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Photo Tip Tuesday! Choosing the right camera and lens.

Welcome to the first installment of my new blog series “Photo Tip Tuesday!”

Throughout the past few years, especially with the rise of social media I have found myself on the receiving end of a lot of photography questions. Whether it be from aspiring professionals, new parents who want a camera to capture their baby’s milestones, or just the average person wanting to take better photos, I get questions from all of them. Many times its the same questions over and over, but lately the questions have started evolving and getting more technical and more specific. These are the questions I love and that have made me want to start this blog series. Hopefully over time more people will ask questions and I will maybe even start doing videos, but for now I will stick to what I know works and get the information to the people in the easiest way I know how. My blog.

I really hope everyone enjoys this series and that we can keep it going for a long time! Make sure you keep sending your questions via Facebook and I will keep them ready for future installments of Photo Tip Tuesday. But for now, here are the 2 most popular questions I am asked!

Q: “Im thinking of buying my first DSLR camera. Which one should I get”
A: This is the #1 question I get asked from people. While many professionals scoff at this question, it is a valid question. There are SO many choices when it comes to cameras and most people don’t spend hours reading spec sheets, watching in depth reviews, and even know what most of the photography terms that are being cited even mean. For the average consumer, the struggle to buy a new camera is real. My advice to everyone who has this question on their mind is this: For a traditional DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera the 2 big names are Canon and Nikon. There are others like Sony, Samsung, etc but unless you have a good reason to go to a lesser known camera brand I would stick to the big 2. Why? Once you get your camera and learn what it can do, you are going to want accessories (new lenses, flashes, etc). Canon and Nikon have the most options for accessories, as well as most 3rd party companies make lenses and such for Canon and Nikon. Finding a new lens or flash is going to be a lot easier and you will have a lot more options with a Canon or a Nikon. Another deciding factor on buying a new camera is ergonomics. Go to a Best Buy or a local camera store (yes they still exist) and hold the cameras, try them out see how they feel when you use  them. Can you get a good grip? Reach all the buttons? Is the viewfinder bright enough? These are the real deciding factors for consumer cameras. Whether you choose a Nikon or a Canon the features and how they work are going to be pretty similar when it comes to a camera body that is less than $1000.

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The Canon T5i on the left and the Nikon D5300 on the right. Both great cameras and similar in specs and price. If it were me I would get the T5i. But that’s just me!:)

Q: “What lens do I need to shoot ______?”
A: After the camera question this question is a close second. I get asked this all the time! “I want to photograph my child playing sports, what lens do I need?” “I want to do be able to shoot things very close up” “What lens makes the background all blurry and the subject in focus?”
All of these are very good questions. If you were overwhelmed by the number of  camera bodies there were to choose from, the number of lenses will be mind blowing. So here is a quick guide to lenses:

Ultra Wide: These lenses have a very large viewing angle. If you want to get as much of the scene captured as possible these are the lenses you want. They are usually 18mm and less.

Wide Angle: You will see a lot with these lenses but not as much as an ultra wide. I consider a wide angle lens to be at or under 24mm and above a 18mm.

Standard: Standard lenses show the world though your camera very close to what you see with your eyes. Very little distortion (meaning it doesnt look round at the edges like wide angle). 35mm-50mm

Telephoto: This is where you start to “zoom” in to make things closer. These lenses  start around 85mm and go up to 200mm. Remember the more the magnification, the more the camera can see when your hands shake! This is when you want to start looking at tripods and Vibration Reduction / Image Stabilization lenses.

Super Telephoto: Any thing over 200mm is a SUPER telephoto and you will be able to get REALLY close but need to be very stable to get a sharp image.

Macro: Macro (or Micro for Nikon users) lenses let you focus super close to your subject. While many lenses need you to be a foot or more away from your subject, macro lenses let you get as close as a couple of inches! This allows for maximum magnification and being able to see lots of detail.

Now that you know what the lenses do you need to know how to use them right to achieve what you want. For sports you will probably need a LONG lens so you can zoom in close to the action. When I say long I dont mean physically I mean focal length (a short lens is a smaller number like a 24mm. A long lens is a bigger number like 300mm). But for sports you also want “fast glass”. The term fast means how much light the lens can let in. This is the Aperture (usually noted on the lens with an “F”). The smaller the number like 2.8 or 1.8 the faster the lens. These lenses let in a lot of light so that you can use faster shutter speeds and freeze action. Now a long 2.8 lens is going to cost you quite a bit of money so most consumer zoom lenses have variable aperture meaning the longer you zoom out the slower the lens gets. That is the sacrifice you make to the zoom range at a lower price. Just be aware of this and make sure you have lots of light when zooming out really far and that your shutter speed (a fraction like 1/250) is fast enough to freeze the motion. (that’s a whole other topic though!)

To get the background all blurry you need the same things that sports mom does, you just use it differently. To blur the background you need a fast lens that can be “opened up” to a very wide aperture like 2.8 or smaller. You also need a long focal length, just like the sports shooter. The background will have a lot more “bokeh” or blur to it when you use a 200mm @ F2.8 than if you use a 24mm lens @F2.8. If you can get your subject as close as your camera can focus and use that lens as “wide open” (meaning you are at the lowest aperture number as your lens can go) as you can the background will just melt away. Just remember the longer the lens and the wider the aperture the LESS amount of the photo will be in focus! Because of this you need to make sure your focus is right and you done move around a lot or the photo will be blurry.

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The photo on the left I wanted to make the background (and foreground) blurry to make the couple stand out more. I used a 135mm lens at F2 to achieve that effect. If I were closer to them the effect would have been exaggerated more but I wanted to include the fall colors as a frame around them. The photo on the right has a similar composition but was shot with a 17mm lens at F13. This way most of the scene is in focus and there is no blurring, but there is a bit of distortion around the edges (notice how the top is kind of pinching in?).

For those of you wanting to do very close up with with macro lenses, all the above applies with some changes. Since you are getting VERY close to your subject the “background” is now very close too. It can even be part of the subject as well. For an example: When I do ring shots at weddings, I am so close and magnifying the ring so much that if I shoot wide open I cant even get the bottom of the diamond in focus when I am fully focused on the face of the stone. Because of this I need to “stop down” or close the aperture on my lens to a F8 or smaller to get the most of the subject in focus. Because of this a tripod or a VERY steady hand is needed for macro photography. The lens is made to magnify but its not selective in what it exaggerates. That means the smallest movements you make are made into VERY big movement by the camera and achieving focus will be very hard!

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This ring was shot with a 100mm macro lens at F13! Notice how the back of the bands are still out of focus even though I am using a smaller aperture!

Well that is it for the first installment of my “Photo Tip Tuesday” series! Please go to our Facebook page and ask me your questions! I will try to get them into some of the next articles!