200-400 Hand Holding Tips & Techniques « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

200-400 Hand Holding Tips & Techniques

The Streak Continues

I enjoyed another great weekend at Gatorland with my Saturday group of 5 and with Lynn Dolson staying on for Sunday morning when we were joined by the very pleasant Don Jones of Apopka, FL. Lynn became comfortable getting the right exposure using Manual mode and with moving her AF sensor around to create pleasing images. Don learned a ton too; his biggest lesson: frame looser. Thanks to all who attended.

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This blog post took about 2 1/2 hours to assemble. Enjoy!


This image was created at Gatorland on Saturday April 5, 2014 at 4:38pm on a clear afternoon in direct sunlight. I hand held the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (with the internal TC engaged at 490mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop as framed: 1/1600 sec. at f/6.3 in Av mode. AWB.

Three sensors up from the central Sensor/AI Servo-Surround/Rear Focus AF directly on the bird’s eye as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure. Practicing so that you are able to change AF sensors almost instantly is an important skill to work on. Learn everything there is to know about the 1D X and 5D III AF systems including how to manage the various AF Area Selection Modes, when to use which one, and several ways to move the AF sensor around in my 1D X AF Guide and the 5D Mark III User’s Guide. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version. .

Image #1: Wood Stork Head and Face Detail.

Unmatched Versatility

That the versatility of the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender is–as you can see by looking at the images above and below, each made from virtually the same spot–unmatched is not open to debate. Dierdre, Lynn, and I had just arrived and gotten our gear set up when some kids began tossing some gator food-pellets into the water. This in turn attracted not only a flock of small gators but some birds as well. Wood Storks rarely sit on the boardwalk railings, but this one pictured here was hungry for a pellet. I grabbed my 200-400 and went to work opting to hand hold so that I could frame accurately and react quickly.

First, I went to vertical for the tight face portrait. And rotated the tripod collar; see below for details on that. Then, just as the Wood Stork opened it’s bill and kept it open–I did not hear any laughing, the Great Egret landed right down sun angle right behind the stork. I had wanted to create a horizontal head portrait of the stork with his bill open but the egret put the kibosh on that so I dis-engaged the internal TC and created the juxtaposition image below.

Image Questions

#1: Why was I in Av mode for Image #1 but in Manual mode for Image #2?

#2: The exposure for Image #1 was perfect. Why did I need to go 1/3 stop darker for Image #2?

#3: Why should I definitely have gone to a smaller aperture, at least down to f/9, for Image #1?

#4: What is the one thing about Image #2 that bugs me a bit?

#5:Considering the fact that the aperture was the same, f/6.3. why does the skin on the Wood Stork’s neck look so much sharper in Image 2 than in Image 1?


This image was also created at Gatorland on Saturday April 5, 2014, this one–of the same bird, a minute after I created the opening image in this blog post. Again, on a clear afternoon in direct sunlight. And again I hand held the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (at 250mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO 400. Evaluative metering -1/3 stop as framed: 1/2000 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. AWB.

Three sensors to the left of the central Sensor/AI Servo-Surround/Rear Focus AF on the base of the stork’s lower mandible (as originally framed) was active at the moment of exposure. Again, practicing so that you are able to change AF sensors almost instantly is an important skill to work develop. You can learn everything that there is to know about the 1D X and 5D III AF systems including how to manage the various AF Area Selection Modes, when to use which one, and several ways to move the AF sensor around in my 1D X AF Guide and the 5D Mark III User’s Guide. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #2: Wood Stork/Great Egret Juxtaposition.

200-400 Hand Holding Tips & Techniques for Static Subjects

#1-Replace the original lens foot with the CR-X5 Low Foot. Learn a lot more here. Doing so saves a few ounces in weight and more importantly, allows me to use my preferred and functional hand holding grip. For the 200-400 I use the last (rear) hole on the CR-X5. (The CR-X5 is pretty much mandatory for those using the 200-400 on a tripod and the same goes for all of the Series II super-telephotos as the CR-X5 allows you to position the foot–which serves as the lens plate–for perfect balance. It is the only lens plate that allows you to do this.

#2: Do not face the subject: stand roughly sideways to it, like an Olympic rife shooter.

#3: Unless you are positive that the bird is going to fly away in a moment, take the time to turn the tripod collar so that the lens plate is at the bottom of the lens whether you are working in horizontal or format or vertical format. If the tripod collar (and therefore the lens plate) is in the wrong position, then you need to rotate it 90 degrees.

#4: Grasp the end of the CR-X-5 plate with the last two fingers of your left hand. This will put the weight of the lens onto the heel of your left hand. The thumb and then middle finger will rest on the zoom ring. The pointer finger will rest on the lens just forward of the zoom ring. This acts as a point of support.

#5: When you raise the lens from the rest position tuck your left elbow into your body so that the elbow is resting just above the top of the hip bone. This shooting position will allow you to hold the lens steady for extended periods of time with the weight of the rig supported by your body structure rather than by your arms alone. This techniques also works well when photographing static subjects with super-telephoto lenses. Note that having the the CR-X5 foot properly positioned below the lens gives you additional elevation….


Yours truly hand holding the 200-400 in the Galapagos. Image courtesy of and copyright 2013 Denise Ippolito/A Creative Adventure.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Click on the image above to more easily note the lens plate properly positioned below the lens when working in horizontal format, the position of the fingers of the left hand, and the left arm tucked against the body. Note also that I am roughly sideways to my subject. Thanks to Lady D for the use of the image.

Your Favorite

Please take a moment to let all know which image you prefer, #1 or #2. And do let us know why.


I hope that you can join us on this great trip. The vertical puffin image was created by David Tipling. The rest–almost all from the UK, are mine :).

UK Puffins and Gannets IPT July 2-9, 2014. 5 full days of puffins and two half-days of gannet boat photography: $4,999 USD. Limit 10 + the 2 leaders.

Desperately seeking: 1 female roommate & 1 male roommate.

With 5 folks registered, this trip is a go.

Fly to Edinburgh (say “ED-in-BRUH”), Scotland on a red eye flight on July 1st arriving on the early morning of July 2 or certainly before 10am. UK folks who plan on driving please contact me via e-mail immediately.

There are direct flights to Edinburgh from both Philadelphia and Toronto. If you learn of any others please advise via e-mail so that I may share with all the interested folks. Fly home mid-morning on July 9. UK locals and our many European friends are of course welcome.

With 5 deposits in hand, this trip is a go; you can buy your flights now :).

What’s included:

5 full DAYS on the best UK puffin boat; trips to 2 different islands–all dependent on decent weather, i.e, no major storms. Seabirds including scads of Atlantic Puffin both in flight and perched, Razorbill, Great Cormorant, Shag, and others likely. The trip is timed to maximize the opportunities for photographing the puffins bringing fish back to the nests. All boat fares and landing fees are included. The boat leaves at 9:30am. We have two hours on the first island. We are then picked up and head to the 2nd island for a 2+ hour session. The weather is typically cloudy bright.

One late-afternoon (2 July) and one early morning (probably 8 July) trip on a gannet photography boat where the birds are fed and dive very close to the boat. Both are dependent on good weather but we do have some flexibility. Boat fares and the cost of the fish are covered. Each will consist of a one hour outbound ride, two hours of diving Northern Gannet photography (with 6 boxes of fish) and the one hour return trip.

The tentative, weather-dependent itinerary:

July 2: airport pick-up no later than 10am UK time. Lunch on your dime. Drive to hotel. Afternoon gannet boat trip/time TBD.
July 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7: Full Day Puffin Boat trips as noted above.
July 8: early morning Gannet Boat trip. Afternoon: Small group Image review and Photoshop sessions. Pack for the trip home.
July 9: early morning departure for Edinburgh Airport (EDI).

The itinerary is subject to change to ensure the best possible photographic opportunities.

A super-telephoto lens is not required on this trip. The 300mm f/2.8s are ideal. I will be bringing one along with my 200-400mm with Internal Extender, my 70-200 f/2.8L IS II, and a shorter zoom lenses. Plus three 1.4X and two 2X TCs, a Gitzo 3532 LS Carbon Fiber tripod, and my Mongoose M3.6. I may go tripod-less on the puffin trips at times…. Or not…. All photography on the gannet boat will be hand held. It is likely that the 70-200s will be ideal for the gannets.

7 nights lodging in an older but excellent hotel just a few minutes from the puffin boat dock with about a 70 minute ride to the gannet boat. Double occupancy will be the rule though we might be able to offer a single supplement at an exorbitant price. See the hotel info here.

All breakfasts and dinner (at the hotel) from dinner on July 2 through dinner on July 8. And breakfast on our get-away day unless we need to leave earlier than they serve to make our flights home…

Airport pick-up until 10am on July 2–this should not be a problem as there are lots of red-eye flights from the US to Edinburgh.

All ground transportation. Airport return on the early morning of July 9. We may be getting up very early on July 9th.

Two great leaders; Denise Ippolito and yours truly will provide personalized and small group in-the-field instruction. As usual, the closer you stay to us and the more questions that you ask the more you will learn. We will of course point out the best situations. You will learn to see these great situations for yourself, to get the right exposure every time after making a single test exposure, to work in Manual mode, and to design pleasing images by mastering your camera’s AF system. You will learn the basics of photographing birds in flight and how the relationship between light direction and wind direction impacts the photography of both birds in flight and perched puffins. And tons more.

We will be conducting informal, small group image review and Photoshop sessions after dinner. All are invited to bring their laptops. Image critiques of your five best images will be done after the trip upon request.

Early morning castle photography right near the hotel is an option for the early risers. In the event of inclement weather or stormy seas there is the possibility of bird photography along the coast. Early evening bird photography along the coast is also optional.

Not included: all lunches–for the most part we will need to pack lunches for the puffin trips, or you may opt to skip lunch. Your round trip airfare from home to Scotland. Booze, wine, and any other beverages other than coffee and tea at breakfast.

A non-refundable deposit of $2,000 USD is required to hold your spot so please check on flights and your schedule before committing. The balance will be due on 15 May so you may wish to pay the whole thing at once. Overseas folks may e-mail for wire transfer info. Our $15 wire transfer fee will be added to your balance.

Trip insurance is highly recommended as your deposit (less a $200 cancellation fee) will not be refunded unless the trip fills completely. I, and my family, use Travel Insurance Services.

After letting us know via e-mail that you will be coming, please send your deposit check made out to “Arthur Morris” to us as follows:

Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
PO Box 7245 (US mail) or 4041 Granada Drive (if by courier).
Indian Lake Estates, FL 33855

My friend David Tipling, with multiple BBC honored images and the author of dozens of photo illustrated books, helped with the planning and arrangements for this trip.

If you have any questions, please contact me via e-mail.

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20 comments to 200-400 Hand Holding Tips & Techniques

  • Alicia Riddle

    Artie, what brand is that hat you’re wearing in the hand holding example? Looks like it provides good sun protection with a long bill, but the bill flips up out of the way for shooting. And thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and techniques!


    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Alicia. That hat is no longer available. When you find one with a soft brim, the drapes, and made from SPF material let me know. I have sewed mine up about 12 times to keep it going…. artie

  • Jerry Murray

    Thanks for the tips on hand holding a bigger lens!

  • After re-reading the link you provided, I’ll answer #1.

    #1 – Basically why manual in #2 image – The tonality of the background wasn’t changing, but with inclusion of the white egret, you know had to deal with that vs the darker tone ofc the Wood Stork’s head. Cause now the meter is confused…its saying ‘should I expose for the light or for the dark?’…manual will take care of that problem. Doug

    Confusing and off target…. See Greg’s good thinking.

    • Yeah I know. After I posted it I couldn’t even understand
      what I was trying to say 🙂 Doug

      Your comment here left my belly shaking with laughter :).


  • Greg Payne

    1. Aperture priority for #1 because it was possibly a fleeting opportunity and it had just occurred. You could dial in compensation and go to work. As the bird stayed around you could go to manual exposure based on the readings used previously.

    Double bingo. Well done my friend.

    2. There is more brightness in image that could be blown out especially with a darker background to affect the meter reading.

    On the right track but not clearly stated…. I was looking for the WHITEs on the Great Egret being whiter than the WHITEs of a Wood Stork.

    3. Would help sharpen the bird deeper into the image. Further back on the neck.


    4. The head angle on the back bird.

    Correct again.

    5. You have a greater depth of field due to the difference in zoom. The neck is less of a percentage of the frame in image 2.

    On the right track but the simpler answer is that at a given aperture d-o-f increases as you move farther away from the subject. All in all, well done.


  • John Beasley

    Oops. Question 5 – the neck is sharper because the subject was further away from your camera so your DOF is greater?

    Correct again.

  • John Beasley

    My guesses (fun!)
    Question 1: In image 1, you were photographing a stationary subject so you weren’t concerned about shutter speed per se, as long as it was in the fairly wide range you were confident it would fall within. Dialing in exposure compensation in AV mode would adjust shutter speed. In image two you were photographing a dynamic subject so shutter speed was more of an issue, as was aperture, in managing the metering effect of the background. Thus, in manual mode, dialing in your exposure compensation would adjust ISO, not your shutter and aperture choices.

    Long and wrong. 🙂 See the Tuesday blog post here.

    Question 2: The subject is dark against a medium background. Subtract light.

    Not wrong but not what I was looking for….

    Question 3: More of the neck would have been sharp. Isn’t the only reason to go to a smaller aperture, per se, to get more of your subject in focus? Or sharper background, which you wouldn’t have cared about here.

    Correct and correct. I did not have to worry about bringing up unwanted BKGR details as the BKGR was distant water.

    Question 4: Well, what bugs me about it is the background bird.

    Not me.


    And, if the bird wasn’t there then the subject would also have to be repositioned. (But the subject itself is caught beautifully. Waddayagonnado?)

    Thanks for the challenges!



  • I actually prefer picture # 3 – the handholding 200-400 pic – The bird images are great, but today I learned a lot by that on image. A picture truly is worth a thousand words. Thanks

    Thanks Conrad!


  • I’ll have a go at the questions!

    1. I am guessing you wanted to increase your shutter speed on image #2, to make sure you would avoid a blur of the egret (if it moved) as a distraction in the background, rather than as one of those pleasing blurs!

    Not even close..

    . 🙂

    2. Since you made that manual decision for image #2, keeping the exposure the same but the shutter speed increased, I’m thinking you still wanted to dial in a – 1/3 stop due to the bright white of that egret in the background…

    When you are in Manual mode as I was you cannot increase the shutter speed and “keep the exposure the same.”

    Side note: I am a Nikon gal (D700 and D800 at the moment) and I have found I always have to dial in at least – 1/3 if I am photographing a bright white anything (egret, pelican head and shoulders, breaking wave…) or I have blown out highlights.

    That is correct in the sun. Sometimes as much as -1 with Nikon. I say that here and elsewhere often :).

    BTW, I bought both ABP II and Digital Basics some time back; they definitely made me better, so thanks again for those!


    3. At f/9 the DOF would have increased enough for both the back of the stork’s neck and the very closest part of its bill to be in focus. Yes?


    4. I like what Doug West said about the angle of the egret head, facing away. I would have guessed you wished the egret was positioned just ever so slightly to the left in the frame.

    Yes to the former and maybe to the latter.


  • David Policansky

    Hi,Artie. Good questions; I’ll try for answers.

    1. You could have been in Manaul mode for image 1, but you had to be for image 2 because there was so much more background to throw the exposure of the stork’s head off if it had moved.

    Nope; see Tuesday’s post here.

    2. Seems to me you were 2/3 stops darker in image 2, not 1/3 (went from +1/3 to -1/3, = 2/3; no?). I’d say you did that because there was more white in the frame in image 2.

    Your reasoning is faulty; again, see Tuesday’s post for the correct explanation.

    Look at the exposure values not at the compensation values.

    3. What Doug West said (to get more depth of field, part of the stork’s neck is OOF).


    4. What bugs you about image 3? Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the egret’s mouth was open as well?? I actually find the egret’s presence there a bit distracting. Don’t know what bugged you.

    I love the juxtaposition.

    🙂 artie

    There is no Image 3….

    5. What Doug West said.

    I prefer image 1 as a well-focused well-composed compelling portrait.



  • I’ll tackle a few…

    #1: Why was I in Av mode for Image #1 but in Manual mode for Image #2?

    Unless you’ve changed it, #2 says that was AV mode also?

    Thanks for catching my error. It was fixed.

    #3: Why should I definitely have gone to a smaller aperture, at least down to f/9, for Image #1?

    Looks like the back of the head might just be a tiny bit oof, so F/9 would help
    in that.

    Sort of….

    #4: What is the one thing about Image #2 that bugs me a bit?

    The head angle of the egret; it was facing slightly away.


    #5:Considering the fact that the aperture was the same, f/6.3. why does the skin on the Wood Stork’s neck look so much sharper in Image 2 than in Image 1?

    Your depth of field increased due to the distance between camera and stork.

    Correct. Well done all in all.


    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for catching my cut and paste typo with Image #2. I have fixed that.

    • Oh, btw, just a quick note to let you know I finally got over my fear of only shooting in Aperture Priority and I’m currently using Manual. Woo Hoo! Doug

      Mazel tov! In many–but clearly not all situations–using Manual mode is the best way to go. artie

      ps: everyone should re-visit the “At Long Last, As Promised: the Greatest, Most Educational Blog Post Ever? Manual… Av… Tv… Program… Which is The Best Shooting Mode?” blog post here.