Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Kit Lens and Other Techniques- Part 6


This is generalized as an advanced technique, but I promise you that on the wide angle end of your kit lens (setting your camera to f11) this is super easy. You can do this in full manual exposure mode, but I’d recommend Aperture priority if you’re not sure. Set Auto ISO if you like as well… this is meant to be fun!

Now, your kit lens does not have a focus distance guide. You’ll need to figure it out for yourself, but an easy way to set the focus would be to see the halfway point between focusing closely and focusing for something far away. These settings will allow for an extremely deep depth of field so almost everything between a couple of meters away to almost infinity will be in focus. So now all you need to worry about is framing, clean backgrounds, and pressing the shutter button. Easy peasy!

For those who have a camera with face detect, and plan on making photos of people, use this setting instead. You can still use this kind of focusing if you like, though!  


Short Distance Call

This is the next to the last post regarding kit lens techniques. Feel free to leave questions!

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Kit Lens and Other Techniques- Part 5

Turning Your Kit lens into a Prime Lens

Prime lenses help train your photographic eye. You physically need to move back and forth to frame your subject. You see the effects of how focal distance affects depth of field. With enough practice, you will have an idea of how much will be in the frame even before you lift the camera to your eye. You can replicate these learning tools with your kit lens simply by setting your camera to a focal length and putting a little piece of tape to keep the zoom ring from moving. My suggestion is to set the camera to where the focal length allows for a 3.5 or 4 aperture. (Background: My first SLR was a 35mm film camera, and my first lens a 35mm 3.5. I went almost a year with just this before using a different focal length). I currently have my kit lens set up like this (set to 20mm on a crop sensor, roughly 32mm field of view on a full-frame body).

Things You Will Learn

 1.       Cleaning up your backgrounds. The depth of field will be deep. This translates to having more in focus. You will need to pay attention to what is behind your subject. Is there a tree sticking out of their head? Are there cars behind them? Is there something distracting in the background? You will learn how to put both your scene and your subject together. This contextual balance is key.

2.       Tunnel Vision Correction. When you take a photo, your eyes get fixed on what you’re photographing, but the camera sees more than what you’ve zoned in on. When you zoom in, you further minimize the effects of background issues. However, having a wider field of view and deeper depth of field will mean that, consciously, you need to decide what does and does not belong in the frame. If you’re trying to capture the beauty of a slow moving creek, you would want to include different rocks, flowers, and shadows. However, you would want to exclude signs, floating trash, cars, etc.

3.       Learning the benefits and faults of different focal lengths. There’s no magic setting for a good photo. There’s no perfect camera or a do-it-all lens. Your camera can’t tell you what is beautiful and what is dull. You make these decisions. Once you spend a couple of months on this single focal length, you can zoom in or out a bit more. Rinse, and repeat. You’ll see certain things change. Going from wide angle to zoomed in all the way, you’ll notice that the depth of field is narrower. There’s less perspective distortion when getting very close to your subject. In my opinion, it’ll be more flattering to people’s faces (research the effects of wide angle lenses and focal length compression).

4.       Self-Fulfilling. The more you understand your camera and how to use it, the better you’ll feel. The more settings you set manually, the more you’ll understand the effects of light, aperture, and shutter speed. Beautiful photos can be made even with your camera is set to Full-Auto, so don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. The point I’m trying to make is that the more you understand the settings, the easier it is for you to utilize the automatic and Semi-Automatic features. YOU are the photographer, so if your camera can’t make the right decision you need to be able to get the photo you want yourself. This is your hobby/passion/obsession. Don’t let the camera, the tool used to express yourself, get between you and your art.

I'm glad you've hung in there through-out this series! Things are starting to wind down, so there'll be two more posts to round out this topic.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Kit Lens and Other Techniques- Part 4

Finding Light

Photography is all about light. Without light, there’d be no photography. The quality of light, its direction, and the number of light sources all change the mood and impact of an image. In the case of the kit lens, light is even more important. There’s artificial light, via your flash and lights around the house, and then there’s natural light. You don’t need to just be outside for sunlight, you can use light streaming in through a window (the larger the better). There are many resources out there on how to use sunlight, including these topics that you should look into: the Golden Hour, photographing in harsh/direct sunlight, How to Diffuse sunlight.

Learning how to use sunlight will help you make the most of your kit lens. Have your photographic subject (whether that be a loved one, a plate of food, an interesting object) sitting in front of a window. You can diffuse the light with a sheet, a thin curtain, or simply with the blinds. You can use a large white poster board to help direct more light to their face or to fill in shadows. When you’re outside, you can have your subject's back to the sun and use the on-camera flash, in this case referred to as ‘fill flash.’

BunBun- Gone, but never forgotten

For inanimate objects, a tripod can work wonders. Or you can just find a stool or any steady object. If this is the case, you can go ahead and turn the IS off. Set the camera to a two to ten-second delay. This will ensure that the camera is completely still before the shutter fires. This works with every kind of camera. There’s also mirror lock-up, and if this feature is offered, which it would not be on a mirrorless camera as it has no mirror, you’ll be able to find out how to use it you’re your camera manual. If you’re outside in bright sunlight, go ahead and keep the IS off. The shutter speed will be more than high enough for taking handheld images. Remember, available light can always be used. It’s your eye and knowledge that will determine the best way to use that light. Your settings will affect the final image. 

As a photographer, you use shadows, blur, textures, and shapes to tell your story. Look for interesting angles and opposing ideas in your photos. An easy to digest, visually appealing idea is more interesting than just a sharp, well-focused image that says nothing.

In my next segment, your 'zoom' kit lens will become a 'prime' lens.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Kit Lens and Other Techniques- Part 3

Zoom lenses were created to be a prime lens’s versatile counterpart. If you want to show more in a photo, you zoom out. Of course if you want to have a tighter field of view, you zoom in. But there’s an additional zoom you've had all along, it is called Foot Zoom (jokes aside, if you do not have feet then whatever way you have to physically move your body and camera farther or closer from the subject will work). An example would be taking a photo of your significant other. In this make-believe but entirely possible scenario, you’re in a restaurant with light from a bulb shining right on their face. You pull out your camera, since you carry it everywhere like a good photographer should, zoom all the way in on their face and take a photo. The photo then comes out grainy and blurry!

But wait, Image Stabilization?!

Hold your horses! Zoomed in, the maximum aperture has become smaller and the camera has had to compensate by raising the ISO, or how sensitive it is to light. Also, the shutter speed may have been slower so the smallest movement from the subject would cause blur (IS is for your shaky hands, not someone’s shaky face).

Now, you will learn this tried and true technique. Set your camera to Aperture Priority, zoom all the way out, and set your aperture as wide as it will go. Slowly zoom in until you see that the aperture changed to f4. Take the photo again. You’ll notice two things. First, there’s a lot more of the scene. Second, the photo is slightly less grainy and not blurry. Now three things are coming into play: you’re zoomed in, causing your aperture to be at f5.6. At f4, you’re letting in twice as much light (1 stop). You can also have a slower shutter speed because the wider you go, the easier it is to stay steady (1 stop due to longer shutter speed). So roughly two stops gained translated to your ISO dropping about two stops, resulting in a cleaner image. Lastly, you took a photo of your significant other in the context of a scene. You might see other people eating, sunlight bursting in through windows, or perhaps a waiter/waitress taking someone’s order. This makes for a much more interesting photo.

These were taken by my wife, Cecilia. The first is at ISO 6400, 55mm. The second is at ISO 800, 23mm. even at almost the highest ISO, the first photo isn't even that noisy at this size (click to view at 700 pixels on its longest side). With that said, you get a better idea of where we're at and what I'm wearing. A little bit more 'story,' you could say.

The upcoming post will be about thinking in terms of light, shadow, and shapes.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Kit Lens and Other Techniques- Part 2

So, the kit lens. As you zoom in, the maximum aperture gets smaller. On Canon cameras, the focus ring turns, it extends, and has a super short throw; even the slightest touch can make it go out of focus (in manual focus mode). They’re often buzzy and plasticky. Even though these are negative aspects, they can translate to very positive uses.

Aesthetically speaking, they are pretty small when compared to more expensive zooms, and the fastest primes lenses are about the same size, if not larger. They are very light, so attached to a camera body they are a joy to carry around all day. Then there’s the noise. Consider the kit lens as a piece of charcoal. In the wrong hands, there’s an awful, smudgy mess. In the right hands, works of art can be created if you’re willing to visualize and get your hands dirty. Onlookers will consider you just another tourist or newbie, never thinking that you’re creating a beautiful image that includes them as central characters.

Having a very short focus throw means that in Auto Focus mode, focus is fast. There isn’t a lot of glass to move inside the lens, so this aids in quick focusing in ‘good’ light. Another awesome aspect of kit lenses is that they have a pretty good ‘close focusing distance.’ This means you can get pretty close to what you’re photographing. Though not as close as a dedicated macro lens, it’s usable and only as weak as your creativity.

The Pillar

Kit lenses nowadays often have built-in ‘Image Stabilization,’ also known as IS or VR. This means the lens itself is trying to make up for your shaky hands. So, with the IS turned off and your shaky hands, you might have to have a shutter speed of, let’s say, 1/125th of a second at ISO 800 (indoors, wide angle, static subject). With IS turned on, you get up to 3 stops of stabilization (8 times more light). So you could, in theory, bring your ISO down to 100 for a much cleaner image. Uses for this include food and still-life photography.

Ice Cold

Fried Goodness


In Part 3 of this series, I'll be covering a little more information regarding Image Stabilization, Shutter Speed, and ISO. Thanks again for stopping by!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Kit Lens and Other Techniques- Part 1

The kit lens: a variable maximum aperture zoom lens allowing for a wide to portrait focal length field of view. It is regarded as being soft and distortion-ridden; it is best skipped over in favor of a nifty fifty or a thirty-five. All the cool kids have their wide aperture primes while you are stuck dealing with high-soaring ISO values or on-camera flash. In the era of 35mm film photography, the 50mm 1.4 and 1.8 lenses were the kit lenses. And now, people WISH that were still the case for their excellent low-light performance and optical quality. For those of you who don’t know much about anything I’m saying, you’ll most likely have bought, or will buy, a dSLR or Micro 4/3 camera with the zoom kit lens. You might be looking for any and all reasons to buy another lens. There’s a chance you might be thinking that your fresh camera is a junker. For these reasons, and many more, I’ll be dedicating a handful of posts on maximizing the effectiveness of the kit lens. In this way you’ll know how to use it by itself and alongside a fast prime lens, or if skipping over it entirely is best for you. Many of these concepts can be applied to any lens and different genres of camera as well, so feel free to continue reading if you’d like to learn some general photography techniques.

Quick Notes:

1.       A zoom lens lets you control the field of view from wide and then turning the ring makes it get ‘closer’ to your subject. A prime, fixed focal length, lens is one that does not zoom; these normally have a larger aperture and are physically smaller.
2.       ISO is the sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the grainier the image. With that said, most cameras that allow you to change the lens allow for High ISO’s and still yield useable images.
3.       Aperture is the lens equivalent of your iris. The larger it is, the more light is let in and the narrower the depth of field; or put another way, how much is in focus becomes smaller. A smaller aperture means less light being let in and the more that is in focus.
4.       Focal distance is how far away you are from what you’re photographing. The closer you are to something, the shallower the depth of field.
5.       Wider focal lengths mean more depth of field. So a 28mm lens will have more in focus at any given aperture than a 200mm lens at the same aperture values, regardless of what camera it’s on. A 28mm lens on a Micro 4/3 camera will be more of a standard lens in terms of field of view, but the depth of field will still be the same. This is an optical quality.
6.       Read your camera manual at least twice! Digital cameras are intricate computers. Knowledge is free!
7.       For those of you who have only negativity in your heart and want to diss kit lenses, please feel free to write your own blog post about it. This is for people who want to keep an open mind and may not have the deepest pockets. I LOVE prime lenses, and have them melded to both my dSLR and film SLR. But there’s enough information out there on how and why to use these sharp, small, beautiful lenses. However, the kit lens has a bad rap and I’d like to shift thinking just a little bit.

This will be the first post in the series, so stay tuned to Monday’s post on the strengths of the kit lens and some sample photos!

Lonely Lens