I recently delivered a presentation to one of my loal camera clubs and in it I described the technique I often use of taking several shots with a longer lens and stitching them together in editing instead of taking the same image using a wide angle. To be honest this was met with some doubt as to why this would be a sensible thing to do so I thought I would create a blog to explain my thinking. I should at this point say thank you to Marlon du Toit who taught me this technique many years ago. One example below.
I have been lucky enough to have been able to shoot alot of my images with a prime lens. My first prime lens was the EF 500mm f/4 and I now have a RF400 f/2.8. Now the advantage of a prime lens is that it usually has a much larger aperture and as such you can create the gorgeous out of focus backgrounds that you generally want in wildlife photography. However anyone who has shot with a prime lens will realise that it also comes with a hefty downside in that you have that focal length and only that focal length. As a result, I definitely do miss shots but, I also like the shots I do get better. Regardless what you shoot with you can use this technique you just need to figure out the best way to do it with the gear you have. Anyone that follows any of my social media and/or has ever been on a workshop with me knows that knowing your gear and its capabilities is far more likely to get you the images you want than working with kit you have no experience with.
First of all a little bit of background.
The actual depth of field you get when you are shooting depends on several factors
1. The camera you are using (specifically the sensor size)
2. The focal length of lens that you are using
3. How far away the subject you are photographing is
4. The aperture that you use
Now I am not going to go in to all of that in depth if you want to nerd out (I do regularly) then there are numerous depth of field calculators that you can use online or downloadable apps for your phone. You then plug in all the data as above and you will get the actual depth of field in your image. I don’t have time to do that for every shot but it is worth having a look at you might be surprised by the results and knowledge is always good.
At the moment I usually have two cameras set up as below
Canon R5 with 400mm f/2.8
Canon R6 with 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1
On my last safari we had a very obliging lion cub lying on a rock. Big cats on rocks an awesome sighting. So I took an image of the lion cub using each of my two camera options and the resulting images are below.
R6 1/640s f/5.6 ISO 2500 RF 100-500 at 270mm
Single image landscape orientation
R5 1/400s f/2.8 ISO 500 RF400 at 400mm
4 portrait orientation images stitched together in Lr to create a panorama
Now I am pretty sure most of you are going to prefer the second one. The white balance is slightly different due to the different cameras and the lion cub has moved its head slightly but these two images were taken 1 minute apart.
The first one is just a straight shot so I don’t need to tell you how to do that one. How the second one was created is explained below.
First the 4 original images. If you want to end up with a landscape shot then you shoot portrait and vice versa. You need to have about a one third overlap to ensure that Lr can then stitch the images together. You also need to make sure the focus is the same for them all so I generally shoot the with the animals head in it first focusing on the eye then shoot the images needed on either side. How you do this will depend on how you shoot I use back button focus but for those of you shooting on your shutter button focus then you just need to flick the manual focus switch on your lens once you have achieved focus. You could argue that you should also lock the exposure but in my experience I haven’t had any issues with this so I don’t bother.
As you can see in the first image you simply select the images you want to stitch together and then go to Photo → Photo Merge → Panorama
You need to give the software a minute or two and then its best effort at stitiching you images will appear. I generally leave this part on the default settings and click on the auto crop option but you might want to try the Spherical and Cylindrical options and see which you like the best.
Then it is on to standard editing and the finished image is below.
And if they then do something interesting you can still get the shot as long as you get the bit with the action in it and combine that with the others. As you can see below.
And just to prove it can be done with an alternative orientation. Heres another one I prepared earlier (back in 2018). I do love a Red Squirrel.
5 landscape images stitched to get a portrait orientation image. Shot using my 500mm f/4. A straight shot at 278mm would have given the image below which has way to much detail for me in the background.
I hope that explains the technique and why I use it. If any of you want me to talk to your camera club or local group do let me know there is a contact option in the top right in the menu. With the wonders of Zoom you don’t even need to be local to allow that to happen!