My long lens techniques...

Thread starter #1


Senior Member
Somebody asked me to talk about how I use my long lenses. Using longer lenses (and I’m including everything 300 mm and longer in as a LONG lens) and getting good, crisp images can be tricky. That could be the 300 mm end of a 70 to 300 mm lens or a 150 mm lens with a 2x teleconverter, whatever. And it certainly applies to my 600 mm and even more so when I use a 2x (or stacked!) teleconverters. A lot of this camera technique also applies to shorter lenses & macro shots as well. Practicing good camera technique all the time results in better images in crunch times.

Around the campfire you frequently hear hunters talk about keeping their scopes on 3 power because at 10 power, the “crosshairs move around too much”. Well the crosshairs are moving just as much at 3 power, you just can’t see it as readily. The same thing happens with camera lenses, the longer lens magnify movement. Because they also reduce light and thus decrease shutter speeds in addition to magnifying movement, images taken with longer lenses are prone to blurriness, softness, lens shake, or any number of conditions that basically mean the image isn’t as crisp and sharp as we would like.

Here is my favorite source of information for long lens technique (by Moose Peterson):

So, what is “good” long lens technique. Basically, it is doing everything you can to remove body/lens movement during the exposure. That means using a good, solid tripod, beanbag, or other support that is sitting on a solid surface, out of the wind. Having the tripod in as solid a stance as possible is important. Usually this is a low position with the legs well spread out & the center column at its lowest position (I actually remove the center column completely if I can & put the tripod head directly on the top of the tripod). If there is a hook on the bottom of the tripod, it may be helpful to hang a camera bag or sandbag from it to reduce potential movement & vibration even more. If you are using a beanbag on a truck window, it means shutting off the truck.

Then I place my feet in a wide stance (IF I am standing up) or assume a good sitting/kneeling posture if I am down, or a good prone position if I am on the ground – note that these are the same solid positions that I first learned during hunter safety courses and were driven into my muscles/brain on the rifle team in college. I let my bone structure assume as much of the weight as possible. Then I put my forehead/eye firmly up to the eye piece on the camera – letting my body form a fourth leg of the tripod.

I put one hand firmly across the barrel of the lens – critical in my manual focus 600 mm – where the lens barrel is attached to the tripod head.

I don’t put much weight on my shutter release hand at all. I use it to smoothly press the shutter release button (IF I am manually releasing the shutter). For a lot of wildlife shots, timing is critical, so manually releasing the shutter is important. Where timing is less critical, I will use the camera self timer and let the camera release the shutter. I will also lock the mirror up out of the way so the vibrations associated with “mirror slap” don’t mess up the image. Using a remote release is also an option that I choose at times.

The things I do in addition to the things I learned from reading Moose Peterson’s (and other) technical tips are body position and breath/heartbeat control. I try to rest my camera/tripod/beanbag combination on anything that I can. Then I try to contort my body into the most stable position I can where my bones are supporting whatever weight I am holding, rather than letting my muscles do it. Note that my big lens/body combination weighs in at around 16 pounds. Supporting that with muscles for very long insures a shaky shot! For my handheld shots, that means putting my elbow on my hip or in the pit of my stomach so that the weight isn’t supported by my muscles, but by my bones. Jim Neiger down in Florida has been getting some wonderful handheld flight shots with a 500 mm by using similar techniques.

Just before I get ready to mush the shutter release button, I take 2 or 3 (or 4) deep breaths as I try to relax & slow my heartbeat down. After I exhale the last breath, I try to completely relax (and I don’t breath). I can be almost completely still for 2 to 12 seconds. During that time, I try to get the composition I like & slowly mush the shutter release button. It may be that I have to breathe for a bit & try again.

Hope that helped? If I have said something confusing or you need more detail, just yell.
Thread starter #2


Senior Member
A rule of thumb is that you shouldn't handhold a lens at a shutter speed slower than the inverse of barrel length in millimeters. For example, don't handhold a 70 mm lens slower than 1/70th second, a 100 mm lens at 1/100th second, or a 300 mm lens at slower than 1/300th second. For speeds slower than that, use of a tripod, beanbag, expedient rest, something is recommended.

By using proper long lens technique (bones holding weight, body in steady stance, breath control, etc.), I have found that I can often "cheat" that rule of thumb.

For example the yellow-rumped warbler:

I used a 400 mm lens and shot a 1/320th of a second handheld. I "should" have used a tripod (and would have if the critter had cooperated). The warbler was basically at eye level. There was nothing to rest the lens on. I held the lens foot in my left hand, braced my left elbow up against the ribs on my left side, leaned back in a good standing competition rifle shooting stance, took a few good breaths, exhaled, relaxed, & mushed the shutter, and pulled it off. (I could have upped my ISO & gotten a faster shutter speed, but without a new D300 or D3, the image would have been noisier than I wanted). Anyway, there is an example of where good long lens techniques allowed me to get an image that I couldn't have gotten any other way.


Senior Member
dang rip, some really good info, and some of it could also double as tips for high-power shooting.

makes me think of Natural Point of Aim, Sight Alignment, Trigger Control, and Breathing Management.

The similarities are pretty neat for both types of 'shooting'.

now, when you gonna upgrade and make deals on some of that big glass?


Senior Member
Wow, there's a lot more to this than i thought. Thanks for the info. I should have a ton of questions, but don't know what to ask. Guess I should start by taking a look at the link you posted for moose peterson. I understand the lens size and the shutter speed. but don't know ISO is or what the difference in the differe F settings do. I've been playing with all the settings and have kind of figured out some stuff. I'm sure I'll start hitting you up with specific questions before long.
Thread starter #5


Senior Member
I'll go ahead and answer those two...

ISO is basically film speed. ISO 50 is "slower" than ISO 100, etc. You use higher ISOs when it is darker & lower ISOs in good light. The higher the ISO, generally the grainier the picture is (with the exception of those new Nikon digital sensors!!!).

f/setting or aperature setting control how big the hole inside your lens is that lets light through. The higher the f/number, the smaller the hole. The higher f/numbers mean you have more depth of field, etc., but with the smaller hole to let light through, the longer shutter speed you have (so if things are moving, they blur...).

A bunch of factors togather equal "exposure." These factors include: ISO, f/stop, and shutter speed. There can be several "correct" exposures.

Let's say I had a shot at f/5.6 at 1/2000th of a second at ISO 200, I would have an equal exposure at f/8 and 1/1000th of second at ISO 200, or f/5.6 at 1/1000th of a second at ISO400. The second option would give me more depth of field. The third option might be better if the first option were just a tad dark.

Hope that wasn't too confusing.


Senior Member
Thanks for the technique info Rip!!!! You've gotten the long lens craft down....:flag:


Senior Member
thanks rip. that helps. it wasn't too confusing. I did have to read it a couple of times to make sure I understood (and will probably have to read it a few more times before I remember everything), but that's normal for me.

I did look at some longer lenses just to get an idea of may be a while before I can do that. Some of them cost almost as much as I paid for the camera and a lot cost more than I paid, but I imagine it's like most optics, you get what you pay for.


Shutter Mushin' Mod
thanks a ton for taking the time to put this together rip!!! i was very dissapointed in my pictures with a tc until i upgraded tripods. i did not know how much mushing a button could move a camera. now with a little more experience, i find myself wanting more glass and the bigma is calling hard. hopefully these tips will help ( and a ton of practice !!!!) i have a few more other thoughts and questions i will be buggin' ya with as time rolls on !!!


Retired Woody's Mod 7/01-12/09
Well, I'm glad they did

Somebody asked me to talk about how I use my long lenses.
Very well presented rip, I still can shoot a rifle a lot better than I can shoot a camera, specially with the BIGMA attached:biggrin2: