The Canon 600mm f/4 IS II is quite lethal for bird in flight photography. One of my outing to Alafia Banks, the best Roseate Spoonbill rookery in the state of Florida, is a great example… First off, that morning did not start well to say the least. The rookery is only accessible by boat, or a long kayak ride. At the time of assembling my kayak and getting ready to head in the water I realized that I had taken two half male ores that were not going to join together to form one solid shaft. I have two ores that split in two, and made the mistake of taking semi ore A of ore 1 with semi ore A of ore 2. The long ride promised to be extra long with just two halves that would not connect! I had a moment of hesitation and almost turned around. Finally, I decided that rowing harder will be a fair compensation for not thinking things through! “You have to be willing to do things in a harder way when you don’t think things through” is one of my grandma’s favorite sayings… 🙂 Well, eventually arriving at the rookery, it dawned on me that I was missing my tripod!! At Alafia Banks, one needs to wade 100% of the time as one cannot step on the island itself since it is protected by the Audubon society and no one is allowed to trespass on the island. So no tripod means a not so comfortable hand-holding with a big rig. And… as icing on the cake I had left my 1.4x extender in the car. Yey!!!
This Roseate Spoonbill banking in flight photograph was created at Alafia Banks, Florida. Having left my tripod behind was a perfect opportunity to focus on flight photography using hand-holding techniques that give the best stability for the minimum effort. Wanna know my secret to successfully hand-hold a 600mm for flight photography? Well… it starts with the position of your feet on the ground: feet spread shoulder length apart and orientation at 45 degree versus target. Then what I like to do is to hold the foot of the lens with my left hand and tuck my left elbow against the higher part of my left hip so that my muscles work the less possible, rather having the weight on my body structure instead. The reason why I like to hold the foot of the lens instead of the lens itself is because it gives me the length I need to have my elbow resting on my hip, greatly alleviating the overall strain. This technique absolutely saved the day! Note that the image above depicts a young Spoonbill, as you may have noticed a paler shade of pink, a head not so bald and the wings tip with a bit of brown.
The Brown Pelican above liked to take off from its mangrove tree perch to circle the area a few times before landing back in the trees. The creation above shows the last second brake before landing on a branch. It is a good idea to have your neck strap with you while hand-holding, so that you may give a rest to your arms as often as possible while keeping a sharp eye open for flight action. I keep repeating to my students, that being able to anticipate flight patterns and recognizing that a bird is likely to come in range early on is a key factor to be ready when the bird flies across the target area. Target area? That is right, in order to capture the bird with proper sun angle and head angle you will necessarily have a limited area that will result in good photography.
This 3rd photograph was also created on the same day! This little blue Heron with breeding colors made a couple of circles above the tree line, before landing out of sight. Hand-holding allows for a very quick reaction time while walking (in this case while wading). The precious seconds used to move the tripod from my shoulder to the ground and then put the bird in the frame is often the main reason for a miss, when I am walking to a different spot.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like to have my tripod and gimbal head with me while shooting with the Canon 600mm f/4 IS II, but it seems that taking the lens off the head every now and then is a good idea, especially when aiming at bird in flight photography.
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