day 34: Because I didn’t take any photos earlier today and I think Ben and I were both a little loopy from lack of sleep (the babies are slightly sick and so not sleeping well) I present to you: Hair Zoo. The sun rises over bouncy seat zebra in the Ben hair savanna.
One of the questions I get asked most is what camera and what lens to buy. I don’t like telling people what they should or shouldn’t get because equipment choices are BIG decisions with a lot of pros and cons to weigh. I think that a lot of people get tripped up with all of the options. They don’t know what the different lenses are good for and they don’t know which ones they need. I can’t tell you what lenses you need. Only you can decide that. What I can do is try to give you a little bit of insight into what the differences are between lenses and help you try to understand which ones you might like best.
So lets start at the beginning. There are two main kinds of lenses. Prime lenses (also known as fixed focal length lenses) and zoom lenses. Your camera kit lens was probably a zoom and probably had a range of somewhere around 18-55. That’s pretty standard. A focal length of around 50mm is said to be the most similar to the way that our eyes perceive the world. Anything from 21mm-35mm is commonly known as “wide angle”, anything from 35mm-70mm is said to be “normal”, and from 70-135 is “telephoto”. A lot of kit lenses try to give you everything in one lens, all the way from wide angle to telephoto. The drawback to these lenses is often that they suffer in their aperture capabilities, opening even less when you are zoomed in (remember I said that your kit lens probably doesn’t go any wider than 3.5, well if you zoom in to its longest focal length that number will probably change to 5.6!) They make lenses that zoom and have wide apertures but those are usually very expensive AND very big, bulky and heavy. Take Canon’s f2.8 24-70 lens. That bad boy is over $1000! It is easier to make lenses with wider apertures that are fixed or prime lenses, so you can usually find those with much more reasonable price tags. The trick is you might end up needing a whole camera bag full of lenses to add up to one zoom lens and there went your savings.
So which is the “right way” to shoot? Zoom or prime? It’s one of the most commonly debated topics in photography and you will find people on either side fiercely defending their position. But which do I use? Primes if you must know. One of the little “bonuses” of prime lenses is that they often give you just a little bit more sharpness and open up just a little wider than your zoom lens. I also prefer to “zoom with my feet” moving closer and further from my subject to get the look that I want.
One of the common misconceptions among new photographers about zoom lenses is that the point of them is that you don’t have to get closer to your subject to make it bigger in the frame. What these new photographers are failing to realize is that the focal length has a HUGE impact on the look of your image. To help illustrate this point here are 3 images of my son. All taken with his head filling approximately the same proportion of the image.
The first image was shot with a 24mm lens. See how animated it is? The wide angle shows tons of the background plus makes the play mat look fun and exciting and very 3 dimensional. I love photographing babies with wide angle lenses because of the sense of whimsy they lend to the shots.
Next up is the 50mm lens. I was further from the subject (to get him to fill the same amount of the frame) and you can see that the image has started to flatten out a bit.
Here it is again, this time with an 85mm lens. Telephoto lenses compress space, making everything appear closer together and flatter. See how much closer he appears to the china cabinet in the background compared to the first shot?
Just to give you an idea of the change in distance between me and my son during this series, here is the 24mm lens again at the same distance as the 85mm shot.
Each of these lenses has their place. You obviously couldn’t get close up shots of your kid’s soccer game with a wide angle lens, and you probably wouldn’t want to photograph your mother with one at a close range either (wide angles tend to exaggerate features, making people look “cartoonish”). There is no catch-all one perfect lens. It’s important to realize the difference that the focal length is going to have on your final image. If you are using a zoom lens it’s easy to fall into the trap of using your zoom to determine how much of the frame the subject is going to fill. I could have stood in one spot and taken both of the last two shots without even switching my lens. But what I would have missed by doing so is the fun and whimsical nature of the first shot, something I could only achieve by moving MYSELF closer and not by zooming. Take a second to play with your lenses (whether they be zoom or prime) and really notice the effect that a different lens has on the mood of your images. Only once you’ve really started to notice those differences can you start to decide which ones best fit your style.
day 33: I do so love the 24 1.4 and I am sad to have to return it tomorrow… but I only had it for the weekend. Sigh. Maybe soon I can buy one. If anyone is looking for a ridiculously expensive birthday present idea for me (that maybe you want to give me a few months early) I won’t object… hehe… Today was sort of back to business as usual after Ben’s big day (and night) of being super-dad and watching the babies on his own. I was too tired after the wedding yesterday to drive all the way back to LA so he spent the night with them solo and was even in great spirits when I came home this morning. What a pro! I am so glad that the peanuts have such an amazing daddy (and I have a pretty swell hubby myself!)
day 32: Yesterday was my first wedding of the season (woohoo!) and I was so excited to not only get to shoot a wedding (which I love) but to also get to shoot it with some ridiculously awesome lenses. Check out this shot with the 50 1.2. Pretty much the only thing in focus is ONE of her eyes, the depth of field is that shallow. I really shouldn’t rent things I can’t afford because now I want both of them 🙂
day 31: Tomorrow is my first wedding of the season. True, I shot one a few weeks ago, but it was as a second so I don’t really think it counts. Tomorrow is my first REAL wedding with one of MY clients. And to celebrate I rented 2 fab lenses, the 50 1.2L (which I took this shot with) and the one I’m even more excited about… the 24 1.4L. I am pretty sure it’s going to be my new best friend. Too bad I don’t own one 🙂
Hopefully you already read the last post (how your camera works) and saw the very very brief introduction to aperture (aka f-stops). This is going to be one of the most important pieces in the puzzle for you to learn how to take pictures that look “professional” so I thought it would be good to start here. I always think it’s best to learn about one feature of your camera or aspect of photography at a time so that you can really get a hang of it before you move on. Once you nail this one you’ll be well on your way to taking much better pictures so get ready to impress yourself with your mad photo skills 🙂
I’m sure you’ve all seen a picture where the subject (let’s just say it’s a baby because as a mom I’d say 90% of my pictures are probably of my babies) is in focus. You can very clearly see the little eyes and mouth peering out at you from the image, but the background is out of focus. That’s the result of something called depth of field, and depth of field is a result of a few things but mainly the distance you are from your subject and your aperture. If more of the image is out of focus we say it has a shallower depth of field. More in focus it’s got a longer depth of field.
I already mentioned that the depth of field has to do with your aperture and that the smaller the number (which if you remember means BIGGER opening and more light coming in) the more potential there is for the background of your image to be out of focus, which is what a lot of you are probably going for. Lucky for us this actually works to our advantage. Generally we want to have a fast shutter speed (to keep those little hands and feet in focus and not turn them into a blurry mess) and a wider aperture will not only let us get that “out of focus background” effect we want (which by the way photographers refer to as “bokeh”) but it will also allow us to crank up our shutter speed a little and have a better chance of stopping the motion of our little ones. The other main factor is how far you are from your subject, and how far that subject is from the background you want to be out of focus. generally speaking you want to be closer to your subject than your subject is to the background in order to get the greatest amount of blur. If you are shooting a baby on a couch for instance, chances are the back of the couch is still going to be in focus when you take your picture UNLESS YOU ARE VERY VERY CLOSE TO THE BABY. If your lens is closer to the baby than the baby is to the back of the couch, bingo. Out of focus background. The smaller your f-stop the more blur, and the more you’ll get that fabulous bokeh.
Let’s just take a look at a few photos to illustrate the point. Both of these were shot with a 50mm lens. Both at f 2.8 and 1/50th of a second. In the first one I’m much further than from the baby than she is from the back of the couch and you can see the texture of the couch.
In the second shot I moved closer (this is not a feature of zooming or cropping, I actually moved myself) and now not only is the back of the couch out of focus but so is a little bit of the blanket in the foreground. Same settings, totally different effect.
Want to learn to use your aperture settings to get exactly the look you’re going for? Try setting your camera to the AV mode (aperture priority) and changing your f-stop to see what difference it has on your pictures. Then try moving closer to and further from your subject and see what that does. After playing with it for a while I’m sure you’ll start to be able to visualize what the effect will be before you even snap the shutter. One last word of warning. When you first start playing with wider apertures you may be frustrated by more “out of focus” shots. This is because when using a shallow depth of field it’s absolutely critical that you have your focus locked in on your subject. When shooting people I always suggest focusing on the eyes. If the eyes are in focus your mind will perceive everything else to be in focus as well, even if it’s not. It’s a neat trick 🙂
day 30: Doing taxes stinks. Yesterday we did our taxes. And so by association yesterday stunk. Not only did we owe money (boo) but we also paid h&r block an arm, leg and two ears for having them help us. Very not cool. After getting home from the super depressing meeting with the tax guy we had no energy for cleaning up the messy kitchen. Lucky me however that Ben decided to be super dad and not wake me up this morning to feed the babies and he even cleaned the kitchen. He’s the best ever.