There are two kinds of shooting that I really enjoy: popping away at targets with an airgun and capturing nature and wildlife images with a digital camera. Believe it or not, the two support each other.
Before we get to the specifics of what I mean, let’s grab hold of some basic background information. To wit: people wobble. That’s right; you, me, everybody, wobbles. We don’t notice it most of the time because in most folks it is slight and inconsequential. But if you have ever weighed yourself on a Wii balance board, the results displayed on the screen show the movement of your center of gravity over the balance board, and it’s not a single dot. Instead, it’s a tracing showing movement. We are constantly in motion, you and I, with our muscles continually micro-tweaking our position.
When an airgun shooter wants to shoot offhand – that is, from a standing position – immediately that inherent wobble begins to matter a great deal. Even with iron sights, you find you can’t stay pointed where you want to be: at the exact center of the target. And when you add a scope with magnification to your airgun, the problem appears to be even worse, as the field of view careens back and forth across the face of the target.
Now, here’s the real rub: short of dying, having yourself stuffed with a steel rod up your center, you can’t stop the wobble. Sure, Olympic ten-meter shooters try to control it with special jackets, pants, underwear (no kidding) and shoes, but they still wobble.
The best you can do, as an ordinary (non-Olympic) airgun shooter is to try to control it and deal with it.
Control it. Set your feet at shoulder width, relax and settle into your center of gravity, rest your elbows against your sides, take a breath in and let half of it out, ease the first stage out of the trigger, and take your shot.
Deal with it. In my view (and there certainly are contrary views, so try what I suggest and if it works well for you, use it; otherwise check out some of the contrary views), one of the best ways to deal with the wobble is to get the timing right. Here’s a prime example: some years ago I was shooting a scoped rifle at a field target match. On one of the standing lanes, I was wobbling fiercely, but the wobble was fairly regular, left and right from the center of the target. I realized that if I triggered the shot while I was aimed at the center of the kill zone, I would actually be in the act of moving off the target, but if I triggered the shot while I was at the peak of the wobble to one side, I would actually be in the act of moving back onto the center of the target. So I triggered the shot when I had “wobbled off,” and the target went down.
So what does this have to do with wildlife photography? A lot, it turns out. When I am shooting wildlife with my Panasonic FZ200 superzoom camera, I am generally shooting at extremely high zoom levels: 24x, 48x, sometimes 96x, and I shoot handheld, standing up. As you might imagine, the image sometimes moves around quite a bit in the viewfinder, so I use the same skills: feet at shoulder width, relax into my center of gravity (if I can manage it in the excitement), take in a breath, and let out half, press the shutter halfway down to lock the autofocus and autoexposure, and take the shot when the timing is right.
Even better, I have found that the more I practice with the camera, it helps my airgun shooting, and the more I practice with the airguns, it helps my wildlife photography. It appears to be a synergistic system, and it sure is fun!
What follows are some photos that I was fortunate enough — using the techniques described in this blog — to capture when my wife and I were walking on Peebles Island near Troy NY. On both days, it was a “God likes me” moment.
On July 24, 2013, I shot this image of the dam on the north side of Peebles Island. (Click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.)
My wife, who has extraordinary distance vision, said, “What’s that at the far end of the dam?” At full optical and digital zoom, I saw this:
On June 16, 2014, we saw the following:
Due to recent rains, water was pouring over the dam.
Herons were waiting below the dam.
One of them caught a fish.
An eagle scared the heron off the fish.
He thought about his options for a moment.
And flew off with his ill-gotten gains.
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
– Jock Elliott