Frequently Asked Questions
I often get asked questions about different aspects of my wildlife photography. I'm all to happy to answer most of them but thanks to my growing audience, who I'm thrilled to have, it has become a bit time consuming to answer all the questions. I thought it might be helpful to everyone to have answers to commonly asked questions right here on my website. I'll keep updating this page with new information in the future.
Q: What lens do you use for most of your bird photography?
A: I almost always use my trusted Nikon 500mm f/4 VR lens. It is not the latest and lightest generation lens but I love how it performs and it gives me the reach I require. Occasionally when I need to be really portable or don't feel like lugging along the big lens I'll use my Nikon 300mm f/4E PF lens paired with the Nikon 1.4x TC III teleconverter. This ultra lightweight combo still amazes me with how well it performs. I find the combo as sharp as my 500mm alone with the only loss being slightly less reach (420mm) and very slightly slower auto-focus due to the lowest aperture being f/5.6
Q: What Camera do you use?
A: I currently shoot my Nikon D4s full frame Nikon pro body. Prior to that I used a Nikon D3s. I love these camera bodies for their incredible autofocus performance, fast frame rates and most of all low light, high ISO performance. I personally don't find any disadvantage not having the extra reach for wildlife that a crop sensor body would provide. Of course if I could afford to have both I would! These full frame bodies also work perfectly for my wedding photography which is how I make my living.
Q: What exposure mode do you use to capture most of your photos?
A: I would guess I use manual exposure mode roughly 60% of the time and Aperture Priority combined with Auto-ISO for the other 40% of my photos. With Aperture Priority and Auto-ISO I make sure to have my Auto-ISO settings set to maximum ISO of 12,800 (my camera body can handle that high ISO) and a minimum shutter speed of 1/500-1/800 based on what I'm shooting. That last part is the key to successful use of Aperture Priority + Auto-ISO for me. That makes sure that my shutter speed will not drop below 1/500 in all but the darkest conditions and allows me to concentrate on focus and composition of the image. I also use exposure compensation liberally when using those settings. I use the Aperture Priority + Auto-ISO when I'm shooting in quickly changing conditions or I'm on the move and not positive where my next photo will be taken. For scenes that are consistent lighting and I'm mostly stationary I will always default to manual exposure mode so I can keep a consistent look to my photos and have the most control over the exposure and the final look of my photo.
Q: What lens do you recommend for a beginner wildlife photographer?
A: I always recommend people think about what they want to photograph and how they like to shoot. There is no "best" lens for everyone. That being said I recommend even to beginners to spend as much as possible on your first lens. The lens is the most important part of your photography kit in my opinion so I say spend more on the lens then the camera. The Nikon 300mm f/4E PF lens paired with the Nikon 1.4x TC III teleconverter is an incredible lightweight prime (non-zoom) lens setup to get started and will work great for everything from basic bird portraits to birds in flight and can be purchased for roughly $2,500. On the Canon side I would suggest the Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens as a lightweight fast and sharp lens. While not cheap it's certainly cheaper then a brand new $10,000 500mm lens. If you however are interested in purchasing a big telephoto prime, 400mm, 500mm, 600mm lens then I do highly recommend purchasing used. I bought mine used and have been using it for years with no issue. Do your research and be sure to purchase from a trusted resource and you can save a lot of money and still get an amazing quality lens for less. Lastly there is always the option of the telephoto zoom lenses available from Nikon, Canon, Sigma and Tamron. Some of these lenses can create great results but they do have their limitations. Knowing those limitations is key to understanding what they are great for and where these types of lenses may fall short. Mainly fast action (birds in flight) and low light is where these zoom lenses will show their weaknesses. As long as you are aware that if you shoot mainly static or not fast moving subjects and shoot in really good light then you will be happy with them.
Q: How much do you edit your photos?
A: My goal with my wildlife photography is to create and share a beautiful, creative and hopefully unique photo. To achieve that goal I personally have no problem with removing small distractions and adding significant dodging and burning to make my photos meet my vision. You can watch me edit a handful of my photos by watching any of my realtime edit videos. Every wildlife photographer has their own self imposed rules and guidelines for how much they want to edit their photos, anywhere from only basic cropping all the way to complete digital art. I think the most important part of doing any editing more then basic color, dodging/burning and tiny distraction removals is to disclose what you have done when you share the photos. When ever I do any significant change to the image that takes it pretty far away from what was originally captured I do my best to disclose that to my audience so they don't feel deceived by the finished photo.
Q: Do you add blur to your foreground/background in post production?
A: I never add any fake blur to my photos in post. The smooth background and foreground in many of my shots are from shooting at 500mm at f/4 which is wide open on my lens. That creates the really shallow depth of field found in my photos. The very smooth backgrounds are also created by having a great distance from the subject to the background, a topic that my good friend Scott Keys wrote a great blog post about.
Q: How do you pick out the best photos to share after you shoot hundreds or thousands?
A: I have spent quite literally the past 15 years looking through hundreds of thousands of photos and picking the best. Both for my wedding photography and wildlife photography, I've become decent at culling through photos. There are things I'm looking for in general when looking through. I usually delete all the crap first (there is usually a lot of that), then pick what might be good with a little editing, edit them all (just quick global Lightroom adjustments) then delete anything that didn't hold up after edit. Then I scan through the finished edited set once more and choose the best to share. They all get set aside in a collection that I visit each morning to choose what to share. Often photos that I had an emotional connection to capturing have a greater personal impact soon after a shoot. By setting them aside and revisiting them over the next few days/weeks that connection will often fade and I can look at a photo more critically to decide if it's really good or if I just really enjoyed taking it. That being said sometimes there is nothing wrong with sharing a photo that has a personal connection, even if it may not be the "best".