During a recent photography workshop my assistant decided to give my camera a test run

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/400th  200mm  ISO 200


Every now and then when you least expect it, you're taken by surprise.  Sometimes the surprise is terrible, sometimes pleasant.  What happened to me last week was not only pleasant, but it was also enlightening.


In the African Plains area of Safari World

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/1250th 110mm  ISO 200


At the start of most every workshop I pull an old mechanical camera from my knapsack and I run the client through a sort of 'shakedown' talk to ascertain their level of knowledge.  More often than not this leaves me going through a certain spiel almost verbatim each time around.  Depending on the clients level of knowledge this can take from 10-90 minutes.  My poor assistant bless her heart, has had to sit through more than a few of these.  I can't think of anything worse.


A lone stork looking at the wetlands area inside Safari World

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/400th  200mm  ISO 200


The surprising part was that she was actually listening!  How do I know?  The proof is in the pictures.  As my client/student and I sat in the two front seats with big cameras and lenses she'd hand us equipment from the backseat as requested but otherwise would just sit back and watch.  This time she'd probably heard my spiel once too often and decided she'd give it a go.


This big longhorn creature stares as us while an antelope runs past.  Photography Workshop Bangkok Images

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/640th  200mm  ISO 200


She has zero previous experience with a DSLR.  She'd never picked one up other than to hand it to me or a client.  She'd listened, but she hadn't touched.  So I was a bit surprised when I heard the shutter of my spare camera clicking away, but other than that I didn't give it any thought.  Mostly I thought it was great she was giving it a try.


A long sea bird keeps watch.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/3200th  200mm  ISO 200


My client and I had a great 3 hours or so at Safari World and we figured we'd made some great captures.  The camera's LCD helps, but you never really know what you have until you get your flash cards back to your computer and download the images.  Really, this is an exciting time.  This is the moment when you're broadsided by the truth.  You either made great captures, or you'll need to make up yet another great excuse..


The detail she captured was extreme.  Critical focus.  Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/640th  ISO 200


Watching my images download and flicker across the screen I noticed a few hundred images I didn't remember taking.  A thought later I realized these must be the ones my assistant captured.  Suddenly this perfectly detailed ostrich head popped on my monitor and the amount of detail was stunning.  The exposure was spot on and critical sharpness had been achieved. "Lucky shot" I murmured..


Critical Sharpness achieved!  A worthy goal during our photography workshops

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/1250th  ISO 200


And just as my lips stopped moving another picture of a stork pops up and it was also stunning, perfect detail, critically focused, and ideally exposed.  Okay, she has my attention now!


A Maribou African Stork at Safari World

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/2500th  200mm  ISO 200


Forgetting my own images I focus on hers and go through them carefully one by one.  A few weeks ago I completed the micro-adjust on my 70-200mm but hadn't had a chance to use it since.  The lens was always great for photojournalism, but I rarely used it for wildlife because critically sharp images were rare with this lens.  Looking in the perfectly focused blue iris of the Ugly Bird and the fine down detail, I couldn't help but notice she made the sharpest capture I'd even seen from any 70-200mm lens!


Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS, Bangkok Thailand

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/5000th  70mm  ISO 200


How could this be?  Lets assume for a moment that the micro-adjustment tweaked the lens to be as sharp as it could possibly be.  Sure, okay.. but how did she learn to use that lens to achieve this level of result?  This level of sharpness and detail is difficult enough to achieve with an uber-expensive 300mm F2.8 IS lens.. but a beaten up PJ's 6 year old 70-200?


A beautiful lioness at Safari World

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/500th  200mm  ISO 200


I started to notice other things.  You guys have seen Safai World through my camera/eyes more than a few times.  I know how I 'saw' every individual venue of the park.. but I'd never "seen" it the way these images were showing.  She was framing different scenes, seeing different things, she was pulling off the 300 point bowling game and I couldn't take my eyes off the pins..


A bengal tiger keeps watch

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/400th  200mm  ISO 200


The perfect exposures, critical sharpness, and interesting framing was consistent from start to finish.  Did I mention the camera and lens combined weighs about 5-7kg?  Try holding that much weight out in front of you for 2-3 hours.. She barely breaks 120.. how was she doing this?


Long Detailed Eyelashes.  Photography Workshops

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/1200th  150mm  ISO 200


Some of the shots showed a 'bit' of inexperience, like not enough depth of field (DOF) to cover from the nose to the eyes.. but that's really nitpicking.


A big Canadian Bear.  Safari World

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/800th  190mm  ISO 200


Splashing playing bears are often a challenge.  Part of the challenge is they're so big the necessary amount of DOF can be deceiving.  Not for my assistant, ever bit of the bear was properly focused and the background pleasingly defocused.


Look at the concentration in this tigers eyes!

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/500th  185mm  ISO 200


Many of her shots had the animal looking away from the camera, a true sign of a professional.  It takes a novice a fair amount of time to learn that if your portfolio is full of models, animals, and whatnot starting directly at the camera then things aren't as interesting as they first appeared to be.  Catching both eyes in all their glory while the subject is looking away from you takes experience.  Or perhaps not..


In contrast this guy is relaxing.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/500th  190mm  ISO 200


I continued to go through her images giving adequate attention to each and every one.  Each time I asked for a different lens she'd stop, she was being distracted from 'her' photography, and she'd hand me the requested lens.  The lens not being used would find it's way to the body she was using.  I noticed how well she used each lens in each scenario.  Very well!


These bears are some of the most relaxed and laid back creatures at Safari World

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/200th  200mm  ISO 200


In 200+ images less than 10% had any error at all, an outstanding feat a seasoned pro would feel good about.  Of that 10% only a small handful were totally unusable.  Novice mistakes like blowing out a background were rare indeed.


A mother Maribou Stork regurges to feed her young during a recent workshop

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/3200th  200mm  ISO 200


She even caught the Big Ugly Bird feeding the baby Big Ugly Bird.  Catching old fish breath regurging would make most people pause, but not her.  Taking the sight and smell in stride she kept shooting.


Perfect DOF (depth of field) from stem to stern.  Bangkok Thailand

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/1250th  200mm  ISO 200


It's also worth noting that she hasn't yet seen her work.  She doesn't stick around for the post processing, when the client and I retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of the workstation room she goes her way until next time.


This bear is sticking ihs tongue out at me!  Bangkok Images.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/800th  190mm  ISO 200


She made it look so easy it was like she was sticking her tongue out at me!  Perhaps next time I'll crawl in the backseat for a nap and let her teach the class..

So.. I'm guessing she's not also an expert at post-processing.. so I processed all these for her to use in this weekly.  I didn't do the greatest job either, because I've been extremely busy I only spent a minimal amount of time on these images and they contain more than a few post-processing errors.

I sent her an email asking her if she would read my column this Saturday.  I haven't exaggerated.  I think she might be surprised.  Personally I want to see her do it again, it's a bit humbling to be trounced by your assistant!