Tech Tip Tuesday: Digiscoping

All this sunshine is making me optimistic. While I know that it’s not going to last, it’s at least inspiring me to get out, play in my garden, and explore the nearby woods, before the next rush of cold and rain. And it’s also adding some much-needed physical light to a dark, uncertain time. It’s much easier to step away from the news when the view out the window looks warm and inviting.

The wildlife too seems to be capitalizing on this sunny spell. Over the weekend I saw a moose while out hiking, as well as sign of other animals, including coyotes and a bear. Sadly, I could only photograph the moose during my hike, however I did get to photograph a Barred Owl while out gardening the other day. In short, the wildlife is abundant, and signs of spring are everywhere—you don’t have to go far! Even just a quick trip into your backyard can introduce you to new wildlife and plant neighbors.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

What happens when the animal or plant you wish to photograph is far away, say at the top of a tree or across a field? If you are a professional or advanced amateur photographer, you probably have a camera lens that can bridge the gap. However, if you usually take pictures with your smartphone or don’t have a wide array of camera lenses, you may struggle in these situations to get a clear photo.

If you fall into the latter category, there’s good news—by using either a spotting scope or pair of binoculars, you can take close-up photos without an expensive camera or lens. Known as “digiscoping” (when done through a spotting scope), this practice was originally coined in the 1990’s and has gained popularity in recent years. This method allows birders and other naturalists to get a close-up shot of the critter in question while still giving it plenty of space. However, this practice is not just for birds and other flighty wildlife. You can also use this technique to snap close-ups of fungi or plants that you may not be able to get to close to, such as flowers at the top of a tree.

It’s possible to get incredibly clear photos using this method, however there are several factors to keep in mind.

Spacing—The more distance there is between your camera lens and the eyepiece of your viewing equipment, the more likely you are to get “vignetting” (a dark, circular frame around your photo). The lenses also need to be close enough to avoid light getting between them—this will cause a shadow in the affected part of your picture. You also want to make sure that your phone or camera is held firmly in place, otherwise it may slip and leave you with a partial photo.

There are plenty of fancy adapters for connecting your phone or camera to your spotting scope or binoculars, however these can be expensive. It’s possible to brace the devices with your hand, keeping your finger between your phone lens and eyepiece, however this works best for smartphones. You can also make your own adapter at home using PVC pipe or a similarly sized piece of material. A quick Google search shows many different websites that might guide you through this process.

Stability—You want your setup to be as stable as possible since magnification amplifies small movements and can lead to blurry photos. When using a spotting scope, use a tripod to help stabilize your image. Binoculars are a bit trickier but with some practice you will find ways to brace your arms that will help your photos come out more clearly.

Lighting—Sometimes photos will come out underexposed when digiscoping. One of the most common causes is zooming in with your camera or phone because it reduces the amount of light taken in. Zooming in also further amplifies any shakiness that may occur. While it may seem somewhat counterintuitive, try to avoid using your camera’s or phone’s zoom when digiscoping.

Try not to be discouraged if your first digiscoped photos aren’t perfect. Digiscoping takes practice, even for seasoned photographers. However, once you get comfortable with it, it’s a powerful tool for getting close-up shots of faraway specimens or photographing animal behavior that you may not see if you were closer. And remember, any photo of a species, even those that aren’t National Geographic-quality, adds more valuable data than no photo.

TTT Task of the Week

If you have a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, practice photographing plants, animals, and fungi from afar. You can photograph birds in your yard, or even a flower you see growing across the street. Just make sure to stay safe!

If you want some more, in-depth information on how to get started, check out either this article from All About Birds or this article from Audubon.

As always, thanks for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity, stay safe, and happy observing!

Posted by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2, April 07, 2020 15:03

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