Steady That Long Lens For Sharper Images

Outdoor Photography

When you go out to make images of wildlife, magnification is essential for a number of reasons. Most obviously is that it allows the animal to be captured full frame. Unless you always create environmental portraits, many wildlife photographers live by the adage that bigger is better. A second reason is that you keep your distance. This allows the animal to go about its regular business. This increases the likelihood that you arrest the behavior it wouldn’t perform if it’s in fight or flight mode. Magnification is also beneficial as it provides cleaner backgrounds. The narrower angle of view potentially reduces the number of distractions. Finally, their wider apertures help throw the background out of focus since the depth of field is narrowed. 

Use Vibration Reduction

I love my 80-400mm with built-in stabilization. It provides a fantastic range that allows me to make everything from an environmental portrait to a frame-filling headshot. When attached to a digital body with a crop sensor, the 400mm length is equivalent to 600mm on a full-frame camera. Because they’re light and come with VR, they can be handheld. The rule of thumb is to shoot using the reciprocal of the focal length to obtain a sharp image. For instance, at 600mm, use at least 1/600th shutter speed. But with VR switched on and careful holding technique, this shutter speed can be sliced in half. Be aware of subject movement as slower speeds record the subject’s motion. It goes without saying that faster speeds provide more insurance.

Steady that long lens

Support Your Long Lens With A Bean Bag

Animals have become accustomed to vehicles, which has led to many images shot from inside a car. It’s almost impossible to set up a tripod around seats, center consoles and steering wheels. It’s with this in mind that a bean bag comes to the rescue. With a window slightly rolled up, it fits over the lip and is steadied by a section that butts up to the inside panel of the door, creating a solid platform for a long lens. Be sure to shut off the engine. A running motor imparts vibration, which translates to images that won’t be sharp. Additionally, if there are other people or photographers in the car, have an understanding that movement is restricted to times when a warning is given. When I run my safaris in Tanzania, all we use are bean bags. I’ve shot my 600mm on a crop sensor with shutter speeds as slow as 1/100th and attained tack-sharp photos.

Supports Your Long Lens With A Beefy Tripod

Big telephoto lenses are long, heavy and expensive. An investment in one also dictates an investment in a heavy-duty tripod for two key reasons. If you mount a super-telephoto to an inferior tripod, the end result will be a blurry photo. The tripod isn’t adequate enough to dampen the movement and magnification of the lens. Secondly, saving a few bucks on an inferior tripod could cost you big bucks in the end. If it’s not beefy enough to support the setup and winds up toppling to the ground, ouch.

Steady that long lens

With your rig mounted on a good tripod, a good technique to incorporate is to lay your left hand on the barrel of the lens and slightly push down while you press the shutter. This technique steadies the setup as pressing the shutter creates an upward movement that’s countered by the left hand resting on the barrel.

To learn more about this subject, join me on one of my photo safaris to Tanzania. Please visit to get more information.


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