computer.

JPEG Explained

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qys8R_3H-kc

When the camera is set up to capture JPEG format, it means that there have been certain “in camera” manipulations and compression of data (aka: lossy compression) made by the camera’s internal software resulting in a JPEG (compressed) image being transferred to the storage medium card in the camera.

The process of compression of a digital image identifies individual photo sites which have similar intensities of light and the same colour. In order to even out slightly varying colour and light variations, the camera software will take an average reading calculated at 5% less and 5% more either side of the mid-range readings, and create an average colour and light shade. To the naked eye, this is usually indiscernible and acceptable.

However, large sections of image real estate in the new JPEG image will now contain far fewer binary code characters. Eg: An image of a sunset will have large areas of pink/red which all appear alike, so all the eg: similar pinks are given a basic average symbol with only it’s matrix position varying. This is a huge saving of binary code characters.

When this combined mathematical algorithm representing a digital image is applied to a postprocessing application such as Light Room / Photoshop, the software, represented visually in the Develop Module or in Photo Shop etc, and seen as various tools with sliders, enables us to physically alter the mathematical algorithms by various factors embedded in the software and operated by sliders.

NOTE: The process of compressing images into JPEG files, effectively removes large portions of an image during that process. Exact original pixels are replaced by irreversible mathematical formulae. This severely limits the scope for post processing a JPEG image.

RAW Image: An image captured in RAW format is effectively a true digital negative, with all the original information that every single photo site on the sensor captured in its RAW state. There is no compression or manipulation. (aka: Lossless capture) and the perfect format to use with post processing software.

Most modern “Prosumer” DSLR cameras will allow the camera to capture both RAW and JPEG images simultaneously. This feature was designed for the photographers who needed to transmit their images elsewhere without having to undertake any post processing as a matter of urgency of their profession. Eg: Photo journalists, Professional sports photographers etc…

To my way of thinking, unless there is an urgency need, shooting in RAW format is absolutely imperative.

What settings I use for action sports, wildlife and birds?

White Balance: AWB – Colours are measured in temperature using Degrees Kelvin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_temperature eg: Warm daylight is measured @ 5,200 -5,400 Kelvin.

Set the White Balance in camera to AWB (aka: Auto White Balance) and leave it as a default setting as the temperature/colour hue of images can be altered in post processing.

ISO Speed: This is a measure of sensitivity which the sensor receives and captures light through the lens. In low light the ISO Speed can be raised to achieve decent shutter speeds, but remember that the higher ISO Speeds, the more chance of “noise” (aka: Grainy images)

I choose to avoid noise where possible and have limited my camera bodies to only reach a maximum of ISO 800 with a manual over ride option of ISO 1,600.

Back Button Focus: https://improvephotography.com/4552/back-button-focusing/

To minimise delays when shooting action, I find it better to split the metering and shutter release functions away from the focussing function, so your usual index finger which triggers the shutter, will also trigger the metering function. At the rear of the camera body is a button marked AF-ON (Canon and NIKON).

By simply pressing the AF-ON button the focus across a flat plane is achieved instantly. Imagine a sheet of glass immediately in front of the camera.

Fix a focal plane, then remove your thumb and recomposed the image, while the forefinger takes care of the metering and shutter release as one action.

Focussing: Most modern cameras allow you to set how you will focus on a subject from a “single point”, to a “small cluster” to a large cluster/shotgun effect.

  1. Single point: Each of these has its own particular usefulness and application. Single point is usually used when shooting a static subject or a subject which is in situated in a “busy” area which has foreground and background material, so set one “single point” to hit the precise subject which results in just that subject being in perfect focus… Provided you are shooting a small F Stop / shallow depth of focus/field eg: F2.8
  2. Small cluster: Usually a centre point surrounded by four complimentary points making a small square/diamond shape… This is usually used for moving targets, which are passing through a contrasting area.
  3. Large cluster/ shotgun pattern (aka; known as the “spray and pray method”): As the name implies, this will spray focal points around… Used mainly for birds flying in a clear sky, and will not be very successful where there is other material in the scene. Eg: A bird flying through some trees etc.

NOTE: Focal points can be moved around a viewfinder by means of a toggle at the rear of the camera. This is particularly helpful in certain situations.

Do not forget that Back-Button-Focus locks the focal plane, and by removing your thumb once focussed, this enables you to recompose – very quickly! BBF takes practice, but is really worth perfecting.

To gain the maximum potential for capturing sharp images, you need to be aware of your background, the desired depth of focus, and then set the focal points to suit your desired end result.

Metering

Simply stated, this is all about the tonal range of light.

When you press the button under your index/forefinger, the camera takes a light meter reading, but you have the option to dictate how it reads that light. Most modern cameras allow you to set the different areas from which light is measured/metered.

NOTE: The metring functions are centred in the middle of the viewfinder, and cannot be moved around a viewfinder like focal points.

  1. Centre Point Metering: This one point becomes the absolute spot from where the camera’s light meter reads its light. Used mainly in “creative” images such as back/side / mood lighting. It is also used when trying to create a strong contrast between a subject and its background eg: A White bird standing against a dark back ground. You would use a centre point aimed directly at this white bird and the camera would use that to calculate the light so as to provide good detail in the white feathers.

NOTE: At this point, one would normally discuss EV Compensation which works in conjunction to metering etc, but for this discussion I will leave it at simply “reading the light at one specific point so the detail is clear”.

  1. Centre-weighted metering: For most modern cameras, this setting reads approximately 4% of the area in the middle of the viewfinder and sets the metring accordingly. I have recently changed my metering modes from “Evaluative” to “centre-weighted metering” and this is working really well for my purposes and style.
  2. Evaluative/Matrix metering: The camera will read the light over all the area as seen through the viewfinder, and set the metring accordingly.

NOTE: Once any focus or metring selection points go beyond just the single, centre point metering and for that matter focussing points are the same, the camera starts to work on an average measurement in that area, until the overall area is measured and given as an average.

This results in the possibility that focus may not be as sharp as it could possibly be, and also means that the lighting will not “pop” as much as it would, by using one centre point. However, as long as you shoot in RAW format, you should have the opportunity to correct/enhance what you possibly lost, by not shooting one single focal or metering point.

The Story in an Image

Every image which we set out to capture has a specific goal in mind – to tell the story about that subject, and what it is doing between the subject and its surroundings.

In order to tell an interesting story, we must ensure that the important elements which tell that story, are pin sharp / clearly focussed. The surroundings or other features may not be of primary importance, but nevertheless give an understanding of where the action occurred.

Most action shots of birds flying or animals running, primarily focus on the bird/animal, and the surroundings become secondary, which means that the main subject must be pin sharp and clearly in focus, while the secondary elements of the story should match that secondary focus importance.

In these circumstances, the secondary/surrounding details will be a little out of focus. (Aka: Bokeh) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bokeh

“F” stands for FOCUS: “Short depth of focus” (aka: Shallow depth of field)

The space between the two horizontal bars of the “F” will always be in focus. By moving the two horizontal bars further apart, the area in focus will also expand. ie: If the two bars are close together it means a small “F” number (eg: F2.8) and consequently a short area in focus. (That small “F” number is also the aperture setting.)

If the subject material of the story is larger, and we are trying to tell a story about “that group of elephants” eating branches on the edge of a bushy area, that entire group plus the trees are all part of the specific story which we are telling, therefore all that subject material needs to be fully in sharp focus. To achieve this, we increase the distance between the two bars of the “F” and make that number larger eg: F 13 – F22 (Big area in focus = Big “F” number).

Camera Settings: AV (Aperture Priority/value where the camera automatically sets an appropriate shutter speed to capture a reasonable image) TV (Shutter Priority/value where the camera automatically sets and appropriate aperture to capture a reasonable image) M (Manual is where you set the shutter speed and the aperture manually).

Semi-Automatic Modes: AV (aka: Aperture Value) TV (aka: Time Value) P (aka: Program)

P Mode: The camera automatically provides average shutter speed and average aperture to deliver and average image. But this mode allows you to override either. Personally it doesn’t work for me as it is just too much averaging.

TV Mode: Allows you to choose the shutter speed and the camera chooses the appropriate aperture to achieve an average image. This doesn’t work for me as it is just too much of an average.

AV Mode: Allows you to choose the depth of focus/field and the camera decides the appropriate shutter speed to achieve an average image. This mode is used a lot by many action sports, wildlife and bird photographers, but again, it doesn’t do much for me, apart from being a reasonable guide from time to time.

M Mode: I personally only shoot full manual 100% of the time as it gives me the opportunity to select what I want in an image.

Using AV as a guide: Once you decide what story you want to tell, you dial in the “small/short” or “large/long” aperture setting while the camera is set to AV or Aperture Priority/value. (The camera will then decide that appropriate shutter speed in order to achieve a decent image, which is well metered.)

In this camera-mode you decide what you require to be in sharp focus, and simply dial in the appropriate F stop/Aperture and let the camera do the rest.

I personally like to have more control so after setting the F stop/aperture value, so I take the test shot, check the shutter speed which the camera set and then switch the camera mode to M – Manual mode.

I leave the F stop as it was, then dial in the shutter speed which the camera decided, then take another test shot.

In order to use this method effectively you have to use the histogram (Check “Histogram” above)

It is important to understand that the histogram is a guideline which tells you about the exposure/metering of the image.

If the “little mountain” is sitting against or into the left-hand vertical edge of the playback on the rear viewing screen, this means that the image is short of light and will be darker (aka: Under exposed).

If the “little mountain” sits too far one the right and leans up against the right side of the rear viewing screen, the image will be lighter/ (aka: Over exposed)

The objective is to capture an image so that the “little mountain” sits evenly in the middle of the rear viewing screen or a little to the right.

As the “Highlight Alert” (aka: Blinkies) has also been enabled, it will display the over-exposed areas in the image as highlight pulsing.

As long as the little mountain sits in the middle of the viewing screen, you can ignore the pulsing highlights as these can usually be neutralised in post processing by dropping the highlights and/or whites.

Adjusting the “little mountain”: Adjusting the shutter speed enables you to reposition the “little mountain”. Increasing the shutter speed (Roll the top wheel essentially means speeding up the shutter speed (Reducing light) so the image will darken and vice versa for the image to get brighter.

If the image is already dark/under exposed and the “little mountain” sits against the left-hand frame of the viewing screen, by rolling the wheel to the right, you will adjust the flow of light entering the sensor, and the “little mountain” will move back towards the centre of the viewing screen.

You have to achieve optimum settings by shooting a series of test shots and making incremental adjustments until you are satisfied that the test shots look right and the “little mountain”/aka: Histogram) sits roughly in the middle of the viewing screen, you will be ready to capture that action/wildlife image.

Shooting Action / Moving Wildlife and Birds

Being prepared: More often than not, sports people playing sport, animals and birds going about their daily life are moving or about to move, so we have to be ready to capture that movement at very short notice with no warning, so pre-setting the camera is essential.

In order to give myself less to concern myself about when shooting action sports and wildlife, I set my cameras to basic default as follows…

Capturing action sports and moving subjects is essentially done with a fast shutter speed, high frame rates and using the hand-held method for maximum versatility for tracking. With that said, most of the modern photographic equipment designed for such applications is large, heavy and cumbersome, so the trick is to raise and shoot in small bursts, rather than to try and hold the rig up for any length of time.

Monopods are very useful, especially for “predictable” sports such as surfing, athletics and other activities which occur in a laid-out sporting facility, track or course of sorts. I have found that in order to “freeze-frame” most human sporting activities, wildlife, moving animals such as horses, requires no less than 1/1,600th sec and faster. Larger, slower moving birds flying require 1,2,000th sec, and smaller birds, fast-flying birds require no less than 1,2500th sec or faster. Obviously in brighter weather it is far easier to achieve higher shutter speeds, than in overcast weather.

ISO Speed Setting: Digital Noise hides in darker areas in an image. I personally restrict my AUTO ISO speeds to a maximum of ISO 800 “in camera” but I do allow the override to go up to ISO 1,600 and no more.

AI – SERVO for tracking moving subjects: Most modern cameras have the ability to set various levels of tracking of moving subjects. I set AI-SERVO permanently. It is still perfectly possible to shoot single frames of static subjects in this AI-SERVO tracking mode, so in my opinion, it is not necessary to ever change this setting for all sports, wildlife and bird photography.

In my opinion, the only time the ONE-SHOT mode is used is for genre’s like studio work etc.

High Frame Rates: Once a few test shots have provided you with your settings for that place and anticipated action, switch to the highest possible frame rates that your camera allows. Animals, people and birds blink, so the more frames captured in a sequence, the better the potential for capturing that one “magic moment” image.

Even while shooting short bursts, check your histogram. While it sits in the middle of the screen, keep that setting. If not, adjust a few clicks either way to move that histogram back into the middle of that screen. Shoot-and-look works and ultimately delivers the best results.

Storage Media: Try to use cards that have a write speed of no less than 60 Meg per second or faster. This means that buffers don’t take longer than they should to process and download images into the card, and frees you up to shoot more frames.

Shoot lots of frames: Digital is free, so DO NOT delete and images in the field. Wait until you see them on a large monitor before deleting. Some of my best shots looked bad on the camera playback screen, but on a monitor, with a little processing, can be recovered and turned into fantastic creative images.

Handling equipment: Never leave your camera on a seat when in a moving vehicle. Always hold your camera for two reasons. You can quickly pick it up to your eye, aim and shoot and by holding it, the camera will remain safe in your hands. There is nothing worse than a “metallic thump” of someone’s camera falling onto the floor of a vehicle!

Get to know your camera, get to know your subjects and their behaviour or the rules of that sport and how it is played, and above all, get out there and shoot as much as you can and practice!