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Puffin, Fugle Fjord, Svalbard
Fujifilm X-H1, XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, f8 @ 1/650 second, ISO 250

The more nature photography I do, the more I realise how much our subjects move. Even these puffins swimming quietly along on a glassy afternoon needed a reasonably fast shutter speed to freeze the action completely.

For many people, nature photography relies on technical perfection. Not always, but for photos like the samples here, you want your subject to be tack sharp, at least on the eyes and beak where it counts. So, how do you do it?

First up, ensure your lens is focusing properly. When you use a telephoto lens (this was a 100-400mm), it magnifies both your subject and any errors in focusing. So, if the autofocus system locks onto the bird in front, the bird behind might not be sharp. Worse, if the autofocus locks onto the shoulder feathers, the eye may not be sharp. Depth-of-field with telephoto lenses is very shallow, and the closer you are to your subject, the shallower the depth-of-field.

In this situation, I used a single spot autofocus point, which was a struggle because I was shooting from a floating zodiac (which is better than a zodiac that's not floating, of course). Slight movements of other passengers compound the movement of the birds and it can be challenging to keep the autofocus point on the eye of the bird. There were a lot of misses, but I knew this would be the case, so I took LOTS of frames and at least a couple were sharp!

Image stabilisation is also great because it helps keep your camera still, but it doesn't help if the subject itself is moving. At 100% magnification, any movement is a problem, so 1/500 second is probably as slow as you should use for any wildlife photography (conditions permitting), but if I had this opportunity again, I'd go for 1/1000 or even 1/2000 second. Most cameras will work very happily at higher ISO settings, allowing these faster shutter speeds.

You don't always see Puffins up in Svalbard, or so they told me the day before, but no one told the flock of twenty or so Puffins that were swimming not far from our ship! 

Interested in a trip to Svalbard? I have two options, one this year in August, one the year after in July! Check out the voyages I'm doing with Kevin Raber (click here) on M/S Quest (Rockhopper Workshops) in 2020 and with Aurora Expeditions here in 2021.

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