Took my camera for a walk at the local lake after work a few days ago. I am rather pleased with this picture of the autumn leaves on the trees, reflected in the water of the lake under a blue sky.
It’s really useful having a pretty lake like this close by (it’s 5 minutes walk from home), especially after a long day at work. As autumn arrives and the days get shorter, the timing is great. The best light is not at dinner time, causing domestic conflict, and not too early so that I am it is already dark when I get home. I was asked a little while ago how I manage to get the photos I do. First let’s make it clear that there are a couple of us who regularly visit the lake, and my pictures are neither the best, nor do they cover all of the possibilities. There’s still that grey heron I have not captured very well, and a couple of kingfisher shots which I don’t have.
So let’s give some thought to how I get the shots I do.
Firstly there’s local knowledge. On any day I have, by now, a good idea of what lighting conditions I will find at the lake at any time of day. As an example, due to its location and the trees surrounding the lake, the golden hour is largely lost in summer and early autumn, leading to high iso problems when capturing the wildlife.
Over time, I have come to know the behaviour of the local bird life at different times of the year and different times of day. This is important if I plan to catch the birds in action, as in an earlier post of the young swans.
Putting this knowledge into action allows me to decide what gear to take with. There is no point trying to carry my entire system. I would prefer to go with no more than one camera and lens, with, perhaps, a second lens. So let’s consider the gear.
Until recently my DSLR body was a Canon EOS 450D (Rebel XSi), although I have now upgraded to the Canon EOS 60D (current versions are the [CBC country=”uk” show=”y”]Canon EOS 700D[/CBC][CBC country=”uk” show=”n”]Canon EOS Rebel T5i[/CBC] and [CBC country=”uk” show=”n”]Canon EOS 70D Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)[/CBC][CBC country=”uk” show=”y”]70D[/CBC] respectively). My normal lens, with wildlife in mind, is the [CBC country=”uk” show=”n”]Sigma 70-300mm f/4 – 5.6 APO zoom[/CBC][CBC country=”uK” show=”y”]Sigma 70-300mm f/4 – 5.6 APO zoom[/CBC]. On most days that is all I will carry. If I think there is a chance of a nice landscape or sunset, the [CBC country=”uk” show=”n”]Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX[/CBC][CBC country=”uk” show=”y”]Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 EX [/CBC] zoom goes too. On occasion, depending on the weather and time of year I might take a 100mm macro lens as well, or instead of the short zoom.
In terms of camera setting, on the 60D it’s aperture priority, f/8 with ISO set to Auto and the ISO limiter set to 1600. With those settings the camera will generally give me useful settings for the focal length. Of course, once I am there and have something framed, I will check the setting and change to whatever I think is appropriate, but the settings above allow me to react quickly to any action which may happen.
The next part of the job is just a matter of walking and looking for the shot, often waiting for the clouds to move or the wildlife to do something and being ready.
For the record, the picture on this page was shot with the 60D, Sigma 17-50 at 17mm ISO 100 (though set at Auto), f/7.1, 1/256s. Arguably I could have closed the aperture down, but on this lens I suspect there would have been little difference. The shot was processed from RAW in Darktable.
Inexperienced photographers will often put their own failure down to their camera gear. Getting great shots is more about observation, accumulating knowledge and making best use of the gear you have. And practice, practice, practice!
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