Carmen's Tale & Handholding the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS Lens « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Carmen's Tale & Handholding the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS Lens

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This Wihte Pelican was photographed with the handheld Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens and the EOS-1D MIV camera body. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 2/3 stops: 1/125 sec. at f/13. For tips on handholding big lenses, scroll down to item 2. To see a larger, sharper version of this image, click on the photo.

A Tale of Carmen

Last week I received an e-mail from another old student, Carmine Narine:

Good Morning Mr. Morris,  You may not remember me but I saw your blog online and decided to reach out as I have thought about you many times during the last 20 years.  I attended PS 106. You were my 3rd, 4th and 5th grade teacher. My name is Umawattie Narine but I went by Carmen.  I remember our trips to bird watch at Jamaica bay and the stencils and sketches of birds we did.  But most of all I remember the stamp collection we started. I still have it!   I wanted to let you know that back then I wasn’t very confident but you made me feel important and smart. You were the best teacher I have ever had.  We once listened to Les Miserable in class and when I saw the actual play- I cried and I felt ahead of my time. I know that sounds strange but I felt so good that I knew everything about it because I had a teacher who not only taught us Math and English— you taught us about life and art.   You always had confidence in me and it gave me confidence to strive to be better in all things.   I hope this email reaches you and that you are well.  Thank you for everything you did for all the kids whose lives you touched.   Carmen

After I wrote Carmen, she wrote back to me:

Good Morning Mr. World Famous Bird Photographer!   I work in Ad Operations for Conde Naste.  I manage the ads on our websites and make sure the clients’ campaigns serve and perform well.  It is fun and I love it worked at The Weather Channel and the NBA doing the same thing.   I am so sorry to hear that Mrs. Belsky died,  and yes, I do remember her.  Her class came a few times on our class  trips.

I don’t have a picture from our class but I have attached one that should help. I ended up graduating valedictorian from the 6th grade. I was in Mrs. Lowe’s class.   I have read your Blog- that’s actually how I found you- I was so excited!!   I am so glad you are doing well and I will continue to follow your Blog. A friend of mine is also a photographer and I tried convincing him to take up Bird Watching.   Carmen

I wrote Carmen back telling her how proud I am of her.  It is of course quite rewarding to hear from my old students.

Handholding the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS

Recently I have begun handholding the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS /EOS-1D MIV combo to good advantage.  I have been using the principles taught to me by my friend, Posse member Jim Neiger.  The advantages of handholding are that you are more quickly and easily able to get on the action than if you were using a tripod.  Especially when it would be necessary to move the tripod before starting to photograph a new situation.  And it is easier to frame fast moving birds (especially those that fly somewhat erratic patterns) and to frame and follow frantic action  when handholding than it is when working atop a tripod.

Do know that it is only necessary to hold the lens up for short periods of time, say 10-20 seconds at most.  Before raising the lens it is best to support it in some manner to prevent fatigue.  Jim’s mantra is “practice, practice, practice” so that when you raise the lens you are able to get right on the subject.  I have been after Jim for a year or two to put together “The Guide to Handheld Photography With Big Telephoto Lenses.”

In the opening White Pelican image in this post it would have been impossible to get as low as I wanted low with the tripod-mounted 800 on the crowded pier that the IPT group was working from.  So I simply sat on the edge of the dock, supported the lens on my bent knee when waiting for the situation to improve, and then raised the lens when the big, beautiful birds swam into the perfect position.  In the relatively low light situation I supported the back of my left wrist and hand again on my bent left knee.  (I did not realize that I had been working at such a slow shutter speed; my technique must have been perfect!)   Do compare the light and the exposure data with that of  the similar White Pelican image at the top of the February 19 post below; that one was created in full sun.

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This Great Egret calling in flight image was created with the handheld Canon 800mm f/5.6L lens with the EOS-1D MIV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/2000 sec. at f/6.3 set manually.

The handheld 800 image above was also created from a small boat. Handholding made it relatively easy to follow the bird in flight even at close range.  Ron Mayberry was kind enough to take Lou Newman, Denise Ippolito, and me out for some rookery photography in Sarasota Bay on the morning of my Sarasota Audubon presentation a few weeks ago.  (Ron and Lou will be joining me on the 2nd Midway trip; I am posting this from the Orlando Airport on my way to Honolulu.)   Using a tripod on a small boat with four folks is pretty much out of the question so the decision to handhold was a good one that enabled me to create a rather cool image.  Here I used the central AF sensor.  Always use AI Servo AF for photographing moving subject.

Note:  As a Canon Explorer of Light I am and have been a paid Canon spokesperson since 1996.

10 comments to Carmen's Tale & Handholding the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS Lens

  • Here is the link to the LensFlare interview:

    They also have several other awesome interviews.

    @everyone: Make sure to listen to Artie’s interview. You will definitely learn something.

  • Tom Wilberding

    Love to read letters from your old students. Wow, you done good, Artie!

  • Hi Artie,
    thanks for this post. After I saw all those great flight shots by Jim on BPN and Naturescapes.NET, I also practiced handholding my 4/500L.
    At first, all shots were crap but with practice it got easier (Jim was kind enough to give me some tips via email and that helped a lot).
    I now use the 4/500 a lot for flight photography and together with my new EOS 7D, I get a lot of keepers. I am not particularly strong but the weight of the 4/500 + 7D is ok for me to hand hold.
    You are right when you write than one only needs to hold the lens for a short amount of time.
    When not shooting, I often place it on my backpack in a position so that I can easily and quickly take it up again when something interesting approaches.

    You mentioned a guide “The Guide to Handheld Photography With Big Telephoto Lenses”. Will this be anther e-book, similar to Alan’s great book?
    I would love to buy an ebook about the right technique and tips and tricks for photographing birds in flight.
    And I am sure many others would love such a guide, too!


    Btw: I just listened to your interview on lensflare. Awesome interview with a lot of wisdom and great stories in it.

    • I am on a tripod most of the time with both the 800 and the 500, but in these two cases that was not an option if I wanted to make the image that I envisioned… I will get on Jim to finish his e-book! And I can put a few images in it.

      Please post the link to the LensFlare interview if you would be so kind. See you on BPN.

  • Dave Hassell

    Arthur, what a lovely, rewarding story from Carmen.

  • I enjoy those notes from your former students. You are a good man Mr. Morris.

    Between yourself, Dan and Jim, you guys are going to single handedly put Gitzo out of business. 🙂 Nice job handling the big 800, definitely sharp and impressive technique at 1/125. I would be interested in hearing more on this myself.