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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Super Telephoto Wildlife: Contrasting Stillness & Motion at 800mm

A wildlife photographer shares the story behind this super telephoto image of Japanese cranes, as well as some tips for finding the best shutter speed for a slow shutter shot.  (Reported by: Yukihiro Fukuda, Digital Camera Magazine)

Japanese cranes at lake

EOS R/ EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM/ FL: 800mm/ Manual exposure (f/25, 2 sec)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Other equipment: Variable ND filter


The story behind the shot

I wanted to capture these Japanese cranes as they stirred from sleep and went about their morning routine. So, I staked out the area where they roosted early in the morning. This shot was taken at around 7am on a fine day, when the sun had just risen, and it was starting to get bright.

Not as bright as I wanted, but it did lead to rather unique conditions

It was slightly cloudy that day, so I didn’t get as much light. However, the sunlight reflecting off the clouds tinted the river surface a beautiful golden orange.

At this time on cold mornings, the cranes would usually still be huddled together, fast asleep. But as it was warm on the day of the shoot, some of them were already awake and moving around. And so, I decided to use a slow shutter speed to show the contrast between the sleeping cranes and the ones that were awake.


Equipment: A super telephoto lens

Canon EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM

The professional choice: EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM

To photograph the cranes without disturbing them, I had to use a super telephoto lens. Here, I used the EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM. When paired with the EOS R, AF is possible over the entire AF area (approximately 88% horizontal × 100% vertical of the image sensor) even when using the EF-EOS R Mount Adapter and an extender (also known as a teleconverter). There is barely any deterioration in image quality even with an extender. Its size makes it harder to manoeuvre, but its pull-in and compression effects are like no other.

Budget alternatives

- RF800mm f/11 IS STM
- EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM with Extender EF2xIII

While you might have to work with a narrower aperture on these alternatives, it doesn’t really matter for daytime slow shutter shots like this one, where you will be using a very narrow aperture anyway.


Step 1: Use an ND filter and a slow shutter

At first, I shot at 1/500 of a second, and got the following image:

Fast shutters speed shot of cranes at lake

Shot at 1/500 sec

Can you tell which cranes are moving? I couldn't, either. 1/500 second was fast enough to freeze all motion so that everything looks sharp.

Sometimes, you want that. (See: Wildlife in Motion through Shutter Speed Control) However, for this shot, I wanted to capture the contrast between stillness and movement.

So, using a variable ND filter, I selected a much slower shutter speed of 2 seconds. This allowed motion blur to be captured, creating contrast between the cranes that were fast asleep and those that were awake and moving.


Step 2: Use the slow shutter speed to add dynamism to your image

If you are up for a challenge, you could also try a panning shot! Here’s my attempt:

Panned shot of crane (head out of image)

(Do better than this—check out Panning Tips for Capturing Dynamic Images of Wild Birds in Flight)

Remember: Consider the overall balance when you choose your shutter speed

For this shot, a slower shutter speed would have blurred the moving cranes so much, they would practically disappear. 

Also, don’t forget that other moving elements in your shot will also be affected by the shutter speed. I didn’t use a faster shutter speed because I preferred how the flowing water in the river looked at 2 seconds. 


For more tips on photographing birds with a slow shutter, see:
How to Get a Great Slow Shutter Shot of Wild Birds

More super telephoto lens techniques in:
Super Telephoto Lens Techniques – Wildlife Silhouettes Against the Sun
Telephoto Macro Technique: An Ordinary Leaf Gets the Limelight
Professional Composition Techniques (3): Making Good Use of Lenses


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Yukihiro Fukuda

Yukihiro Fukuda

Born in 1965 in Tokyo. Fukuda's visit to Hokkaido in search of the Japanese cranes he loved led him to become an animal photographer. After spending 10 years on wildlife coverage in Hokkaido, Fukuda expanded his scope to other countries and underwater photography. Wildlife, underwater, and landscape photography now form the three pillars of his current activities.