Lenses and Seeing

Lenses and Seeing article

The lens is the ‘eye’ of the camera. The selected focal length and aperture determine the look of the photo. The lens you are using may also have other characteristics that contribute to the look.

These influence your approach to composition. The idea is to work with the visual characteristics of the lens you are using rather than fight against them. Ask yourself how you can get the best out of the lens you are using.

To start, you will need to understand why a telephoto lens is different from a wide-angle, and how depth-of-field is affected by aperture choice and focal length.

Let’s look at some examples taken with lenses that I have owned:

Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 lens

Lenses and Seeing article

I created this image by setting the focal length of the lens to 150mm and the aperture to f2.8. I focused on the grass in the foreground to throw the setting sun out of focus. By the way, I didn’t look through the viewfinder at the setting sun. That’s potentially dangerous. I used Live View to compose the image instead.

This is how the lens and aperture choice affected the photo:

Narrow depth-of-field: The combination of wide aperture, long focal length and close focusing means the depth-of-field is extremely shallow. Anything other than the blade of grass I focused on is out of focus, including the setting sun.

Compression: The long focal length appears to compress perspective, making the sun look bigger and closer to the foreground than it really is.

Narrow field-of-view: The telephoto lens has a narrow field-of-view and captures just part of the subject. This focal length is good for capturing detail, but not for including the entire scene.

Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens

Lenses and Seeing article

I set the focal length of the lens to 18mm, its widest setting, and the aperture to f11 when I made this image. These are the effects:

Depth-of-field: The small aperture was required because of the bright sun, but it also ensures that the entire scene is in focus. Every detail has been captured by the camera.

Perspective: I was drawn to this scene by the holes cut in the salt, and the lines created as they disappear into the distance towards the mountains. The focal length emphasises the lines and pushes the horizon into the distance, making it seem further away than it really is.

Wide field-of-view: The 18mm focal length has a wide field-of-view, which enabled me to capture the entire scene.

In many ways the focal lengths used to create the photos above are opposites. The telephoto lens brings the subject closer. Only part of the scene is in focus thanks to the wide aperture.

The wide-angle end of the kit lens, on the other hand, captures the entire scene and creates a sense of space by making the horizon seem further away that it really is. A narrow aperture ensures everything is in focus.

Canon 85mm f1.8 lens

Here’s a portrait taken with another of my favourite lens, an 85mm prime set to f2.8:

Lenses and Seeing article

Depth-of-field: My model is in focus, and so is part of the background. There is more depth-of-field than there is in the photo taken with the 50-150mm lens set to 150mm. And there is less than in the photo taken with the wide-angle lens.

Perspective: The 85mm lens is a short telephoto lens and it records perspective accordingly. Again, it falls somewhere in-between the 150mm and 18mm focal lengths. Like the telephoto lens the 85mm lens is good for capturing details. You cannot capture as much of the scene as you can with a wide-angle.

Holga lens

Finally, I’d like to show you a photo taken with a Holga lens. You can buy these plastic lenses for digital cameras from Holga Direct. This really is a good example of how the lens determines the look of the photo:

Lenses and Seeing article

Holga lenses have the following characteristics:

Lack of sharpness: A Holga lens is made from plastic and is not intended to give a good quality image.

Vignetting: Photos taken with this lens are characterised by heavy vignetting at the edges.


Hopefully the examples in this article have drawn your attention to how the focal length of the lens you are using and the aperture affect the look of the photo. The lens is the camera’s eye, and the characteristics of the focal lens you choose determine the look of the photo. With practise, you will learn to make the best use of your lenses.

Mastering Photography

Lenses and Seeing article

My latest ebook, Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to digital photography and helps you make the most out of your digital camera. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to master to take creative photos like the ones in this article.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Lenses and Seeing

Low Light Photography: How to Shoot Without a Tripod

A tripod is my most valuable photo accessory. In fact, I view it as an essential item, and not an accessory. But sometimes using one is just not practical. Sometimes you get caught without it unexpectedly, and sometimes they even break. It’s good to know what to do in these situations so you don’t miss any photo opportunities.

Sunset in The Valley of Fire, Nevada by Anne McKinnell

While shooting in the Valley of Fire, Nevada, I broke my tripod. Of course, there was a spectacular sunset that night. I was able to make this photo by increasing my ISO to 2000 and using a wide aperture of f/5.0 (the widest aperture for the lens I was using) when normally I would have used a much small aperture for this scene.

If you don’t have your tripod with you, or you’re trying to make do without one, you still have some options for low-light photography.

1. Use a wide aperture

If you want to handhold your camera in low light, you’ll have to work with a wide aperture, a high ISO, or both. Often landscape photographers want to use a small aperture such as f/18 to get maximum depth of field, but that isn’t practical for low light situations. Instead, use your camera’s widest aperture (the smallest f number) and focus on the most important feature in the frame.

Most standard kit lenses don’t perform very well in the dark, so if you do a lot of this type of photography, consider picking up a simple 50mm f/1.8 lens; nearly every brand has a cheap one and they’re well worth it for their sharpness and low-light capability. The maximum aperture of f/1.8 is a full 3.5 stops (lets in 12x more light!) wider than a standard 18-55mm kit lens at the same focal length.

2. Use Image Stabilization

The rule of thumb for shutter speed is that if you want a sharp image, the shutter speed should be no slower than the same fraction as your focal length – that is, if you’re using a 50mm lens, set your shutter speed to 1/50 second. However, if your lens has image stabilization, the shutter value can be two or three stops slower than this. This leeway makes a big difference in low light situations.

3. Use proper camera holding techniques

In low light photography, learning the proper stance and camera holding technique can give you even more leeway when it comes to preventing camera shake. It’s all about stability – plant your feet firmly, about shoulder width apart. With your right hand on the shutter button, hold the lens with your left hand, to steady it. Tuck your elbows tightly into your chest and control your breathing, shooting after you exhale whenever possible. All these things will contribute to your own stillness, minimizing handshake blur.

New York New York, Las Vegas by Anne McKinnell

In Las Vegas, I wanted to make an image with a fairly long shutter speed to blur the motion of the cars. However, I was standing on a bridge that had a chain link fence, and it was also a narrow pedestrian bridge with lots of pedestrians. Using a tripod was not practical. Instead using ISO 1250 and proper camera holding techniques allowed me to hold it steady for half a second.

3. Use a high ISO setting

ISO refers to the level of light sensitivity of your camera. The higher the ISO the more sensitive the sensor is to light, therefore the less light is needed to make a good exposure. The downside is that the higher the ISO, the more “noise” you will find in your image. Noise is a grainy look as opposed to a smooth look. Some noise is okay and it can often be removed in post processing.

When photographing in low light, turn your ISO up as high as you can before the image quality gets too noisy. This setting is different on every camera and an acceptable amount of noise is different for every photographer.

I recommend that you do an exercise so you know the maximum ISO for your camera, that results in a noise level you think is acceptable. Take the same shot at a number of different ISO settings and when you view the photos on your computer later (view at 100% size or 1:1), you will see at what point image quality begins to deteriorate. With today’s cameras this point is probably higher than you might think. Often with ISO 800 or 1600 you will see some noise, but not so much that you can’t fix it in post processing. It’s a good idea to try this exercise both in good light, and low light situations.

Canada Geese at Sunset by Anne McKinnell

Photographing Canada Geese flying overhead at twilight meant that I needed a relatively fast shutter speed to stop the motion. Therefore, I had to use a high ISO and a wide aperture to enable the faster shutter speed. This image was made at ISO 1600, f/4.5 1/200 second.

Noise is not necessarily a bad thing and can be used for creative purposes. If you are using a very high ISO, try shooting in black and white – it removes the colour from the noise and instead gives your photos an old-school grainy look.

Some of the most beautiful landscape photographs are made in low light, so learning these techniques will help you take advantage of low light opportunities and get that great shot even when you don’t have a tripod.

Further reading on low-light photography:

  • A guide to outdoor low-light photography
  • Better low-light photos without a flash
  • 15 tips for low light landscape photography

The post Low Light Photography: How to Shoot Without a Tripod by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Why You Might Want To Consider A Full Frame Fisheye Lens Even If You Have A Crop Sensor Camera

There are few things better in life than having something go wrong that leads to the discovery of something even better.

Such is the case with my plan to test out a Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens courtesy of BorrowLenses.com. My intent with the lens was to take it with me to the wilds of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah for some crazy, circular images. The problem is I lack a full frame Canon camera, but would be traveling with Michael Riffle, who owns a Canon 5D Mark III. He accepted the challenge to test the lens, being familiar with fisheyes himself.

One thing led to another and we never got around to testing the lens on his camera. Instead, I often found myself using the lens on my Canon 7D, a crop sensor camera. The Canon 8-15mm is intended to fit a full frame sensor and produce, at 8mm, a fully circular image, much like this example from a Sigma 4.5mm on a crop sensor camera.


What happened instead was a cross between this full circle and a more traditional 15mm on a crop sensor. The 8-15mm lens will show edges of the circle when below 10mm but will otherwise fully cover the sensor from 10mm-15mm. A major difference from a non-fisheye lens, though, is the curving in the image.

For instance, here are two shots, both taken at 10mm. The difference: the first lens is a non-fisheye Canon EF 10-22mm lens and the second is the Canon 8-15mm fisheye.



Both shots are taken from nearly the same perspective (the fisheye is taken from the position of the Nikon D800E in the first image but the fisheye gives a different feel. I only made slight clarity and level adjustments in the photos and did not crop them, so this is what you can expect at 10mm.

Below 10mm the black edge of the area outside the fisheye is seen. How bad is it? It depends.

At first it annoyed me to have the incomplete image. Neither full fisheye nor filled frame. Like this:


But then I started finding instances where it worked well. The arches found in these parks lent themselves naturally to the form factor. The more I experimented, the more I enjoyed the effect.

I realize not everyone will like this look. By the time you read this, there might be a dozen notes in the comment section below stating how horrible it is. But this is photography and it is art, so it doesn’t really matter what I like or the commenters like. It matters what you like.

Below are more examples from my short trip. If they intrigue you to give the lens a try, all the better. Some have the corners blacked out and some are zoomed in slightly. Experiment, play, have fun.

(Click on an image for a 1000px version)

The first set of images are from Mesa Arch in Canyonlands NP at sunrise which was packed with 20 or more photographers. The second set is from Delicate Arch in Arches NP at sunrise with absolutely no one else around.











A special thank you to BorrowLenses.com for giving me the chance to play with the lens.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Why You Might Want To Consider A Full Frame Fisheye Lens Even If You Have A Crop Sensor Camera

How To Frame A Spectacular, But Boring, Sunset

Have you ever been at the beach and were witness to a gorgeous sunset? The colors, the calm wind and not to mention you were likely miles away from work? Possibly on holiday?

In that near perfect moment you took a picture because it was too good to pass up.


When you look at that photo, the feeling on that moment comes rushing back to you and you smile. This is my photo and I remember right where I was and how enjoyable it was.

The problem comes when you show your photo to others who weren’t there. They can’t instantly feel the warm wind and smell the salted air or taste the margarita you were enjoying. They see a boring picture.

Why is it boring? The viewer goes straight to the center, where the subject is, and looks away because they feel they took it all in (mainly with periphery). And they think, “Nice, but not nothing much is going on.”

Before we fix this dilemma, let me state that shooting the sun setting on the ocean can be fairly boring most of the time. If there are no clouds, there is no “aftershow” and things get dark quickly. I’m not going to lie and tell you I can “Make your sunset photos OUTSTANDING!!” when the scene was actually fairly plain, but still gorgeous.

To jazz things up we’ll apply the Rule Of Thirds in this simplest of exercises.

First, let’s lay the Rule Of Thirds grid over our boring scene.


The idea here is to move that sun off of its center spot and onto one of those grid lines. Let’s go to the left.


Improving (although I overshot the line a little, that’s really okay). The viewer now has a some room to move around the image. They may focus on the sun first and then gaze right, or the other way around. Either way, it’s more interesting. Now let’s move the sun up to the intersection of two lines.


And here it is with the grid lines on.


Viewers have even more room to move in the image.

It’s just that simple. It’s not meant to be spectacularly different, but it is more pleasing than the centered version.

Taking a look at the same sunset, let’s go with a vertical tack.




Moved high (maybe, you might note, just a touch higher than the Rule Of Thirds lines…that’s because rules in photography can always be broken if you like).


High and to the side.

What about going the other way?


Simple changes can make a sizable difference. They can make your photos more pleasing, if that is what you’re going for.

The sun setting over the ocean can be one of the most boring photos you will take, while being paradoxically beautiful to witness. Move the sun around in the frame and play a little. If the Rule Of Thirds isn’t working for you, break it. But try to understand why you’re breaking it so you can establish your own style.

And don’t forget to set your camera down at some point and just enjoy the end of another day.


Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

How To Frame A Spectacular, But Boring, Sunset