Digiscoping with Danny Porter and Wex PhotographicTuesday, April 21, 2015
I recently was lucky enough to get a chance to try something really different in photography; digiscoping. Confession time; I'd not come across digiscoping before and had to phone a friend. It's essentially a camera mounted on a spotting telescope instead of a lens. This allows you to get in really close to your subjects, which is brilliant, especially when they are a long way off.
A small group of us went along Pensthorpe Natural Park to try digiscoping with expert Danny Porter on a one day course run by Wex Photographic. Not having been to Pensthorpe before, it was nice to get a preview of the park, which was pretty darn delightful (even in the grey and drizzle) and I'm looking forward to returning another day to explore more fully. The great number and variety of birds is what makes Pensthorpe a fabulous place to visit for bird watching an photography; of course it was most unhelpful of the weather to be so grim – as a photography enthusiast it is known that light is king but you have to carry on regardless. The bird hides came into their own, we were able to stay dry while keeping our cameras set up and in use.
As I only came armed with my beloved Sony a58 camera and a borrowed tripod, I was somewhat unsure about what else would be needed in order to start scoping. Fortunately, Wex know exactly what kit is best. I used the Swarovski STS 80 HD straight spotting scope along with the Swarovski telephoto lens adapter to use my camera (the scope becomes the lens, so you attach the camera body directly to the adapter) or just to scope, using the Swarovski eyepiece. It's fair to say I felt a little apprehensive faced with new equipment to traverse and amongst new company with all their own kit I started doubting my photography skills in general... I needn't have worried as our 'scoping expert Danny Porter was the best kind of tutor; knows the subject inside out, chilled out and funny, with a way of explaining things without sounding patronising. Quite honestly, without Danny's advice I would have been all at sea even after being told the basic concept; I kind of knew what I needed to do but things weren't really clicking but after a bit of advice and a look through my shots it became apparent how to improve almost immediately which saved an awful lot of trial and error.
There was one immediately obvious point I feel the need to talk about; I was the only woman in the group as well as being the youngest, by a fair way. The demographic of digiscopers is clearly not as diverse as would perhaps be ideal and I suppose I can see why; the kit is probably the main issue, it's a significant purchase and I don't know all that many women into bird watching/photography. It's a shame that it's not more accessible to everyone but that makes it all the more important if you do choose to invest to ensure that the equipment is exactly what you need. I've heard great things about the Wex photographic showroom in Norwich where you can see and try out a whole bunch of kit before buying and if you ask me there is a massive bonus in being able to speak to staff know who can advise and offer a wealth of knowledge.
So, how does digiscoping differ from regular photography? Well, I'll give you an idea.
- Your scope is your lens, the camera fits onto the adapter which in turn fits onto your scope.
- Shooting is done in aperture priority mode, the ISO and exposure compensation are used to adjust shutter speed – I feel the need to emphasise how at sea I felt being unable to directly adjust the f-stop! The absence of lens meant the settings display on my camera showed no f-stop number and it took a multi-stage calculation to get the exp 0 f-stop number.
- Ideally shoot in RAW mode for greater flexibility when later editing. Use 'cloudy' mode if the (outdoor) conditions are anything other than rather sunny.
- Use continuous burst shooting mode so you don't miss all the action. An SD card with a high write speed is a definite advantage.
- Your tripod needs to be sturdy with a smooth, fluid head.
- All shooting really needs to be done with manual focus, again, this seemed quite alien to me.
It was challenging to find a balance between a darker, clearer image with the faster shutter speed or a brighter image which is softer from the slower shutter. Even armed with the basic concept and 'rules' I would highly recommend digiscoping lessons which would shortcut a lot of wasted time on faffing. Danny Porter has not only a great knowledge of digiscoping photography but also a range of equipment to try before you figure out what you want to own.
Of course, it makes sense to start with a steadily sensible target to start with but naturally, I couldn't help but try to capture what was going on around us to start with; the avocets having their own tussles, the nesting bearded tits, the feeding ducks and all the other birds going about their business.
A key piece of advice was that you need to be prepared to loathe the vast majority of your pictures while you're finding your feet – phew. I started downloading all my photos (1600+) and started to panic that they all looked awful but thankfully I did come across a few I liked and a couple that I really like.
Have you tried or come across digiscoping? And are you tempted to give it a try?
Many thanks to Wex Photographic and Danny Porter of Danny's Digiscoping