Photographers are storytellers: we tell a story within the frame of a still image.
What we include in the frame depends on our mood and feeling, as well as the mood or feeling we want to convey. The technique we use to tell that story often depends on several factors, including making a color or black-and-white image (a black-and-white image perhaps looks more creative because some of the reality of the scene has been removed), using a fast or slow shutter speed to freeze or blur the action, choosing a wide or small aperture to minimize or maximize what is in focus in front of and behind the focus point – and perhaps most important: the lens we choose.
In this article I’d like to share my story about a recent trip to the bottom of the world, which included stops in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica. To illustrate my story I’ll share with you the Canon zoom lenses I used and my camera settings on my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and EOS 5DS. My goal is to give you some ideas on how you can tell your story when traveling.
I took this photograph on South Georgia Island in the largest king penguin colony in the world. It’s perhaps my favorite image from this adventure, because it shows how close the animals can come to you . . . if you are patient.
I said, “because it shows how close the animals come to you” because the rule in South Georgia is that you cannot walk or crawl closer than 15 feet to an animal.
I chose the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens because I was not sure just how close the penguins would come. That lens gave me the versatility of shooting at different subject distances.
It’s the versatility of the 24-105mm IS lens that makes it my favorite all-around lens. Many of my fellow EOLs consider the 24-105mm IS lens a favorite, but some, especially those who shoot in low light, prefer the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM lens, which is faster, a bit heavier and a bit larger.
I wanted to take an environmental photograph, that is, a photograph that shows the animals in their environment. Photographing while standing up resulted in penguins getting lost in the background, so I got down on my belly and shot from ground level. That position emphasized the majesty of the kings.
For good depth-of-field, that is, to get the animals in the foreground and the back in focus, I set my lens to f/14 and focused on the penguins on the left side of the frame.
Quick composition tip: Place the main subject off center. That technique causes the viewer’s eye to roam around the frame looking for other interesting subjects. Another way to state this composition technique: Dead center is deadly.
Storytelling with photographs of wildlife involves taking close-up photographs. Canon offers several telephoto zoom lenses and fixed telephoto lenses, each suited for a different need and budget.
Hands down, my favorite wildlife lens is the new (twist zoom as opposed to the older push-pull zoom) EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. That’s the lens I used for this photograph I took of two rockhopper penguins on the Falkland Islands.
To blur the background, I set the lens at f/6.3, which provided shallow depth-of-field.
After taking my photograph, I zoomed in on the image on the camera’s LCD monitor to make sure the eyes were in focus. I feel, in most cases, that if the eyes are not in sharp focus and well lit, I have missed the shot.
When I plan to photograph wildlife, I always pack my Canon 1.4X tele-extender - just in case I need a bit of extra reach. I was so close to the animals on my bottom-of-the-world adventure that I did not need it this time.
I photographed this seal pup on South Georgia Island with my Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens. For wildlife photography, I always travel with this lens and my 100-400mm IS lens. I like the 70-300mm lens because it’s small and lighter than the 100-400mm lens. Plus it’s super sharp, too.
What’s more, it’s not impossible that I could trip and break a lens, so having two telephoto zoom lenses gives me a backup. If you are going on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, I strongly suggest packing a backup lens. If you are not a member of Canon CPS, check it out. It’s a great resource for borrowing Canon gear, and getting expert and fast repair on gear, too.
Quick tip: See eye-to-eye and shoot eye-to-eye. Doing that lets the viewer of the photograph relate more to a subject than if you shoot above the subject’s eyeline, such as when you are standing up.
Conveying the feeling of being in the largest king penguin colony in the world is hard to do in a two-dimensional photograph, not to mention that a photograph can’t convey the smell of penguin poop from tens of thousands of animals.
For a wide view in my landscape photographs, I use the new Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens set at a small aperture. I experimented composing the scene with the lens set at 16mm, but the penguins were too small in the frame, so zoomed in a bit so the penguins were larger in the final image.
Before moving up to that lens, which is a relatively new addition to the Canon lens line, I used my Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens, which also does an outstanding job for wide-angle shots.
To add a sense of depth to this photograph, I photographed the line of penguins in the foreground at an angle, which leads the viewer’s eye from the left side of the frame to the right.