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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials Lens Techniques- Part5

Super Telephoto Lens Techniques – Wildlife Silhouettes Against the Sun

Using a super telephoto lens lets you capture landscapes with faraway animals as the subject. In this article, I will introduce a technique to help you capture impressive shots of animal silhouettes against a giant sun background. (Report by: Takayuki Maekawa)

EOS-1D X/ EF600mm f/4L IS II USM+EXTENDER EF1.4×III/ FL: 840mm/ Aperture-Priority AE (f/5.6, 1/250 sec, EV-1.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

On the vast Kenyan savannah in Africa, I aimed from the sunroof of a safari car at a scene of several topis standing at the top of a gently sloping hill with the sun slowly sinking in the background.


Defocus the background at maximum aperture to highlight the subject

I included the large setting sun in the background, capturing the silhouettes of three topis eating grass . When combining images of animals and the sun with a super telephoto lens, coordination is difficult unless you are located some distance away from the subject . As the size of the sun does not change, take into consideration the size of the subject in searching for a matching shot with the sun.

In this shot, I was located 100m away from the topis. What takes the most effort is the need to frequently change your standing position to frame the shot as both the animals and the sun are moving. Hence, shooting with the giant sun as a backdrop can be a lot of work.

I set the aperture to maximum for this shot. The biggest features of a super telephoto lens are that it allows you to get really close to the subject and create a large bokeh effect in the in-focus areas. Setting a maximum aperture would make the best of these features, resulting in an even more impressive photo.

EOS-1Ds Mark III/ EF600mm f/4L IS II USM/ FL: 840mm/ Aperture-Priority AE (f/4, 1/100 sec, EV-1)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

Shot with a close-up composition

This is one of the close-up shots that I took at 600mm. In the composition, I included African elephants standing in a row and the sun slowly rising from the horizon, while defocusing the grove of trees in the background to a large degree.

EOS-1D X/ EF600mm f/4L IS II USM/ FL: 600mm/ Manual Exposure (f/4, 1/1000sec,)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight

Impact weakens if animals are captured too small

This shot was also taken at 600mm. Although the mood can be conveyed adequately, the picture somehow is not mesmerizing enough. In the end, I used the Extender EF 1.4xIII to get closer to the subject.


Point: Stabilise the lens when shooting

I was shooting from a safari car with a large open top. I mounted my lens on top of a bulky bean bag placed at the edge of the sunroof. If a tripod stand is mounted, it would also be easier to operate the focusing ring.


Working with the lens: The single focal point of a super telephoto lens allows you to maintain a sense of distance

Aim at your subject from a large distance away with the EF600mm f/4L IS II USM. This allows you to "get close" to the subject while observing the situation. For the Image Stabilisation mode, it is good to try out modes 1, 2 and 3 beforehand to determine the situations each mode is best for, and then set accordingly. You can also disable image stabilisation if you are using a tripod to keep the camera stable.

With super telephoto lens, if you happen to "lose" fast-moving subjects such a birds from your frame, it can be quite difficult to relocate them. It's good to become familiar with locating the subject using the naked eye first before you proceed to capture the shot through the viewfinder.

Curious about how super telephoto lenses fare in the field? Check out our series on wild bird photography, which pairs the EOS 7D Mark II with the EF500mm f/4L IS II USM —and the Extender EF 1.4xIII.


Takayuki Maekawa

Born in Tokyo in 1969. Apprentice to photographer, Kojo Tanaka in 1997. He started working as a photographer from 2000. Besides venturing into field photography in many places around the world, including Japan, North America, Africa, Indonesia, India, etc., he is also active in the publication of books and conduct of exhibitions.

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