Shooting a long lens can seem daunting to those who have yet to try it, and even more so frustrating for photographers who have just started snapping shots from afar. Of course, nothing beats practice and understanding proper technique, but with a few little tricks, mastering the use of a long lens doesn’t have to be so frustrating.
Tip 1: Use proper tools for stability
It may seem common sense to shoot with a tripod, but there situations where the ground may not be so accommodating, or photographers must be on the constant move. In many instances, tripods are just too unwieldy and behemoth to carry around. The use of a sturdy monopod can make all the difference when a tripod just doesn’t fit the situation. Monopods are small, easy to carry, and can be adjusted much more quickly than a tripod.
In rare cases when both a tripod and monopod are out of reach, and maximum mobility are of utmost importance, try shooting with a “Stedi-Stock”, which allows a photographer to use the upper torso for a convenient boost to stability. The shoulder-stock for the camera uses a standard, universal tripod-mounting system, can be easily stowed away, and is light weight.
When shooting in awkward positions or low to the ground, the use of a “Gorilla-Tripod” may be precisely what the doctor ordered. These flexible, lightweight tripods are quick and easy to manipulate, taking any shape you require. This tool is invaluable for stabilizing the camera in difficult situations.
Tip 2: Shoot like a Sniper; Breath and Trigger
A sniper shooting a rifle takes the utmost care with each shot, having strict technique when it comes to breathing and pulling the trigger. While photography is a completely different field than firearm shooting, great techniques can still be shared between the two sports.
When a sniper fires a rifle, he minimizes vibration and movement of the firearm using strict breathing technique. This valuable technique can be applied to photography as well. Before ‘pulling the trigger’, slow down your breathing, and take a deep inhale and exhale. Between inhaling and exhaling, there is a moment when body movements are minimal. Relaxation is the key to stabilizing movements. Within the ten second gap of inhaling and exhaling is the best time to take the shot.
Many photographers tend to poke the shutter button to take shots. This creates unwanted shaking of the camera. When shooting wide lenses and fast shutter speeds, this may not be too noticeable, but for long lenses, every wiggle counts. To minimize vibration when taking photos, instead of pulling or poking, slowly, gently, and gradually squeeze the shutter button.
Lastly, practice strict “follow through”. When a sniper fires a rifle, he makes sure to hold his position and not move his firearm until he is certain he has hit the target. The same principal should be applied to photography as well! Try to hold as still as possible until at least a few seconds after you are certain the shot has finished exposing.
Tip 3: Open Both Eyes To Find The Subject
One of the toughest aspects to shooting a long lens is trying to find the subject of a shot within the camera’s viewfinder. The pain photographers must endure when realizing they are just unable to lock onto a subject with the viewfinder, even though the subject is obvious to the naked eye is agonizing beyond what mortal words can express. Luckily, there are techniques out there to help us combat this hardship!
After you see with your naked eyes what you want to take a picture of, put your dominant eye up to the viewfinder of the camera. Instead of closing your other eye, KEEP IT OPEN! With your eye that is not looking through the view finder, focus on the subject you want to take a picture of. Try to use your eye on the view-finder only as peripheral vision. Slowly tilt and orientate the camera until the center-reticule in the viewfinder aligns with the very center of your eyesight. With any luck, the viewfinder should now be reasonably close to your target subject! With a little bit of practice, this technique will be become second nature and you’ll find subject-finding to get faster and easier.
Tip 4: Use Environmental Light Correctly
The easiest way to produce a poor image with a high focal length lens is to use environmental light incorrectly. Simply put, high focal length lenses, such as 200mm and 300mm let in much less light than lower focal length lenses, like 18-50mm. What does this mean for the photographer? It means that shutter speed needs to be slower. Also, because higher focal lengths exaggerate the effects of camera movement (that is, the photographer wobbling or shaking while taking the photo), it becomes much more difficult to capture sharp images.
These difficulties can be dealt with by using environmental light to its full potential. When shooting during the day, face your target, then position the sun directly to your back. This ensures the surface of your target, facing the camera, will be lit as best as possible, and will help prevent the target from getting lost from being darker than its background.
Avoid shooting with the sun directly behind your target, as this results in backgrounds that are brighter than the target.
Tip 5: Read What Other Users Have to Say
Every single lens has its own quirks and tendencies. Luckily for the modern world, the internet makes the sharing of information wonderfully easy. Somewhere in the world, there are groups of people who are using the exact same lens as you, and no doubt, they will be talking about that lens as well. Many lenses have a tendency to take the best exposures at particular settings.
For example, a Samyang 8mm fisheye lens might take the sharpest, clearest photos between f/5.6 to f/11. Testimonials and examples for these facts come from actual owners and users. Make sure to look up information for your lens to ensure that you’re shooting with the best settings possible.
For more tips, techniques, and hands on time with cool camera gear, check out the upcoming The Digital Show Expo in Melbourne, VIC!
Remember that practice makes darn close to perfect! Happy Hunting!