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Author Topic: Question for wildlife photographer  (Read 6080 times)

Philmar

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Question for wildlife photographer
« on: May 13, 2014, 02:09:13 PM »

I am a city-slicker that does not get the frequent opportunity to photograph nature's many beautiful creatures. I usually shoot urban scenes or landscapes when I get out of the city  - but rarely wildlife. Wildlife requires a different set of skills. I have been booked on an Alaska cruise and when it ends in Seward, Alaska I will spend an extra day to do a day cruise of the Kenai Fjords in a smaller boat. I should have opportunities for whale watching, sea lions, puffins. On the sea cruise there will be day excursions where I could have opportunities to photograph bears and bald eagles.
I recently purchased a Tamron  150-600 f5-6.3 lens for this trip (and for when i do my bucket list African safari in a couple years). But this lens is very heavy (even compared to my Canon 24-70 L Brisk).  I've been practicing with the lens handheld so I know I need to jack up the ISO (not a problem as I own a 5D3). The Tamron isn't the fastest lens and Alaska weather means I'll be shooting in less than favorable conditions so I am asking for advice from wildlife photographers. I'll definitely be bringing a monopod but what accessories should I also get? I use a monopod but the lenses I use (16-35, 24-70 L and 70-200 f4 L) aren't as heavy as the Tamron. I suppose I'll need a better ball head and maybe something else (the lens has a ring attachment).
Also as I'll often be shooting from a boat what other considerations? And how do i carry this tamzooka monster around? I can fit my camera and 3 lenses in a Tamrac Velocity bag but i am contemplating shooting with a 2nd body to reduce lens changing.  I would like to start using a belt/strap system. Do people recommend highly a Loewpro, Think tank or Cotton carrier set up? I
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DeanChriss

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2014, 12:08:52 PM »

You need a rain cover that you can use while shooting. These typically attach snugly around the lens hood, have some other attachments so they don't fly off in a breeze, and drape over the back of the camera loosely enough that you can access controls. There are many different versions ranging from home made ones made from plastic bags and rubber bands (which actually work pretty well) to various commercially made versions with clear viewing windows and Velcro/elastic attachments. It doesn't matter much what you use, but get one and use it a couple times at home to be familiar enough to use it when you need it.
« Last Edit: May 14, 2014, 12:16:57 PM by DeanChriss »
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Philmar

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2014, 12:48:34 PM »

You need a rain cover that you can use while shooting.
great advice - I have been looking at the OP/TECH USA site for something along those lines.
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Philmar

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2014, 12:51:18 PM »

My original post is rather embarrassing. :o That is what happens when you post from work in a rush before an important meeting. :-[
So let me try again.

I am a city-slicker with little wildlife photography experience beyond pigeons, squirrels, ducks/geese in Toronto harbor and my dogs. But i am going on a cruise to Alaska with the in-laws. However, I will have some time to do a few day hikes as well as a small boat excursion in the Kenai fjords and want to photograph the wildlife (bald eagles, puffins, whales, bears, sea lions ect.). To that end, I recently purchased a Tamron 150-600 Tamzooka that is VERY large and heavy - even when compared to my Canon 24-70 L Brick.

Urban photography is my hobby and for that I carry my 5D3 and 3 lenses in a Tamrac Velocity 9 sling bag (I also attach a monopod). I am wondering how I am going to cart this new lens around when I incorporate it in to my hikes. Easiest solution may be to put the Tamzooka in a lens bag that attaches to a belt. I suppose I will hike with just the Tamzooka, 24-70 brick and a wide angle for the landscapes. The Tamzooka will fit with the 5D3 body in the middle column of the bag but not the 2 outside compartments. This means I will have to do a TON of lens swapping whenever I take a photo and return the gear to the bag. So I need a different system. I am considering a second body (a 70D) for the Tamzooka.

So how do you wildlife photographers get your gear around in the great outdoors (please there is no mule rental in Alaska AFAIK)?

I donít really want to use a back pack that requires removing the pack every time I need to shoot. My tarmac velocity is quick as I just swing it around. But rather than a new bag, I am more open to a belt/strap system as it would take strain off of my back/neck. I have given cursory looks at Think Tank, Cotton Carrier, LowePro and Spider systems but would love to hear from those that use them or others I am not aware of. I defer to the wisdom of this board.

Wildlife photographers: How would you carry around 2 DSLR bodies, the Tamron Tamzooka 150-600 and 2 other lenses and a monopod?

Also what monopod accessories should I get in order to use my heavy Tamzooka on a monopod? I doubt my monopod ball head is up to it.
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telyt

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2014, 01:25:11 PM »

Wildlife photographers: ... what monopod accessories should I get in order to use my heavy Tamzooka on a monopod? I doubt my monopod ball head is up to it.

Since the tamzooka has a rotating collar a ball head has more axes of movement than you need and can be too much to handle in the field when you want to adjust the fore/aft pitch and the whole rig wants to flop to one side or the other.  I use a simple Manfrotto tilt head and I believe Acratech, Kirk  and ReallyRightStuff make monopod tilt heads as well.
« Last Edit: May 14, 2014, 04:34:01 PM by wildlightphoto »
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NancyP

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2014, 08:36:01 PM »

Tilt heads for your monopod:
Manfrotto
Really RIght Stuff
Kirk
HejnarPhoto
Custom Brackets (I have this, it's a quality piece of kit).

If you want to shoot from a car window, there are many car camera mounts and appropriately shaped beanbags. For air travel, get a beanbag that can be opened and emptied, fly with it empty, buy beans or rice or... locally at destination, fill up to use beanbag, empty beanbag for trip back home.

Any day now, LensCoat company will be producing the camouflage neoprene lens covers for the new Tamron.
LensCoat also makes a dandy reusable camo fabric rain sleeve  (called RainCoat, naturally), and Optech sells disposable camera-telephoto shaped plastic covers for $6.00 apiece.
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Philmar

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2014, 01:02:25 PM »

Any day now, LensCoat company will be producing the camouflage neoprene lens covers for the new Tamron.
LensCoat also makes a dandy reusable camo fabric rain sleeve  (called RainCoat, naturally), and Optech sells disposable camera-telephoto shaped plastic covers for $6.00 apiece.

I'm waiting for a neoprene lens cover that makes it look like a Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS :o
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Philmar

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2014, 01:17:43 PM »

Since the tamzooka has a rotating collar a ball head has more axes of movement than you need and can be too much to handle in the field when you want to adjust the fore/aft pitch and the whole rig wants to flop to one side or the other.  I use a simple Manfrotto tilt head and I believe Acratech, Kirk  and ReallyRightStuff make monopod tilt heads as well.
\
Thanks for the advice - I've only played with the lens hand held after I removed the collar. I guess I assumed the collar could be locked in place tightly to stop it from rotating. I hesitated from using it on my Manfrotto monopod because I assumed my cheap looking Joby Gorillapod Ball Head wasn't up to it.
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NancyP

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2014, 11:58:48 AM »

Have you considered the Bushnell gunstock mount? I have no experience with it, I haven't had a heavy lens (heavy meaning 7 pounds). It might be optimal for photography on the boat, as the boat motion makes relying on a stiff contact with the deck (tripod or monopod) problematic. Your sea legs would be able to compensate more for boat motion. Note, I have no idea what the Alaska cruise conditions are, but I daresay it isn't the same as sitting on a motionless canoe in a still lake.

Along the same lines, there is a Cotton Carrier vest attachment (a bracket) that positions the camera at eye level. I think that this is meant for video, but you have much the same needs as a video shooter. As for the Cotton Carrier vest itself, I cannot speak highly enough for it. I use it with my longest lens, 10" long 400mm f/5.6L, and it still is comfortable and doesn't hang so low that it interferes with walking. Lens points straight down. I know that I (5'5" short-torsoed woman) couldn't hang a 16" long lens from it. Maybe a large man with a long torso would be able to accommodate a really long lens. The beauty of the Cotton Carrier vest is that it centers the camera weight and allows you to walk with both hands free, so if you want to use poles, or need to balance when crossing tippy rocks, you can do so. The CC vest also fits under a full backpack without being noticeable.
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LesPalenik

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2014, 11:15:06 PM »

I second on the rain cover, Seward and the entire coastal area gets a lot of rain. But you may get lucky and arrive there on a bright sunny day.
Monopod is not that useful on a cruise ship, especially with a long and heavy lens. If you shoot from the deck, it's best to shoot handheld to absorb the ship vibrations (unless the ship is parked in the harbor).  If you take a land trip from Seward, a solid tripod would be more suitable for the big lens.

wolfnowl

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2014, 01:46:13 AM »

I think Nancy meant Bushhawk rather than Bushnell; I was going to suggest a gunstock mount as well, but it looks like Bushhawk has gone out of business.

Mike.
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Philmar

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2014, 10:43:03 AM »

I second on the rain cover, Seward and the entire coastal area gets a lot of rain. But you may get lucky and arrive there on a bright sunny day.
Monopod is not that useful on a cruise ship, especially with a long and heavy lens. If you shoot from the deck, it's best to shoot handheld to absorb the ship vibrations (unless the ship is parked in the harbor).  If you take a land trip from Seward, a solid tripod would be more suitable for the big lens.
I wondered how much vibration there'd be. We have a suite in the aft of the cruise ship that has its own balcony so I'll be able to experiment handheld or secured on a monopod or my Gitzo tripod. But I often carry my monopod around town and I would take my Tamzooka and monopod or tripod to a nearby bird sanctuary. If I use the Tamzooka at parades I'd bring the monopod in case I tired of holding it or if it started to get dark (it isn't a fast lens at all).
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Philmar

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #12 on: May 17, 2014, 10:56:25 AM »

I used a Lowepro Toploader before I switched to the Tamrac sling bag. But with 3 lenses I felt gravity was pulling it downwards too often and at awkward places. Plus, the load obstructed my thighs when walking, especially uphill. But at least there was a nice bag to hold and protect the camera.

I like the Think Tank skin and modular systems but I wonder where the camera goes when it is not in my hands. And how would I carry the Tamzooka if I eschew the backpack? I guess it would be the Digital Holster.   

And the Spider system looks fast but it seems to be it is a good weather setup. If it rains most of the time while I'm in Alaska how do you protect the camera? And it must be difficult/inconvenient to sit down or lay on the ground with it.
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PeterAit

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2014, 11:20:35 AM »

This isn't really an answer to your question, but it might be worth considering depending on your situation. Get a micro 4/3 camera such as the Panasonic G3. Then get the Lumix 100-300 mm zoom. You'll have 16 megapixels in a well-designed camera and a 200-600mm equivalent lens with great optical quality and image stabilization. Get one or two other lenses to cover the shorter focal lengths. This kit will weigh about 1/3 of your Tamzooka outfit (love that name!) and fit in a smaller pack. Believe me, you will enjoy the trip a lot more if your camera gear does not weigh you down too much. I used this exact outfit for Nicaragua 2 years ago and a similar outfit (with the previous model 12 MP G2) for Alaska a bit earlier. I really would not have wanted to slog on muddy jungle trails or bounce over waves in a Zodiac with my full-frame outfit! You can see the Nicaragua and Alaska photos at my page, www.peteraitken.com.

Hope this is helpful.
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Philmar

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2014, 01:11:06 PM »

That's sage advice Peter....but a new body and lens is out of the question (especially after spending a ton on this cruise).
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LesPalenik

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #15 on: May 17, 2014, 10:56:04 PM »

Quote
And how would I carry the Tamzooka if I eschew the backpack?

If you are on a ship (or even a bus on a land trip), you can use any bag or luggage. In situations like that, sometimes, I use a small carry-on case to store a long lens, along with some other items, and throw in some sweater, soft camera case or other garment for cushioning.

Larry Heath

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #16 on: May 18, 2014, 10:49:41 AM »

As to working with a big lens in walk around mode, I use a cheap Smith Victor MP 100 monopod that has a ball head and a quick release platform. I use a Think Tank belt to carry a wide lens and other small stuff but still have quick access, i.e. not have to take a backpack off and put all the gear down, rummage around then re-shoulder the backpack etc...

You can tighten the ball head to just the point that it provides adequate support but allows quick and easy adjustments to any angle or position as well. While not as nice as a tripod with gimbal head you can still very quickly do action/panning/odd angle shots pretty well also. The quick release allows the camera and lens to be quickly removed from the monopod and carried under a poncho if conditions are inclement ( not that you donít need camera/lens jacket as well) or simply carried in a more natural position if not. Further the monopod can be used as a nice walking stick in the non-camera hand, and in particularly if the terrain is less than ideal, as well.

I know many simply use a regular monopod and prop the camera over a shoulder as they walk around, but I feel just a wee bit more comfortable with a hand firmly attached to the camera, instead of dangling over a shoulder at the end of a monopod. Somehow a few threads of a ľĒ diameter bold just donít seem nearly as secure, to me, as they likely really are. $5000 or $10000 worth of gear falling from above shoulder height is not something I even like to thinking about, much less putting the gear in a position of it possibly happing, no matter how unlikely.

Later Larry
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luxborealis

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #17 on: May 18, 2014, 11:52:32 AM »

I hate to say it, but you really need to reign in your expectations. Rather than waiting for your cruise to practice from your cruise ship balcony, get on the Toronto Island ferry on a foggy, overcast or rainy day and practice shooting anything moving (seagulls, other ships, shoreline details) from there. I think you will quickly find (a) how infinitely difficult it is to capture anything worthwhile from the deck of a moving ship and (b) how much more valuable hand-holding is than a monopod as the monopod will transmit all the barely noticeable ship vibrations straight up to your lens. They may not be noticeable in the viewfinder, but it will be tough to get sharp photos. Hand-holding brings it's own set if problems, but that's something that practice can help solve.

The other thing is that from a ship your shots will be observations of wildlife and not the interpretive photos of being close and amongst the wildlife - down at their level, looking them in the eye, so to speak. Whatever wildlife photos the tour company is advertising with were probably not shot on one of their tours unless it was the ideal day with the ideal lighting at the ideal angle with an operator willing to spend the time getting the shot.

The grim reality is that wildlife photography is a lot more than shooting from a cruise ship, a tender or zodiac. It takes time and patience and being on site when the wildlife is active - all of which are rarely possible on a pre-determined tour as the operators are working to a different set of guidelines than a wildlife photographer wielding a 600mm lens. Despite what they say about the wildlife, they are catering to the snapshot crowd. The solution - take your cruise, enjoy it for what it is. If you happen to get some wildlife shots you are happy with great. Then put your money, time and effort into choosing a photo tour that submersed you (not literally) in wildlife; e.g. The safari you mentioned or equivalent in Alaska - a week or more with the wildlife is a good start.

Good luck and have fun! Let us know how things work out.

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PeterAit

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #18 on: May 18, 2014, 12:05:49 PM »

That's sage advice Peter....but a new body and lens is out of the question (especially after spending a ton on this cruise).

Well, you'll have a ball. I know that my Alaska cruise was a real high point of my photographic experiences.
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Lightsmith

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Re: Question for wildlife photographer
« Reply #19 on: May 19, 2014, 08:09:14 PM »

The only lens I own that I cannot shoot hand held is a 500mm f4. It is too important to me to be able to photograph wildlife without need for a tripod or monopod. My 200-400mm was borderline and I replaced it with the 80-400mm f5.6 lens to have something that I could shoot hand held for extended periods of time.

In your case I would want the 100-400mm IS lens and a 1.4x teleconverter and be able to shoot with or without the teleconverter and with the teleconverter have a 100-560mm zoom lens. Though I understand the dollar savings by having a single large zoom lens I prefer the greater range of options and lighter weight of a zoom telephoto and a teleconverter.
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