SDMB Photo geeks, is there something else I could have done to get this shot?

I was playing out in the backyard over the weekend when a huge rainstorm came up and we had to retreat into the house. I was looking out the back slider and saw this enormous Red Tail hawk land about 200 yards from the house in a big Ponderosa Pine in the middle of a downpour. I put my 300mm lens on the Nikon and tried to get the best shot.

Here it is.

I like the effect the rain has on the shot, but I think my settings were off, I was shooting at about 200 ISO in A. Does that make sense? I an a total amateur and am trying to use my backyard as a test site…

How should I have taken the shot? I was not using a tri-pod so that may be something… Any ideas how I could have got this picture more clear, or would the rain have distorted it anyway?

Not too bad, under the circumstances, but you need a tripod and a much longer lens - the bird is simply too far away.
You also might try some post-processing to bump the contrast a bit.

You could try cranking the ISO all the way up so the camera could use a lower shutter time.

What was your shutter speed? If you wanted less blurring from the rain you could have shot with a faster shutter speed but I kinda like the effect as it is. Agree with the poster above though that a longer lens would have helped.

A much longer lens is the biggest thing that would help you here. Can you post the untouched original? That would give me a little more information that the shot you posted. But it doesn’t look to me like you could have done very much, given your limitations.

My birthday is approaching and I found a used AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR for sale. It’s not cheap but for the kind of photography I am doing I think it may be the best lens for me. I frequently shoot 200 meters + and my shots with this current lens don’t look anything like the shots of friends who have bigger lens’. Elk season and Big Horn season is coming up and I am hoping to get out there with gusto…

I don’t remember the shutter speed for this shot, it was low I know that.

I don’t have the raw version on my work computer, but the shot linked to above was shot as 1600 ISO in f/5.6 per the properties.

Huh. I downloaded it and didn’t see any EXIF information. What’s the shutter speed? What’s the maximum aperture on the lens you’re using. I’m assuming it probably is f/5.6. What’s your shutter speed? I’m guessing around 1/250 - 1/320, possibly slightly faster? I don’t think there’s much you can do. If you had a tripod or something to brace yourself against, you can get better quality (less noise), at the expense of more motion blur in the rain (which is not necessarily a bad thing.) You ideally would have wanted to have a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, and you would have wanted to get much closer than you are.

Hey, if you have the money to blow, go for, but that is one freaking expensive lens. I used to use the non-VR version for sports (along with the 500mm f/4), but those were pool lenses–I never actually had to buy it for myself. Unless you’re shooting sports or nature professionally, I really don’t see the need for this lens.

Another really expensive lens worth thinking about is the 200mm-400mm f/4, especially if you’re a wildlife guy. It’s in the same general price range as the 400mm f/2.8.

I’ll be blunt, and please don’t take this the wrong way. If you’re still at the point where you can’t look at the photo you’ve taken and know what the issues are with it and how you can improve it, your money really is better spent learning more about the craft/art of photography. In good lighting conditions, a variable aperture lens should be good enough for you. This is still expensive, but have a look at the 80mm-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6 lens here. I still think that’s overkill for the level you’re at, but, if you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, I would rather see you get that lens, learn how to use it well and then, if you really feel you constantly find yourself in situations where you need the extra 2 stops of light and money is no object for you, fine, get the 400 f/2.8.

ETA: I missed that you said you don’t know the shutter speed. I can tell you from looking at the picture, it’s not that low. I doubt it’s any slower than 1/125 of a second, but my guess would be 1/320.

Since this is a “could have done” question I would say “get closer.” The rain is the problem for this shot. If you use a longer lens you are still shooting through 200 yds of rain.

I use a Canon camera so I’m not as familiar with the Nikon stuff, but that 400 2.8 looks like it’s a pro lens to me, $9K street price new. No idea what you’d pay for a used one. Not sure I would recommend that for someone who describes himself as a “total amateur.”

What kind of body do you have? Your hard-earned dollars might be better spent on upgrading your body to get a better sensor, maybe a full-frame sensor.

Beware of looking at friends’ gear and getting “lens envy.” :slight_smile:

Ernst Haas is famously quoted as saying the best zoom lens is your feet. :slight_smile: (At least that’s who the quote is attributed to.) It’s very true. Robert Capa, in a similar spirit, said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Also, lots of wisdom in that.

Yes. And every river, swamp, slough, or shy bird that I’ve seen has said “You can’t have a long enough or fast enough lens.” Just anecdotally, but if there’s a flock of photographers trying to get a picture of a rare bird and you’re the guy who tries to get closer and scares it away, you’re not going to be a very popular person.

The biggest problem with that Nikon (aside from the $9K price tag) is that it weighs 10 pounds! While you might be able to hand hold that for a short time, there’s no way you’re going to be holding it for any long period of time waiting for the perfect moment.
So you’ll need a very good tripod. If you want to get shots of birds in flight, I think they make special mounts for that. It all runs into real money.
I actually like the shot in question, although I would have tried to move so that the pine trees in the right center weren’t so distracting. And yes, if the bird was really 200 yards away, then you could have gotten significantly closer without scaring it away. In my experience, red tails don’t start giving you the hairy eyeball until you’re less than a couple of hundred feet away (and sometimes far less – some of the local farm hawks are used to people and you can get within 30 feet of them).

Yes, but as you note, 200m is a LONG distance to be away. THAT’S the main point I’m responding to. It’s not like, oh, if only he had just a couple hundred millimeters more of reach. And a 400mm lens isn’t going to get him that much closer than the 300mm he’s already using. It’ll let him go down to a more respectable ISO, though, and give him more options. And, of course, a 1.5x or 2x teleconvertor would be helpful, too.

Sure, for wildlife photography, you’re most often going to need a 300mm-600mm range. But when you’re that far away, that’s not going to help you. 300mm is enough to do basic work in this area especially on a body which I assume is a 1.5x crop.

There is a great Camera Shop in Boulder called Mike’s Camera [you can google it for website] and they have some very good prices on lenses both new, used and consigned…But pulykamell I agree with you that I need to learn more about the craft of photography before I buy anything extraordinary. Living up in the Rockies I have a lot of opportunity to shoot wildlife, I already blow-up a lot of what I take and stick it on the walls. I am looking to get much better [not necessarily like Thomas Mangelsen] so I signed up for a class this fall at CU.

Mainly I am buying everything piecemeal and money is certainly a consideration and I do not need anything extravagant, but I do want the right equipment for taking long shots, action shots and clean crisp landscapes. I’ll be in Rocky Mountain National Park the week after labor day for the elk and am only going to use what I have now. I am using an entry level Nikon [D3000] and have at my disposal a much more technical Nikon D200 body, I take the D3000 out for hiking and camping…I am only just learning about the D200.

By the way, about 10 seconds after I took these shots of the Red tail, it dropped out of the tree to grab a vole…the whole thing took less than 3 minutes. I’ve seen bear for longer periods of time than that hawk. However, our large backyard is a favorite for that Red Tail and for a couple of Golden Eagles. The voles, are the only things left in the yard, all the rabbits, marmots and squirrels are gone.

Why don’t you rent one to see how you like it, or borrow one from one of your friends for a few days (assuming they shoot Nikon)?

Good idea! yes, most shoot Nikon, and I’ll have to check Mikes camera and seeif they rent…I think they do! Thank you for all your help.

Before you invest in the lens get the tripod though. I’ve been taking more time lately to try and improve my photographs and the one thing that I’ve noticed as making a huge difference is hand held vs tripod or even monopod.