Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

October 2006

Tip of the Month

The camera modes and settings do we use for
Action Wildlife Photography?

Mary and I just returned from nearly five weeks of travel out west - to Monterrey, California for sea otters and shorebirds, and to Animals of Montana for a wildlife model shoot (we did two), and to Yellowstone for two fall photo tours. In all, we did a lot of action photography, most of it in the great company of other photographers, and the question often came up, how do we shoot action.

As we teach in our Digital Complete Nature Photo Courses, we do indeed shoot on manual mode and use spot metering almost 100% of the time. On one session of our model shoot I switched to Evaluative Metering and Aperture Priority, to film a fox that was virtually everywhere - in sunlight, deep shade, and dappled light, and for that it made for sense for the camera to do the thinking. If the camera erred, I wasn't too worried - I doubted if I could have kept up,either.

We shoot manual mode/spot metering because with spot metering we can precisely meter where we wish, and with manual mode our aperture and shutter speed settings are fixed unless or until we change them. Therefore, if the background changes, going from dark to light, for example, our exposure on the subject would not change if we set that exposure for the subject. In this way, we insure a consistently accurate exposure.

This seems like a slow process for beginners but it actually is not, and we are deadly accurate in this mode.

We also have our motor drives set for CONTINUOUS HIGH, the fastest frame rate possible, which with our 1D cameras is 8 fps. In this way, I'm not worried about missing action or fleeting expressions. We also set our auto-focus on SERVO, rather than One Shot, so that the camera fires even if the subject isn't in focus. That might not sound right, but in One Shot the camera will not focus smoothly and continuously on moving subjects, but will on Servo.

We also use Custom Function 4-1, which dissociates the shutter button from the AF function. Depressing the shutter button activates the meter, and fires the camera of course, but the focus isn't activated. To focus, we use the star button in back, which our thumbs depress. To continually follow a subject, simply hold in this button with your thumb. Nikon cameras also have this function, but it is no longer 4-1, as it was with our old film cameras.

If I'm really worried about following action I use the center focusing point of my 45 point AF system, although only 11 AF points are normally activated. Mary often uses all 45 points for acquiring focus, and here we differ, but the center focusing point is the fastest for following action.

As you can see by some of these examples, we're doing OK in capturing action with this system!


Previous Questions of the Month




 Camera Techniques

 In the Field

Do You Need a
Big Printer?

Can a Wimberley Head be used with small lenses?

Is a Trip to Antarctica
Worth it?

 Is there an easy way to level a camera for panorama shots?

 Why must you have
at least 2 digital backups

 Wildlife Models
Is there anything new
to shoot?

 Is the New Wimberley head worth having?

  What is our Digital Workflow in the Lab?

 Who should go Digital,
and when?

 What is our initial Digital Workflow?

Is Shooting in the RAW format worthwhile?

 Can you match the Histograms?
 How do I keep track of Digital Files?

  Is Digital Manipulation - a benign alternative to interacting in the natural world?

What is DEC? 

How can you capture a sharp image and angel hair on a windy day?  

 Is the Mark II the ultimate wildlife digital camera?

  Does the Visibledust cleaning system really work?

What do we really think about digital photography?

 What do we think of the Canon D30 digital camera?

How long will film be around? 

  The Sunny 16 rule -- is it worth knowing today?

 What is the Difference?

 How do we meter White?

 How can you save your shoulders?

  How do you shoot silhouettes?

 How would you meter these challenging images?

Why should you know Manual Mode? 

How would you meter these images?

 What is the best season to do a photo safari in East Africa?

Which Mountain Park is better for wildlife - Denali or Torres del Paine?

What is the best Car Window Mount? 

  How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?

 What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales?

 What is the Big Lie?
Tfhe truth about Kenya's Tourism--it is SAFE!

 Which binoculars do we just love to use?

 What is the best
Game Caller?

 What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?

 How Easy is Whale Photography?

  How do we carry our film when traveling?

What Film Lab do we use, and why? 

 How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites? 

How can you reduce contrast and the effect of wind for flower and macro photography?

 Is an L-Shaped Camera Bracket worth the Money?
You bet it is!

 Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?

 What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?

  Reciprocity Failure

 What is the Best Composition?

 Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?

 Hyperfocal Distance

  How do you determine distances?

 Should you have a depth of field Preview button on your camera?

 Flash and Tele-flash Techniques

 What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?

 What the heck is a Plamp?

 What is the best flash for closeup and
macro photography?

 How do you shoot high-speed action images?
 How did I photograph that flying wasp?

 What is the Fotronix's
Flash System?

What is the Most Important thing you can do before a Workshop?

How did I shoot the gliding Sugar Glider?
 Is NANPA for you?  What is NANPA and how will it benefit me?

 Is it time for a summer NANPA Summit?

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