Photo Tips Podcast: How to Shoot a 150-600mm Lens #83
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How to Shoot a 150-600mm Lens #83
This question comes from one of our participants. “How do you use the 150-600mm lens without a monopod or a tripod?” First of all, when you are shooting a long of a lens, you should really have some sort of support for it. The focal length alone pretty much demands a support just to get the stabilization right, so you can get a sharp image. The other issue is the weight. These lenses are so heavy that in a short period of time your hands will be rather tired making it difficult to stabilize the equipment. But the question is how do you shoot these lenses without a formal support?
To be honest, my experience with a 150-600mm lens only started this year when I took a group Mexico to photograph flamingos. And when I found out that there were opportunities to photograph gazelles and wild horses on my recent trip to Kazakhstan a couple of weeks ago, I actually bought one of these lenses. My fantasy was to shoot wild horses and herds of gazelles, which I never saw. I did see a few gazelles and plenty of horses running wild, but they were just not “wild” horses. For the most part I found myself shooting without a monopod. Instead I used the edge of my car window, or the car’s side mirror. If I was outside the car, I used the hood or the back corner of the car to lean the lens against. This gave me a lot of stability. In other words find something to lean your equipment against. Having said this there were plenty of images probably more than half, where I free-handed it. So what did I do to stabilize myself? First I find that I exhale before I fire, and just before I do press the shutter button I stop breathing. It’s just something that has happened over the years and is my habit regardless of the lens. Whether or not this is actually a good idea and offers me stability is to be debated. It’s just what I do. Another thing I do is I rotate the tripod collar upwards, so it’s out of my way. I know that some people like to use that to hold onto but it doesn’t seem to help me at all and seems to get in the way. Again, this is personal preference.
Another way to get more stability is to kneel and to put your left elbow on your left knee. This will help a lot. I now carry a knee pad because I’m tired of accidentally kneeling on a rock. If you can’t be close to the ground and you need to be standing for your shot, you can rest your elbow against your body for stability, but this will only go so far. By the way, this assumes that you actually know how to hold a camera properly. By properly, I mean that your left palm should be facing up and thumb should be on the left side of the lens and not the bottom of the lens. This is regardless of whether you are shooting a vertical or a horizontal. I find that many people get this wrong and it creates a lot of instability. When you get to a lens this big? You need as much stability as you can get.
As far as your settings are concerned. Shooting at faster shutter speeds may also help as well. Remember at a minimum your shutter speed should be one over your focal length. If you don’t find that this is enough for a sharp image, keep speed up your shutter speed until it’s sharp. If you are shooting in Aperture priority or in Program your camera will know where your focal length is and set your shutter speed properly. However if you are shooting a third party lens you may find that the camera may struggle to keep up with you as you zoom in and out – I found this to be true with the Sigma. Also, if you find that the base calculation of one over your focal length is not enough shutter speed, then you can set your Automatic Minimum Shutter Speed a bit faster. What am I talking about? If you go into your minimum shutter speed setting in your menu you’ll find two options. The first is the ability to set it a minimum static shutter speed; in other words no matter what the camera will never go below whatever you set. The second option is to allow the camera to set it automatically based on your focal length. In the Minimum Auto Shutter Speed setting you will find the ability to tell the camera to always bias a little bit faster or a little bit slower. In this way you can fine tune the camera for your particular ability or needs. However, this option is not available in most consumer rated models.
If you had listened to episode 47 you would have learned that I prefer not own third party lenses. Although I stand by my statement I did just mention that I bought the Sigma 150-600mm lens for this past trip. I did this mostly due to budget. The other was the size. I wanted the 600mm but not the weight of a faster lens. The key reason I normally advise against a third party lens especially over 100 mm is that they tend to be a little bit sluggish to find focus. Although I have nothing to compare this lens to I did find that to be the case. One way to help your lens along is to roll the focus ring manually to get it closer to where it needs to be before putting it up to your eye.
Before I finish up, here’s a pro tip. If you own a lens like the Sigma, where the rubber ridges on the zoom ring are a bit deep put a large band aid on your hand where the ring hits your hand. This will make it a lot more comfortable to use for those long shoots. Another thing you can do is to buy a silicone sleeve to put around that part. This made a huge difference for me. I’ll put a link on the site.