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Wildlife Photography Natural, Sometimes Savage - But All In All Wondrous
For me personally, the shutter speed is the best invention for cameras as it freezes the action and reduces the effects of the camera shake. If I shoot a static subject matter, then I will try a shot with a shutter speed of 1/400. This, however, creates a less than perfect photo. Because of this, I recommend using a higher shutter speed. If it was a flying bird I was photographing, the minimum of 1/1500 would be ideal but personally, I would prefer to use a shutter speed of 1/2000+.
I generally tend to shoot in the aperture priority mode in order to obtain incredibly fast shutter speeds and at the same time isolate the subject matter was little field of depth. I may stop down for a bit to 1/3 or even 2/3 for additional sharpness. If I am using a 2x converter then I will go down at least one full F-stop.
When shooting at sunrise, I normally start out with my ISO setting at around 1600 and about 45 minutes or so later I switch to lower values such as 400. Those ISO's should be ideal for you if you are using a modern DSLR. After sunrise and before sunset, I may not get the shutter speed that I desire if I use ISO 1600 or 3200. I should consider myself lucky if I get to 1/250 or 1/400! While this will not stop any motion blur, I can guarantee it works wonders with the issues caused by camera shake (what can I say, you win some, you lose some). This is perfect for me seen as I do my shooting with a hand held with selective light.
The math behind works something like this – the closer you are to the subject the higher your shutter speed will have to be in order to capture the action. The reason for this is that it passes through the viewing field much quicker. Many birds photographs are taken from a close range and because of this, incredibly high shutter speeds are required to capture the shot.
When I view my photographs from my shooting sessions and I notice that they are not up to my standards, my bet is that I accidentally switched to mode 2 of deactivated the IS. If I use 1/3000 when shooting birds that are flying, the camera shake often has a minor effect on the sharpness of the final photo. I would also use mode 1 for a flying bird, not mode 2 as the image quality wouldn't be as good.
If the subject matter is in a small area (e.g. a birds nest), a tripod would be the best way to go, however, if the range is greater than expected, I need to shoot with the camera in my hand to follow the subject and get the best results. Walking around the tripod means more movement however, but I get much better shots. If I were to use a hand held camera, my body acts as the standing point which I prefer since in this case subject-tracking requires only natural movement that is less disturbing to the subject. Because the movement is much smoother with my body, the shots I get are much sharper than they would be with the aid of a tripod.
When I shoot with a hand held camera, this does not mean there is no support for my shooting. I usually find something to prop myself on. A vehicle or a tree is ideal, or I get down on my knee, creating a tripod like shape with my body. When I am shooting with a 500/4 and a 1.4x, I do not hold the lens up for long, making it more comfortable and easier to carry it around (remember, comfort is an issue in these cases).