Sharpness is the Most Important Aspect of a Quality Photograph
In my eyes, sharpness is the main determinant of a quality photograph. Obtaining a crisp picture is crucial to your success in wildlife photography.
If a stock library looks at your pictures to decide whether you will be allowed as a contributing photographer, this would be their main consideration. Unsharp images? Hasta la vista, see you later. Pictures fit for publication is sharp nine out of ten times.
This does not mean you should not try to be creative with your use of blur or out-of-focus special effects. It is, however, painfully obvious when a shot intended to be sharp turns out blurry.
Wildlife photography in Africa almost always happens from inside a vehicle. It is only in a handful of reserves that you are allowed outside your vehicle. This means a tripod is a no-no. It wouldn’t work for obvious reasons.
However, unless the light is extremely bright (something not really desirable either) it is a good idea to support your camera. You have two main options here. The one is investing in a proper window-and-door bracket. I had a South African manufactured one where you leave your window about two centimetres from completely open. The bracket leans on this bit of protruding window. The weight of your camera and lens is then carried by the bracket being supported by the outside of the car door.
However, when I purchased my Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens I was worried that the window might not be able to handle the weight. I then modified my bracket by adding on 2 aluminium strips so that it rests on the inside of the car door (instead of the window).
This bracket comes in very handy when used for panning moving subjects. Especially when used with a good Bogen (or Manfrotto) fluid tripod head. I use a fluid video head, that is very good for panning shots.
Alternatively, one of the simplest items of essential professional nature photography equipment for Africa, is the beanbag. It ranks just behind my camera body and my favourite lens in terms of importance. A properly used beanbag (or two) does supply solid support for even the heaviest lenses. My definition of a beanbag is a durable material bag (about 7 inches by 11 inches) filled with rice. I find that beans are a bit too fluid. Another filling I have used with some success is candle wax shavings. It keeps its shape even slightly better than rice (which is the general favourite).
These two options provide a solution to sharpness problems when taking pictures from a vehicle. Both are viable options, with the more practical and easier solution being the beanbag. It surely provides the most solid support you can get on a car door… I can really recommend the use of a beanbag.
It has improved the sharpness of my pictures considerably.
Everybody does not live in Africa. Elsewhere in the world people are often allowed to walk around in reserves. If this is you, get a good monopod. Better still. Get a good solid tripod. The extra sharpness afforded by using a sturdy, quality tripod is worth the extra effort of carrying it around.
One technique I have read about and used fairly successfully is to rest my hand on top of the lens when taking pictures (when using a long lens). This can be applied when using a tripod, a bracket or a beanbag. Most vibrations are caused by movements of parts inside the camera body and the argument goes that your left hand resting on the lens will absorb some of this vibration and help produce sharper images.
I have also read about a variation of this theory where you put a beanbag on top of your lens. I have not really tested this as I need my hand on the lens when working with a remote cable release. I have to support the camera on my car door in some way, especially if my wife decides to drive a bit closer 🙂
Some people argue that you should also roll your finger when firing. I prefer not to touch the camera body at all. A very important piece of equipment I recommend (if you are not using it already) is a remote cable release. For those who do not know, this is like a second shutter button attached to a piece of wire, which is then plugged into your camera body. The wire between the switch and the camera ensures that you do not cause unnecessary vibrations. Also, this is such a cheap piece of equipment that you won’t lose much if you decide against using it.
So, now you know what to consider when getting to the “S” in “ISACA”. Always take the bit of extra effort to ensure a sharp shot (it is a real effort, believe me). However, you will not regret the results…
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