This article features a selection of photographs captured handheld at Bird Kingdom using slower shutter speeds, and discusses some of the factors to consider when taking this approach.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
The first factor to consider is the amount of movement of your photographic subject. Often reptiles can stay quite still for extended periods of time making them easier subjects with which to use slower shutter speeds.
On the other hand, most birds are far more active, and even perched birds can exhibit a considerable amount of movement.
Many birds will pause ever so slightly during some of their movements. Timing your shutter release during these very brief moments of stillness can yield good quality images at fairly slow shutter speeds. This can be important when shooting under darker conditions.
Staying relaxed as you wait for the bird’s moment of stillness takes some practice. Taking slow, measured breaths, and using a light, smooth finger movement on your shutter release are needed to avoid unnecessary camera movement. A fast jabbing motion on a shutter release will often create image blur. For some people, holding their breath while waiting to capture their photograph, can cause some unintended camera shake.
A ‘slower’ shutter speed is a relative term of course. Many photographers suggest using a minimum shutter speed of 1/200 to 1/320 for perched birds when using a long telephoto lens, to help avoid image blur.
The key is to understand your personal limits when it comes to your hand holding technique. Practising on a regular basis will allow you to discover the slower shutter speed zone at which you are confident.
The focal length of the lens used, as well as the effectiveness of the image stabilization in your camera body and/or lens also need to be considered. Some photographers find that using silent shutter (i.e. electronic shutter) or an anti-shock setting can help reduce image blur when slower shutter speeds are used.
Using some kind of stable external support like a railing, low wall, large rock, tree truck or branch can help achieve slower shutter speeds. Some photographers find that they can reduce their shutter speeds by one or two stops when an external support is used.
Since these kinds of supports are not always available it is critical to know your ‘unassisted’ handheld slower shutter speed range. For example, when I’m using my Olympus camera gear with an equivalent field-of-view up to 600 mm, I have a high confidence level using shutter speeds in the 1/30 to 1/60 range. Using shutter speeds slower than that requires more concentration and shot discipline on my part.
Using slower shutter speeds when photographing handheld helps us achieve good exposures at lower ISO values. This allows us to use more of the dynamic range and colour depth available with our camera’s sensor, as well as reduce the amount of noise in our photographs. This can be especially important when using smaller sensor cameras. Sometimes being able to shoot at a slower shutter speed handheld can make the difference between getting your shot or missing it.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.
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