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Nikon News Hound: Long Lens Technique

August 23, 2009 2 comments

Long legs with long lens technique.

Long legs with long lens technique.

Many of us, weened on our first multi-purpose starter lens, inevitably find that our starter lens falls a bit short. Looking to extend and diversify we turn to the sports or nature photographer — who use specialized glass with an extremely narrow field of view to render most distant subjects close. We envy their “big gun” lens.

Who wouldn’t want to fill their viewfinder frame with a son or daughter dunking their first hoop shot? How about a Great Blue Heron balanced atop a perch on a tree it is nesting in, or the sun slipping over the horizon in a fiery blaze of glory?  This is the realm of long lenses — but with awesome power also comes responsibility.

Some of us shooters start with a trusted Nikon manual focus lens — such as a Nikon mirror lens . They are still generally in circulation, relatively inexpensive, and fit the ubiquitous Nikon F mount available on many a Nikon SLR digital camera.

For distant subjects, the primary rule is always “use enough glass”. Extreme magnification presents a challenge for photographers — whether the lens is a macro, micro, or super-telephoto. It’s possible to get lucky, but the outcome is far more predictable and probable if calculated measures are taken. So what calculated measures? More than anything else, good lens technique along with the right choice of equipment.

With this in mind the Nikon News Hound offers a few tips:

  1. Use enough support. Long lenses are generally heavy and hand holding is unreliable. Even modern VR (vibration reduction) technology, only mitigates vibration and won’t necessarily eliminate it. Advanced mitigation is only by good lens support. This could be a bean bag, a rolled up jacket, a monopod, a high quality tripod and head that doesn’t creep under the weight of your lens, or vibrate when the shutter of your camera is released. Tighten down all clamps that hold your camera and lens.
  2. Use enough speed. Super telephoto lenses with wide light sucking apertures of ƒ2.8 or less are not only extremely expensive, but also relatively heavy. In general, for full frame cameras the shutter speed should be equal to or greater than the focal length of the lens. Ideally one and-a half to two times. In most cases lenses to fit these criteria aren’t feasible to make or use, and so a higher ISO sensitivity should be used. Don’t be afraid to crank up the sensitivity of the sensor or film for the alternative is a blurry subject.
  3. Use enough smarts. Further steady your lens by placing some weight — whether a sand bag or your hand — firmly over the center of balance on your camera and lens. Use your arms, hands and face for vibration dampening. Release your breath slowly, and pull the trigger on your shutter shooting at single or a slow continuous speed. If the subject is still enough to lock up the mirror — should your camera model be fortunate to allow it — use a remote release. Just do it.
  4. Practice. Dry runs and rehearsals will help to pre-visualize and anticipate a moment before it happens.  You can either sit in the drivers seat or you can react to the pylons thrown your way at any given moment.  The chances for success favor pre-visualization. Know your lens. Know your subject. Know your methods.

In summary, with long lens photography, a photographer must take every advantage to render a sharp shot. Equipment is secondary to proper technique. Use enough support, enough speed, enough smarts, and most of all practice. For some subjects, a long lens will always fall short. Learn to live within these constraints, and shoot within the scope of the niche you’re trying to fill.

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