First video in a series of videos for September to jump start putting more video content on my site.
I am on a number of photography forums on line. Many of these forums are very active with beginners, pros, and everything in between. There are a lot of questions asked on line that cover many different topics. However, it seems like there are a lot of questions that center on photography hardware and what should the person buy. Often the questions are somewhat vague. Hint for you, if you ask a question like - What camera should I get - What lens is the best - or Do I need to move to a full frame camera - please add some additional information in the question. Please make sure to list what you currently use. List the types of photography you do, like portrait or landscapes or sports. Say if you do it professionally or as a hobby. And yes even those that shoot professionally (for pay) ask some pretty basic questions. Everyone starts somewhere. Also list your budget. Are you wanting to stay with an inexpensive solution, or can you lay down a stack of big bills to get whatever your heart desires.
Once the question is posted you start to see people immediately jump on and list their favorite camera body or lens etc. They don't ask what the person is using currently, what they think they are lacking, or what types of photography they do. They also seem to have the same answer for every single question. The answer is most often also suggesting some of the most expensive equipment. Sometimes you will even see jabs at lesser equipment. Of course you can expect that kit lenses, especially those that come with a lower end DSLR will get special ridicule. Don't misunderstand, I don't think that the kit lenses are the be all and end all of lenses. However, some of the most recent ones are quite surprisingly good, especially for something you get free with the camera. The mushroom images in this blog were shot with the Nikon D5100 and the kit 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. They were shot at around ISO 2000 (I was using auto ISO), a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second, and an aperture of f/5.6 at 55mm. I was VERY close to the mushrooms. Some of the extreme closeups I was like a foot or less to the subject. So I was basically shooting the kit lens like a macro lens at that point.
There are a number of lenses I will often recommend to people. It is not uncommon at all to hear me tell people to take a look at the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens for a crop sensor DSLR (it will vignette on full frame) for $500 new or about $250 on eBay. It is a stunning lens. The optics are extremely sharp. And the consistent wide f/2.8 aperture is so nice, especially for portraits. Even that lens is considered a lesser lens by a lot of the photo geek squad. Some go as far as to say you should never put any lens on your camera that was not made by the same company that made the body. They will regularly recommend the very expensive Nikon or Canon lenses, and really look down on the mention of Tamron or Sigma, etc. This football shot was taken with the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens on the D5100 at ISO 1250 and 1/320th of a second. The print of this is even more incredible than looking at it on the computer. Oh, yes I was on the sidelines for the shot. If I had to be in the stands I would use the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (and yes a Tamron). You would need the extra focal length. And this is one of those cases where the kit lens, or even the 55-200mm "kit" lens would suffer since even the widest aperture is several stops "slower" than the f/2.8 I could get on this lens. The stadium on Friday nights is very dark and you need a good fast shutter speed for sports.
Sometimes the really good lens is actually pretty inexpensive too though. If you are able to move around to frame your shot a prime or fixed focal length lens can get you top quality for a very low sticker price. It used to be quite a number of years back that the "kit" lens for a 35mm SLR was the 50mm f/1.8 lens. I have a 50mm f/1.8 D model that I still use, although it does not auto focus on my D5100. I just have not been able to justify spending the just over $200 for the G model that will. So I still shoot it for portrait work quite often. Here is a shot with my friend (and an amazing model) Jasmine that we took during a group shoot with Beauty with Brains in Kalamazoo (yeah the town from the Glenn Miller song). If I had used the kit lens here she still would have been very sharp in focus and looking good. But I would not have been able to get the shallow depth of field that I was able to get on the "nifty 50" at f/1.8 aperture. The thing is that the D version I shoot with is only $130 brand new! And even at $200 to $250 the 50mm is a bargain.
So bottom line is that you don't have to spend a load of money on your equipment to get good photos. Often to improve your photos you simply need to change technique. A lot of people have not mastered the equipment they currently have, and they are under the idea that they just did not spend enough. What you need to ask though is what are you currently dissatisfied with? What are you not currently able to do? Then find out if maybe it is technique that you are struggling with. Or, if you do need something else to help you get where you need to take your photography make sure to define well what you want to do. There is no "perfect lens". Keep in mind too that one of the reasons the lenses can be swapped out on a DSLR is that no one lens will do it all. The superzoom lenses (like an 18-200mm) are built with a load of compromises to get the lens to work at so many focal lengths. So it is really good at a lot of things (or some of them are not even really good if they are the really cheap ones) but they are not great at any of it. I like using the Sigma 18-200mm if I want to just grab the camera with a single lens for a walk about all day with the wife and don't want to schlep my computer bag everywhere (and get dirty looks for constantly stopping and changing things). But I would not use that lens for shooting models or doing portraits of people. I would definitely not use it for night time sports photography. You could shoot your kid playing soccer on a sunny Saturday when you are shooting f/8 and it would do pretty well though. But if you are wanting to shoot sports for getting published in a magazine you will need the better resolution of something like the Tamron, Nikon, or Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, even if you are shooting it at f/8 aperture. It is all about the right equipment for the right job, and sometimes that can be the lowly kit lens to shoot macro photos of mushrooms at your local nature center.
There is a huge discussion/argument in the art community as to if photography is real art. Consider that a painter takes a long time to bring forth something with brushes and paint. Sculptors work very hard taking an odd shaped something and find inside of it some new incredible shape.
Recently I heard a discussion about photography and fine art. The presenter had a very interesting pairing of words that I think embrace the difference if photography is art. My take on the words is creator vs technician. I think these two words fully embody the tension in the discussion. But what do the words mean? What do they communicate in the discussion of art and photography?
Well what is a technician? A technician is the photographer that can manipulate the camera to get the settings right. They can get the proper exposure. They also might know how to set up lights in a particular setup, typically a standard setup like three point lighting or clam shell lighting. They can go outside to take a landscape and do X, Y, and Z and pull off a shot. The technician can do very formulaic work. They can pull off senior portraits all day long. They can do landscapes easily. But there is nothing unique that someone else could not easily do as well. It is hard to tell who did the photo because it looks like something a lot of people do.
So what is a creator then? A creator is someone that has a concept in their mind. They might start with inspiration from another photographer or a famous painter maybe. Then they take that inspiration and reach inside their mind to develop the idea into a new different image or concept. They then work with models and makeup artists, hair stylists and set designers maybe. Eventually they come up with a unique and different image. One of the biggest complements I can get is that people can tell out of a group of photos which ones I did because they can tell my style. Another complement is when another photographer tells me they are impressed with something I did and how they struggle with trying to get something like that. So a creator is someone that masters the technical then is comfortable enough with their tools that they can use those tools to create something new and different and interesting.
One thing I love is working with other creatives. The photos in this blog post were created at an incredible studio space in Grand Rapids called Madd Hatts and is part of GRvintage Thrift. I got to work with Perian who did wonders helping set up the "stage" for the shoot. I was able to work with a number of incredible models in both shoots. We had some incredible makeup artists and hair stylists. Some models I had worked with in the past. Angela Pearl had the initial idea for the Alice in Wonderland themed shoot and was in a number of the shots as the Queen of Hearts. Angela and I have worked on things several times. Taryn, Paul and I have worked together before too. Others, like Jesten, Chelsea, Roger, and Candy were new to me in these shoots. They all did wonderful. Behind the scenes were so many others too. To have wonderful creatives working on the project just gives a certain energy that everyone can feed off to build incredible images.
You don't have to go as extreme as I have in these photos. You can bring the same intense creativity to portraits or to nature photos. What the best thing you can do is to take time to look through paintings by famous artists. Look at how they do landscapes. Look how they paint flowers. Find the artists you like the most. Is it Van Gogh? Maybe you prefer Renoir or Manet or Monet (yes those are two different artists). Wanna get crazy? Then take a look at surrealists like Salvadore Dali. Also do a Google search for fine art photographers. How are they doing their work? How do they light it? How do they process it afterwards?
Another thing is to start shooting things other than what you normally shoot. Be willing to stretch into new places. And for models that might be reading this figure out how you can go for it too! Take a look at the photo of Chelsea as a mad hatter. She wore me out with intense and incredible poses. She took the character and took it to the edge. In the process she created memorable! The worst thing that can happen in being creative is to be tentative. Tentative will give weak images or performances. So go out and don't be tentative. Go out and be great.
When people first get started in photography and get a camera they start to learn about exposure and the settings on the camera and one thing that happens is that they suddenly realize that it is very hard to get a good photograph when there is a drastic difference between very bright and very dark parts of the scene. Sometimes they will hear about HDR (high dynamic range) shooting and attempt that to get around the problems of the lighting. For some things HDR works well. But it is fairly time consuming. And it can sometimes look very fake. It also only takes care of the issues of very bright to very dark spots in the image. If you have a subject that is not well lit then they will still be not well lit (my English teacher is probably cringing right now).
So the way around this is to start to add light to the scene. There are a few ways to do this. You can use a reflector. These are very inexpensive and very easy to use. But you often need an assistant to hold them and if the assistant is not good at being steady or seeing the light the reflector is giving off then it can be a bit frustrating. It is possible to get stands that are made to hold reflectors, or you can build a DIY stand yourself.
Another way to add light is with flash, also called strobes or speedlights. I love my speedlights. These are battery operated lights that are fairly small and can either be put in the hot shoe of the camera, or they can be used off camera and triggered with either a cable or a radio trigger. I will ultimately do a series of tutorials on lighting because the topic can be very complex. But at the basics for speedlights you have two types. The first is a fully manual speedlight. You will need to set the power on the lights (yes the strobes and do different amounts of light) and you will need to shoot in manual on the camera and make all your adjustments for exposure manually. The other major type is a TTL strobe. With the TTL speedlights the camera and the speedlight will have a conversation between each other for the exposure settings and the power the strobe will set itself to for the flash. There are advantages and disadvantages of both. I personally use manual strobes. They are much cheaper, and I find them easier to control.
Both the photo at top of Phire Free and above of Marisa were shot using a single manual speedlight. I balanced the light output of the flash to go with the ambient light in the skywalk we were in. I was able to light the models just a touch more than the environment and also get them to stand out. In this case I used a voice activated light stand (someone holding the light). So the models took turns holding it. But I have an inexpensive stand I could have used also. You can see the effects of the light in the shadow from Marisa's hand in the lower photo.
With the light off camera you need to have a way to trigger the light. I use Yongnuo RF-603 wireless triggers. They are very inexpensive and have been very reliable for me. They don't do TTL, but Yongnuo does have a set of TTL wireless triggers too if you want to use TTL strobe setups.
Here is a photo of Katie to show you that you can also get dramatic lighting using a reflector. It was a little harder to get the lighting right. One advantage of a reflector is you can see before the shot roughly what you will get, unlike the speedlight. But it took a bit to coach the other model holding the reflector to get it in just the right spot. And she drifted some between shots. That is where a stand would have been nice. The reflectors typically also have different sides to them so you can do a white, silver, or gold reflected light for different effects too.
Here is a shot from that same day where I did not use either a reflector or a strobe. The lighting is more harsh. It also took a lot more work in Aperture adjusting the the lighting to get it right because the darks initially were very dark. This is one of those times I was happy I shoot RAW. You have a lot more latitude in exposure adjustments in RAW than in JPG so I was able to get the dark areas to not be so dark. I love the shot. It is a different look. I guess the purpose of this blog post is partly to show the difference between different lighting setups.
The biggest thing I want you to take away from this is to start to think really hard about light. Where is it coming from? How can you shape or change it? Mastering light is essential for really getting great shots. It is easy to teach the mechanics of photography, how to use the camera, how to set your exposure, how to pick equipment. Learning lighting is one of the parts of photography that will take a lifetime to really learn. It is one of those soft skills like composition that is the art of photography.
A lot of photographers that are trying to improve focus their efforts on buying new camera bodies, new lenses, or other photography equipment. Although it is good to have the right equipment for the job, the things that make the most impact on creating an amazing image are lighting and composition. It is the lighting and composition that really tell the story in the image. It is the lighting and composition that make the subject stand out, draw the eye around the image the way you intend for the viewer to look, to express story.
The photo in this blog post is an example of negative space. The model, the awesome Twyla D'Vine, is off to the far right of the photo (or is that the far left). She is standing next to a very large pillar. Normally the rule of thirds would say to move her more toward the center so she and the pillar are in the right third of the shot. But I purposely put Twyla farther over to the side. The rest of the photo is pretty much empty. There is a slight pattern to the wall. But the pattern and colors are very sparse. So your eye is immediately drawn to the side of the image where the story actually is.
When you use negative space in an image it is really important that the "empty" area is pretty blank. You can use a stucco wall, or an adobe wall. In this case the wall is paneled, but the pattern is very simple. If the background is at all busy then you lose the effect because there is so much the eye can look at. So now the viewer needs to struggle to figure out what the photo is supposed to be about.
One other thing I did in this image was to have the model looking off camera instead into the image. This helps continue the tension for the viewer to look to the side, and ultimately off the image. It makes you wonder what is out there that we cannot see.
An image like this can also be used well in an advertisement, or in a double truck or two page full layout in a magazine or book. For an ad you could put text in the negative space. If your graphics designer is really good they will use the lines and composition of the existing image in designing how other elements will go in. If you put it in a magazine or book then the spine will run down in the negative area and not on the model or other significant element of the image. Sometimes when composing an image you need to pay special attention to the ultimate use of the image and let that guide your composition decisions.
Well it has been some time since I posted anything. Family matters filled most of my holiday season. But it is now 2014 and I am back with a vengeance. Although I did not have much time the end of 2013 I did get a couple chances to go out and do some photography. I am part of a group in West Michigan that gets together to shoot. It is a group of models and photographers and makeup artists and hair stylists called Odeum Arts. It is a lot of fun to work together, and helped me stay sane during the crazy times in my life. I also had a chance to shoot a friend in a rocker series too.
As I was looking over these photos I came up with the idea for this blog post. Many times we think of cameras and lenses and possible strobe lighting as photography equipment. As we get a little more involved we might start to add filters to the camera bag. There might be some softboxes or light umbrellas. But we still have stuff that is decidedly photography related. It is all stuff that is marketed as photography equipment. But are there other things that photographers might need that you would not initially think of as photography equipment?
So what might also be a bit of photography equipment? Well one thing I found and LOVE is a fog machine. It is possible to add a fog effect in photoshop. But first it is very time consuming. Second, it is very difficult to get it to look right. Third, if you have light shining through the fog the fog will dissipate the light in interesting ways. If you use lasers then the fog will allow you to see the laser beam. But the beam will be broken erratically and in a very random and organic way.
The fog will also allow you to separate the subject from the background. It is sort of a special effects equivalent to a shallow depth of field. Along with what it does for the photograph itself, you have the advantage that it will add atmosphere to the shoot that the model and photographer will both feed off of. It is sort of like playing music during the shoot. The environment will help feel the creative energies.
The first photo in this blog, the steampunk shot, was the setup I was going for with Andrea, when I saw Katie in her outfit for a shoot with another photographer. Because I saw the hall with the lights and the steam I was starting to focus a lot on the look. I suddenly had the idea that Katie would look incredible in the hall with the lighting and fog too. So she was gracious enough to spend 15 minutes to let me photograph her too, and the results were beyond my initial vision even. As I showed both her and Angela photos on the back of the camera as I was shooting them they got very excited with the results and the energy level went up and we were able to get even better shots. Had I waited till later to photoshop in the fog we would have not had the energy increase.
My friend Tara has a very interesting and unique look. We initially shot together on a cars and ladies shoot. As I talked with her I learned she was quite the rocker. We had the idea that she would look really good in a rock star sort of setup. I had just gotten the fog machine and suggested we get together for a shoot so I could try it out and see if the rocker gal would come out. We had so much fun that day and got some very interesting shots. Again, being able to show her samples of the look right away really helped with the flow of the shoot.
The one thing I wish is that I would have gotten a larger fog machine. Not knowing anything about them I had gotten the smallest quality one I could find on Amazon. It works OK, but at times we had to work a bit to get it to fill the space enough for getting good shots. This was especially true when we were in the factory that I did the Steampunk and Middle Eastern dancer shots. So eventually I am sure I will be getting a much larger one. But in the meantime I am loving it.
Something else that I am going to start to do is to build out props for future shots. I will be getting a fair amount of foam core board for those. I have some circa 1950s style stuff that I want to do that I want to make sets that harken back to American Bandstand and other TV shows of the day. So I want to make musical notes and staffs and coffee cups and other stuff. I will be able to cut the things out of foam core and then suspend them from the ceiling. It will be inexpensive and lightweight.
So as you develop your photography make sure you start to think about things beyond just the traditional photography equipment as you take your photography to the next level!
Here in Grand Rapids recently we had a Comic Con event. If you have never been to a Comic Con and are unfamiliar with them one of the features is something called Cosplay. It is short for costume play. Basically people will dress up as favorite characters from comics or movies or television shows. It is a wonderful opportunity for photographers. The people take a lot of time creating the costumes, and do a wonderful job recreating the look.
As I look at the pictures one of the things that I find very interesting is how the people pose. Some of the people really play the part. Others will just stand there. It is very interesting to see how people react to a camera. Some people are nervous. Others are natural models. The natural models are the ones that make the job of the photographer much easier. Whether it is a Comic Con, a portrait session, a wedding, or a fashion shoot, it is always nice to shoot photos of people that are comfortable in front of the camera and are willing and able to pose.
So enjoy the little photo gallery at the end of this blog post, and pay attention to how people look in the shots. Check out which ones pose well and which ones look awkward. Try to figure out what it is about a pose and photo that you like or don't like. This will help you to know what to say to people in the future when you are trying to get photos of them.
I have started to go on a fair number of group shoots. Some photographers (myself included) will take strobe lights and reflectors to modify or add to the light that is there. Sometimes we will almost completely replace the existing light. Others will simply shoot what is there. No modification. Far be it that I will say one is right and one is wrong. But I do get questions at times asking why I would be willing to schlep around a bunch of additional equipment and take the time and effort to set it all up for my shots.
Well in my mind photography is basically about using light to "paint" the image. A painter uses paints, I use light. I recently did a themed shoot that was all horror and creepy stuff. The image here, Vampire Family Reunion, is one of the shots. This shot is basically "as shot". I did a dodge on a couple of faces because they were too light. But other than that I did not do any photoshop touch ups. It was shot in the afternoon about three hours before sunset. The red leaves are from a light with a red gel. The lighting from the two sides are from strobes, one with a softbox and one with an umbrella. There was one shot before the lights were set up and it was very flat and just not interesting at all. This photo took an honors rating at our local camera club judging. What I think really makes this photo is the intense colors and shadows that are created using the effects of the lights.
This shot was done this weekend. We were at an abandoned paper mill. First, it was very dark inside. So there was not even enough light initially to get anything in the way of a photo. Second, even the rooms with windows had lighting that was dull and lifeless. So with the strobes I was able to shape some shadows and to get some interesting lighting. I put a strobe in the stairwell up on the stairs a ways up. Then there was a light behind Kim lighting up the door behind her. It had a grid on it to restrict the light some. And then there was one more light to my right with a loose grid for a little wider light.
There are two ways to remotely trigger a strobe. One is optically. when the strobe sees another strobe going off it goes off. The other way is with radio triggers that use radio waves. OK, you can use cables too, but almost no one does that any more. For optically triggering the light the strobes have to "see" one another. The light behind Kim was optically triggered from the one next to me. The one in the stairwell could not "see" either of the other two lights though. So I put a radio trigger on it, just like the light next to me. I would have had radio triggers on all the lights, but forgot one of the triggers. Silly me. But I always prefer radio triggers to optical when on location. FYI, speedlights that talk about remote triggering are always talking about optically triggering each other.
OK.. that was a bit of an off topic aside. Here is the on topic point though. With the strobes I was able to get some good keylight in Kim's hair. I was able to light up the stairway so that it was not just some dark bland hole. I was able to get good lighting on the shadow side of her. The light in the stairwell also helped to separate Kim from the background too.
If we were outside we could have used reflectors to shape the natural light in the photo too. This shot from a beach shoot a couple years ago used a reflector. Had we not used the reflector her face would have been totally in shadow. The reflector is very easy to use, very inexpensive, and very effective. A reflector will also work with a point and shoot camera or a smartphone camera too. It is inexpensive low tech that is simply awesome. You can get some very nice reflectors that fold up very small for well less than $50. The smaller ones run around $20. The larger ones will be a bit more expensive. But all of them will help you to shape the light nicely.
Written Review below the video review if you don't want to watch the video.
I had a shoot just this last weekend. I have not replaced my 50mm f/1.8D with the 50mm f/1.8G and was not wanting to manual focus the D. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I would rent a lens for the shoot and then at the same time I would do a review on it. So I went to lensrentals.com and looked around. I was thinking of renting either the 50-150mm f/2.8 or the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. While I was looking at them I stumbled across the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens. I had never seen it in all my browsing of lenses before for some reason. I went over and looked on B&H and discovered that the lens is only $499 brand new. That is why it was so inexpensive to rent compared to the 24-70mm or the 50-150mm lenses. It had great reviews on B&H so I decided to rent it. I also figured it would be interesting to take to the football stadium on Friday night and see how it would rock out for sports. It also happened to go with me to OctoberFest too. So I shot it a lot over the weekend.
Let's start with the price. Most of the time when you find a zoom lens that has a consistent fast aperture through the zoom range you will pay a lot of money for that feature. Most of the time you are looking at well over $1,000 for those lenses. So this lens selling for $499 US is just amazing. If you are not sure what that means, when you look at a zoom lens it will show the maximum aperture either as a single number, like this one at f/2.8, or as a range, like the kit lens at f/3.5-5.6. The kit lens can get to f/3.5 when at 18mm, but when you are zoomed all the way in the best it will do is f/5.6 for the aperture. That is a difference of one and a third stops of light. So this lens lets in a lot of light no matter what focal length you zoom to.
Next, how did it actually perform. Well it is basically very sharp. I am sure if you put it head to head with the Nikon or Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 and fully zoomed in you would be able to see the difference. But the lens was incredible. It was so very sharp. The images were stunning. I have used a number of sub $500 lenses, and it is almost impossible to get this sharp of an image in that price range. The things that are out of focus in this football image are either because of motion blur or they are outside of the depth of field area of sharp focus. I was shooting with my minimum shutter speed set to 1/320th of a second in auto ISO and the shot is at ISO 2,200. I could have gotten 1/500th of a second and gotten less motion blur and a sharper image.
Next, the lens focused very fast. It was incredibly responsive. I never had an issue with it struggling to find focus or hunting for the focus. And it grabbed the focus spot on so quick. When I set the focus mode to continuous the lens tracked the moving subject very well. I would not recommend this lens for football, only because the 75mm max focal length is just too short. But I can totally see using this lens for basketball if you are courtside. So that fast autofocus will be very handy shooting that quick action. The lens zoom action was also very smooth. The lens was very lightweight too.
So bottom line, this lens is half the price of the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. It is well worth the investment, and a great lens to shoot. I would recommend it for shooting portraits, taking out on family outings, a good general walk around lens, and sports where you are fairly close to the action. If you want something for shooting football or soccer then this is not really your lens, especially if you cannot get right on the sidelines. I would think that if you want to take a single lens for your camera on a day outing or vacation then the best two choices would be either this lens or an 18-200mm lens. This lens does not have the long reach of the 18-200mm lenses, but it has a very fast aperture, sharp images, and it is very lightweight. In my opinion I would recommend this lens to most shooters over the 50mm or 35mm f/1.8 prime lenses. A prime lens will always have a faster aperture and sharper image, but they lack the versatility of a zoom lens. And this one is basically the same cost as the 50mm and the 35mm and covers both focal lengths and more.
Feel free to add your opinions on this lens in the comments below.
A lot of people don't like to think about the geek stuff of photography. Start to talk about inverse square law, or compression from focal lengths, or ratios of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed on exposure, and most people will start to roll their eyes. But truth of the matter is that these things are very important. I often will see posts on different photography forums that will start with a question like "what is the best lens for....." or "I had my flash on full power but it did not light the subject very much, do I need a more powerful flash?". We are into the geek of photography. A lot of people will simply answer "get lens X" or something like that. They might throw in some geek words to sound impressive, but they use them to simply show they know what they are saying and you should use their advice. It does not help the original poster to learn so they can figure out what the actual answer is for them.
Why is this important. Well today I was looking to rent a lens for this weekend. I mainly want it for a shoot on Sunday at the train station in these photographs. We are doing a retro look with models dressed circa 1942. But Friday night we have a home football game. So I was thinking "hey I can get dual use out of this and get something that will rock the football game, and do a kicking review of it too". I started to look at the 70-200 and the 50-150mm f/2.8 lenses. I want to review both of these for you all. But then I started to wonder if they would work at the train station for a group of people. How to know unless I know the geek of focal lengths.
While I was there I decided to shoot some shots for this blog post to show the compression of images when moving from wide angle lenses. My telephoto is dead from taking a swim in the lake this summer, so I don't have anything longer than 55mm in the bag at the moment. I might just do a part two next week with a longer lens. Anyway, the first photo is taken at 18mm. This is not totally scientific, but it will give you a good idea what is going on. I set the tripod about 6 feet from the light. I put the outermost focal points in the middle plane on the outer edge of the bowl of the lights so I would have a reference point to frame up the lights the same every time. Looking to the left you can see all the way to the first window of the stationmasters office (if you are a train aficionado and I named that wrong please forgive me). Looking to the right you can see all the way to the edge of the house. We also see sky above and the tracks below.
I will get back to the lens choice in a second (suspense eh?). This photo is taken at 40mm. I was not as accurate on choosing focal lengths for this test as I thought I was. At any rate, again I framed up the lights the same in the photo, putting the focal points in the same place on the two sides. Now look to the left, no window and only part of the door. To the right we barely see beyond the corner of the depot. We barely see the roof, and the tracks are totally gone. If you look to the right you can actually see the back end of the truck (barely) that we saw the front end of before. Remember this for later. I was standing 12 feet from the light this time. If you double your distance you need to double your focal length to get the same framing on the subject. Interesting little math bit eh?
The third one is at 55mm. The roof is gone, half the side on the right, and some of the door on the left, and all the gravel on the ground. The lights are still in the same place. So we can see how the focal length has a major effect on what we see. It is more than just bringing things far off close. It totally changes the overall image.
So back to the focal length of the rental lens. If I opened the 18-55mm lens all the way to 18mm I could get the entire depot from about 12 feet away. So if I went to 24 feet I was shooting at around 36mm (remember this is not scientific - I was pacing this off for rough measurements). So first, this would put me way away from the models. Second, behind me was a cornfield. So I could only go so far back. When I went back to the edge of the field and went to 55mm I was losing parts of the front of the depot. So obviously the 70-200mm would be totally out for that shoot, and the 50-150mm lens would be a struggle. Now that I have figured this out I can get a good sense of what focal length to use when trying to capture a multi person scene shoot, and it is not a long telephoto lens at all.
There is something else to consider as well at times. We talked about compression. We will see a lot of the effect of that in these next photos. What I did was to use the outhouse to substitute for a person. I framed it up roughly for a waist up shot of a person (you will have to take my word for size proportions). I put the center focal point on a bit of the frame where the paint rubbed off so I could keep the outhouse in the same spot. So here at 18mm again you can see a lot of the depot on the right side. Notice all you see on the left side is trees. But look really close at the outhouse. The line on the right side is nice and straight. The line on the left side of the building tends to bow out though. Look below and compare and you will be able to see it better. So the image is definitely distorted on the edges. Older lenses were worse for this. If you go wider than 18mm it will get even more noticeable. If I had an FX camera body it would be more noticeable too (more on that in a bit).
This next image is at like 38mm. On the right you no longer can see the loading dock. On the left.... what the heck is that??? It is a building that is behind the outhouse. It is suddenly visable. And the depot on the right looks like it is closer to us than it was before. The image is compressing front to back to draw the things in back forward optically. And notice the trees on the right hand side. They are much larger than before. Follow the line of the railroad tracks. The angle is changing so that it looks a little more straight on instead of at such a severe angle. The left side of the building is a touch straighter too.
Finally, we have the 55mm shot. Both sides of the outhouse are straight up and down now pretty much. You can also start to see just a bit of the side of the left side too. The building in back on the left, welll we are seeing the right side of that building. It has "moved over" to the left. It is also huge compared to the other shot. And look at the trees between the depot and the outhouse now! They are absolutely huge. Not only are they larger, but they are actually taller than the depot roof line.
The changes we are seeing between these photos are because of the change in the angle of view as we zoom in and out on the image. As you zoom out (like to 18mm) you will have a much wider angle of view right to left and top to bottom. As you zoom in, you will narrow that angle of view. This is the effect you get when people talk about a crop sensor body (a DX image sensor body) and how it makes a 50mm like a 75mm lens. You are not actually magnifying the image the same as a 75mm lens. But you are changing the angle of view, because you are cropping out the outer edges of the image. so it affects the overall image like putting on the longer focal length. One thing I am unsure of is the effect of greater magnification of using the 75mm on the FX body. All the websites talk about angle of view. But it would seem to me that the longer focal length would be magnifying the image optically too, giving a sharper image than the 50mm on the DX. I guess it is time to rent a D600 and make some comparisons for that. I just need to figure out how to get a good solid comparison. If anyone has any good information on this put it in the comments below!!
At any rate, we have seen how there are significant differences in the images between focal lengths. It is not just bringing something far closer. Also, you need to think about how much room you have between you and the subject, or how far back you might want to get from the subject with your lens choice too. Do you want to use a megaphone to give directions to your models? Or I suppose you could rent a Segway to go between the camera on a tripod and the models too.
I always highly recommend taking time to take a bunch of different test shots when trying to understand things. So for focal length go out and shoot a series of photos at different focal lengths yourself. To understand noise and high ISO take a series of shots at different ISOs and then look at them. The best way to understand shutter speed is do a series of photos of a waterfall from lightening fast all the way to at least a second or longer (hint: on the long shutter speeds use the self timer or a trigger to make sure you don't get blur from moving the camera when pushing the shutter). In a future post we will talk about that dreaded inverse square law and how it affects the light from your strobes or continuous lights.