Capturing Wildlife

Conference Program


By Joe & Mary Ann McDonald

Sponsored by Olympus

WhenPosted in June
WherePosted in June
SkillAll levels
CostIncluded in your registration

Just over two years ago Joe and Mary Ann McDonald switched to the Olympus micro 4/3rds system, and both agree the change was the most exciting advance in photography they’ve ever experienced.

This program will detail the many features and advantages switching to a micro 4/3rds system has to offer. If one can get past the ego of looking like a pro with a big, heavy lens, the world opens up with an ease of use and increased mobility difficult or impossible to achieve with a traditional full-frame DSLR. Carrying a light weight system not only makes traveling easier, especially for those who fly, but also for in-the-field mobility where weight and bulk are no longer a concern when hiking hills or mountains or great distances. In-camera and lens stabilization make shooting with long focal lengths possible – imagine hand-holding 840mm for shooting birds!

The program will highlight two important features Olympus offers for wildlife and nature photography. Some of these features are available with other camera systems, too, and the tips offered here can be applied to those camera systems as well. These features include ProCapture, probably the most exciting of them all, which captures, pre-shutter release, up to 35 frames, allowing you to capture action that your reflexes, and your cameras inherent delay, miss. How many times have you ‘captured’ an empty branch when a bird launched from its perch? With ProCapture, you’ll get that frame, and the 35 preceding it, which will show the bird through its entire lift-off. The possibilities for capturing images like never before truly makes this a game-changer, provided you recognize the conditions that best utilize this feature.

Joe will be explaining those conditions, preparing you for great shots. Those conditions include framing, timing, shutter speed, and focus. With ProCapture, it is important to leave room for you to capture a sequence. A tight-shot of a perched bird won’t work when the bird lifts off in flight, and you must anticipate the subject’s direction and how big or how large it may be when flying, or leaping, or jumping. Timing is important, too, since experienced photographers are accustomed to firing as soon as the action occurs, in the hopes that their reaction time, and the inherent lag-time of a camera, is fast enough to capture peak action. With ProCapture, it is actually helpful to be a bit slow on the reaction and to not try to time the shutter release for the peak action. Since ProCapture can record up to 35 frames before the shutter is released, it is more effective to actually fire the shutter after a bird leaves the frame! In practice, that’s actually quite easy to do.

Shutter speed is important, too, and the choice of shutter speeds depends on the speed of the subject, the light, and the ISO used. Some wildlife subjects move very fast, especially if the subject is close to filling the frame, and fast shutter speeds are imperative. Since an electronic shutter, rather than a mechanical shutter, is used in ProCapture, shutter speeds as high as 1/30,000th sec are possible.

Rolling shutters, a distorted optical effect that may occur with an electronic shutter, will be explained, and the pros and cons discussed in greater depth. Although a rolling shutter effect may spoil a few images in a series or burst, there is a far greater chance that of the remaining images, usually the majority of images, will not be affected, and the results absolutely outstanding. Focus is dependent upon the choice of ProCapture modes. In ProCapture high, the focus is fixed once ProCapture is engaged. Autofocus (AF) works to acquire the subject, but when the shutter is pressed half-way, engaging ProCapture, the AF is locked. If a subject changes position or distance, a simple toggle with the shutter button or back-button focus will reset focus. On ProCapture Low, AF is continuous because the frame rate is less, but I find I rarely use that because I’m interested in capturing the action at its peak, and the fast frame rate, as high as 60fps, with ProCapture High allows me to do so.

The other exciting feature is in-camera focus stacking, where the camera automatically shifts focus and composites the shots into a single image, enabling great depth of field macro shots. Using macro lenses, wide-angle lenses, or super telephotos, you can capture macro subjects, landscapes, and wildlife like never before. Focus Stacking takes a series of frames, determined by you, at varying focusing distances. You can shoot up to 15 frames, with 7 in front of and 7 behind your focus point, and you can change the focus differential from very small to as large as possible. Although there is no set rule for determining that focus differential – trial and error is the only one that I find works, your choice of aperture does matter. Usually, we think of small f-stops, like f16 or f22, as the best apertures for depth of field, but using those apertures can have two unwanted effects. One, the clarity of the image may suffer slightly because of optical distortion, as light bends through a small aperture, and the smaller apertures may require slower shutter speeds or higher ISOs. Subject movement may register at slower shutter speeds, and increased noise may occur at higher ISOs. Two, and perhaps even more important but less considered, increased depth of field increases the degree of apparent sharpness in the background. You may only want your subject to be sharply in focus but you would like a soft, boca-like background. At small apertures, the background may appear with some detail, not necessarily in focus, but nonetheless distracting. Shot wide-open, Focus Stacking will keep the subject sharp, yet minimize any background distraction. We normally don’t think of f4 or f5.6 for macro details, or to maximize the depth of field to cover your subject, but with Focus Stacking is often a valuable option. Shooting with a wide aperture and using Focus Stacking, you can have your subject sharp throughout, yet still maintaining a soft-focus background.

There is another advantage as well. Even with a small aperture, like f22, depth of field, particularly in macro, is quite small. For example, if you were photographing a three-inch-long dragonfly or frog facing you, not sitting parallel, even at f22, a frame-filling dragonfly or frog might only have the area immediately around the eyes in sharp focus. The mouthparts of the dragonfly and the wings and abdomen would be progressively less in focus, similarly so would the snout and body of the frog. With Focus Stacking, using a combination of f-stop, focus differential, and number of shots (up to 15), you could get virtually the entire animal in focus. There is really no set combination or formula for doing this, but by a little trial and error and experimentation, for the subjects you like to shoot, you can create a template that will work. I’d suggest using a ruler or yard stick, facing you, not parallel, and conducting a series of tests to see what combination works best for the size subject you’ll be shooting.