Tufted Titmouse at the feeders at Paul Sevensky's house on the morning of 30 July 2012.

Went out shooting with Paul yesterday morning.  When I dropped him off at his place, we spent a few minutes troubleshooting some issues with his garden, and I settled in by the feeders with the 100-300mm to grab a few bird shots, since the crowd there was pretty active.

The last time I tried this, I ended up with a handful of crappy shots and a good bit of frustration – enough so that I had to engineer an elaborate plan involving multiple outdoor flashes setup around the feeders to combat the lack of ambient light in the morning, which in turn would let me come home with sharper, better images.  The plan is feasible, if a bit Rube Goldberg-ian.

Chipping Sparrow at the feeders at Paul Sevensky's house on the morning of 30 July 2012.

Yesterday’s light was no better – the sun was higher in the sky, but still behind the corner of the house where the feeders are location.  So it was deep shade, with no flash.  ISO 1600, f/5.6, and 1/320 still left me about a stop underexposed.  But whatever, I just wanted to grab a few shots for the heck of it, with no expectation that they’d be any good.

Looking at them later , I realized that they were sharper and more detailed than most of the bird shots I’ve taken with the 100-300 since buying it.  Even after pulling the exposure up a stop in ACR.  So what gives?  Is it because I’m using the lens on my 2nd E-M5 body for the first time (while the usual body is off at Oly for a minor repair)?  Possible.  I suppose there could be a faulty IBIS unit on the one camera.

Black-capped Chickadee at the feeders at Paul Sevensky's house on the morning of 30 July 2012.

The only other difference is that for these shots, I plopped myself down in a plastic deck chair by the feeders and braced my arms on my knees.  Could it really be as simple as that?  That hand-holding an effective 600mm lens just isn’t practical and I need to gain some extra stability?  That maybe shooting from the tripod in static locations, or from a monopod on the trail would make a difference?

Hence the facepalm.  Because odds are, it’s just as simple as it sounds.  I’ve been trying to hand-hold this lens in all sorts of conditions, generally cursing it because my shots are never as sharp as they should be, when all along the solution could be just that simple.  I’ll do some further testing to confirm it, but it makes sense that someone with notoriously unsteady hands could, in fact, be incapable of shooting with a super-telephoto without some support.

Isn’t it great how we figure these things out ourselves?


Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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