Why Sit Down on the Job? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Why Sit Down on the Job?

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This image of a an American Oystercatcher chick with one parent was created with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, the 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/1000 at f/9 in Av Mode. Lens/TC/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: +3. The parent had just fed the chick a piece of a sand crab that the adult had captured down by the edge of the surf and brought to its youngsters.

Had I been lying flat on the ground I would have lost the feet and the bottom of the legs of both birds behind the front edge of the tire track….

Why Sit Down on the Job?

As regular readers here know, I love getting flat down on the beach or down and dirty in the mud. But there are times when I opt to sit behind my tripod with the legs shortened. When attempting to photograph birds or families of birds that are always on the move, it is faster to sit behind your tripod than it is to lie flat and it requires less physical effort as well. And getting up to follow the birds is easier and faster. When photographing a flock of roosting shorebirds I will usually opt to lie flat. But when I need to get up and down quickly and change position often, sitting works best for me. On rare occasion I will kneel behind my tripod (again with the legs shortened) but I have a tendency to develop cramps in my thighs when kneeling so I usually avoid that. Sitting yields a bit shallower angle of declination as well. (Simply put, that means that your lens is a bit lower when seated than when kneeling.) And when using a long telephoto lens with a teleconverter while seated your images may very look as if you were flat on the ground. Folks with 300 and 400mm lenses need to remember this general principle: the shorter the focal length of your lens the more important it is for you to get low or super-low.

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The image of an American Oystercatcher chick in very low light was created with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens, the 2X III teleconverter (hand held at 380 mm), and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 1600. Evaluative metering +2 stops: 1/400 sec. at f/5.6 set manually after histogram check. Lens/TC/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: -4. Manual flash at 1:8 with the Canon 580 EX II Speedlight. (Using the Canon external battery pack allows for more consecutive flashes and faster recharging times; see additional details in the Shopper’s Guide below).

You can learn everything that you need to know about using flash for nature photography (including Fill Flash, Flash as Main Light, and Manual Flash) in the Flash Simplified section of The Art of Bird Photography II (916 pages on CD only).

We noticed that right around sunset the oystercatcher chicks became bolder and bolder. Rather than trying to get into position with my much heavier and bulkier tripod-mounted 800mm lens, I simply grabbed my 70-200 II with the 2X III TC with the flash right on the camera. I was easily able to move along with the chicks and sit. When they moved, I stood up and moved trying to position myself ahead of their predicted movements. Above it worked to perfection.

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As usual you can learn a ton by studying the screen capture of the original image. Note that I chose an off-centered AF sensor and that despite the low light and the complete lack of contrast it performed perfectly. Note that the TC severely threw off the Subject Distance; I was not 42 meters from this little fluffball. Check out the excellent histogram with data well into the fifth box; I am constantly preaching ETTR. Lastly note as well the small crop and the fairly extensive beach clean-up (as detailed in Digital Basics). I used a series of small Quick Masks and the Patch Tool.

The next time that you are afield, consider getting your butt dirty; sitting down on the job often offers the very best perspective for nature photographers.

Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear that I used to create the images above. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our recently revised Shopper’s Guide.

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens. Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon 1.4X III TC This new TC is is designed to work best with the new Series II super-telephoto lenses.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens. Man, I am loving this lens on my shoulder with the 2X III teleconverter. I also use it a lot with the 1.4X III TC.
2X III teleconverter. This new TC is noticeably sharper than the 2X II TC.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. My workhorse professional digital camera body. I own two.
Canon 580 EX II Speedlight. This is Canon’s most powerful, top of the line flash.
Canon CP-E4 Compact Battery Pack. Powers the flash. Allows for more consecutive flashes and faster recharging times.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod. This one will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head. Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
CR-80 Replacement Foot for Canon 800. When using the 800 on a Mongoose as I do, replacing the lens foot with this accessory lets the lens sit like a dog whether pointed up or down and prevents wind-blown spinning of your lens on breezy days by centering the lens directly over the tripod.
4th Generation Design Integrated Flash Arm. This will elevate your flash about 8 inches and except in very low light eliminates flash eye, steel eye, red eye, and purple eye.
Promaster Flash Cord (for Canon or Nikon). This dependable flash cord allows you to get your flash up onto your flash bracket.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.

Delkin 32gb e-Film Pro Compact Flash Card. These high capacity cards are fast and dependable. Clicking on the link below will bring you to the Delkin web site. There is lots of great stuff there. If you see a product that we do not carry let us know via e-mail; we will be glad to have it drop-shipped to you and save you a few bucks in the process.

I pack my 800 and tons of other gear in my ThinkTank Airport SecurityTM V2.0 rolling bag for all of my air travel and recommend the slightly smaller Airport InternationalTM V2.0 for most folks. These high capacity bags are well constructed and protect my gear when I have to gate check it on short-hops and puddle jumpers. Each will protect your gear just as well. By clicking on either link or the logo below, you will receive a free gift with each order over $50.

11 comments to Why Sit Down on the Job?

  • Raul Padilla

    “the shorter the focal length of your lens the more important it is for you to get low or super-low.”, great, i am waiting mi next photo-excurtion for test it.

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks Keith. They look comfy. My back has been fine since surgery in 1990!

  • Keith Reeder

    Assuming you can get something similar in the US, you should treat yourself to one of these.

    They’re extremely comfortable, and make sitting and shooting a much more pleasant experience if you’re there for a while: and by rocking back a bit you can very effectively lower the effective height you’re taking the photograph from.

    Folds flat, weight ounces – I swear by mine, and my back thanks me for it every time…

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Good question Justine. The answer is I am not positive. I had likely selected an off-center sensor in an effort to create a nice COMP when the bird was running to my left. When I made the image in question I was sitting. It is most likely that I focused on the eye (AI Servo with rear focus) and then recomposed…. Hope that that makes sense.

  • Justine Carson

    Hi Artie,
    Let me add my thanks to others for your wonderful blog and the helpful info in your posts. I have a question about where you have placed the active focus sensor for this shot — on the breast of the chick. I usually try to focus on the eye or the beak. In this instance is the breast of the bird in about the same plane as the eye, since the bird is facing you? And is that why you have placed the focus point there?


  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks Marty and Eric for you good wishes. Just got done rubbing Vitamin E on my scars :).

  • Eric Thomson

    Marty is right on target with his comment! I should be saying a great big THANKS! every day too. Stay well now that you’re almost there again!

  • Marty

    Every time I get your e-mail I think; “I ought to thank Arty for the wonderful pictures and great hints.”
    So today I’m thanking you, but I want you to know that I appreciate every one of your magnificent photos and your very helpful photo tips!

  • Myer Bornstein

    Always down and dirty. At the beach I am almost always sitting or lying down. As I get older sitting makes it easier to get up 🙂

  • Gloria

    What sweet little birdies! GREAT tips about focal lengths – thanks!!