Friday, January 29, 2010

Photo Friday: Lenses

At Bad Girls Weekend I was asked several questions about photography. I took several notes of questions some of the woman had and hopefully will start doing Photo Friday again to answer them.

Fingers crossed.

Today: Lenses

People email me all the time about camera recommendations. I usually tell new-er photographers to grab a Canon Rebel XTi but stress that your lenses are really a more important part of your camera. Most of the time the lenses that come as part of a camera kit are crap--I recommend buying the camera body by itself and then adding lenses.

So how do you pick a good lens? First, you have to think of what you'll be shooting. Do you want to shoot your kids playing outside on the playground? A newborn snuggled up? A flower garden begging for a close-up? Once you know what you want to shoot, it's easy to pick a lens based on focal length (how much you can zoom in) and aperture (how blurry you want the background to be) Don't zone out on me--I'll explain!

Focal Length

Every lens has a focal length. That is how close or far away from your subject you can shoot. Grab your camera and look at the lens - on the front where the glass is, there are some numbers and the letters mm.

If your lens has two numbers, like 18-55mm, that means it's a "zoom" lens. With a zoom lens, you can shoot things close to you and farther away. Many beginning lenses--especially if you got it with a kit--are zooms.

If it has just one number, like 50mm, that's called a "prime" lens. I love to shoot with prime lenses, mostly because they make me move around and I get new and different angles than if I shoot with a zoom. You can't zoom in and out, but that's what your feet are for!


Aperture is one of those things that scares people! It sounds confusing but it's really not that tough to figure out. Trust me, if I can do it--you can do it!

Apertures are the same thing as F-Stops, so if you see an F before a number (like F8), we're talking about your aperture. The simplest way to explain apertures is this: the smaller the aperture number, the blurrier your background will be. The bigger the aperture number, the more in focus everything will be.

Think about what you want to shoot. Do you want a photo of your baby's toes, up close with the background blurry? Set your aperture on it's lowest number and zoom in close. Are you trying to take a photo of all the kids and the dog in front of your house? Set the aperture on a higher number to keep it all in focus.

An exercise: Change the dial on your camera to A or AV mode and change the aperture to the lowest number it will let you (check out your camera manual on how to do this) Shoot something still and see how it looks. Now change your aperture to a bigger number and shoot a few more. See how everything looks more in focus? Play with it and you'll start to understand it better!

A fantastic lens is the Canon 50mm (focal length) 1.8 (aperture) which is around 100 dollars! Nikon makes a 50mm too!

I use my 50mm 1.8 all the time! See in the picture of Kate below--just part of the picture is in focus? That's the 1.8 aperture. If I would have had it at a higher aperture (like 4 or 6) more of her body and background would be in focus.


Does that help at all? If you have any other lens questions, I'll answer them in the comments!


Harmony said...

More lens recommendations/reviews:

Chelle said...

You are the photo queen. I just got a Xsi, but I'm eager to play with the lenses and such. Thanks for the fun pointers - also, looks like a fun trip. Miss the east coast...

Emily said...

Harmony, I'm so glad you're back! I've missed you! I've been checking daily for an update and I'm only a little jealous you've been having such a great time and I haven't. I love all the photos (of course), the awesome camera info, and the new look on your blog....Also love that Colin and Rachel both are sporting the facial hair this week;)

greta said...

you have NO IDEA how excited i am to see you doing a photo item every friday. (and to read about you too, of course)
i have a question though. i've been thinking about getting a nikon D40. should i just buy the body and then get a different lens. if so, should i get the 50mm lens? do you have any other suggestions to a better camera? i know you said that nikon is more vibrant in color and i really like that. would a different nikon camera be a better buy? i really look close up pictures like the one of your daughter. those are some of my favorite kind.

Slavka said...

Thank you thank you thank you!! After BGW I went from being interested to totally excited- and left me wishing I had taken notes! Thank you for putting it all in writing (and for writing it in nice, plain, I-know-I'm-not-talking-to-professional-photographers English!). And Brandi is totally right on about your lighting.

Unknown said...

Thanks Harmony!!! I am wondering about wide angle lenses and what you recommend. Did you say you had an 18 or a 35? Also, can you give us camera-inept an idea of basic lenses to covet? BTW..I would like the frozen burrito recipe if you have it handy:) Hmmmmm...what else can I ask for???????

Harmony said...

Greta--I recommend 100% to just buy the body and just buy additional lenses. Most of those "kit lenses" have their lowest aperture at around 4. If you want that super buttery blur in your pictures, you need it to be lower.

The Nikon D40 is a great camera! A friend of mine switched cameras last week and let me shoot with a Nikon. The color is FANTASTIC! I just personally don't like the way their cameras are set up and have had a hard time getting good focus with them. I'm a 99% autofocus girl and Canons have just worked better for me.

Nikons are still great though! Go to camera store and play with each. Most actual camera stores (vs Best Buy) will let you play with the cameras.

You will love the 50mm for especially indoor shots of your kids. It rocks!

Brie--Your wish list for lenses is going to change depending on what you want to shoot.

If it helps, here's my list on lenses I use. You can find similar focal lengths or apertures with Nikon, etc...

Canon 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 (This was the first lens I got WITH MY CAMERA. It is an okay lens if you have perfect light and your children don't move. I never use indoors.)

Canon 50mm f/1.8 This is the one I recommend buying. I use this for indoor lighting and almost all baby pictures. It's light and small. NOT wide angle though.

Canon 50mm f/1.4 Same focal length but lower aperture. Love it, but the cheaper version is still AWESOME!

Canon 85mm f/1.8 I love this for family sessions/couples where I can be a little further away from them. Great for camera shy kids.

Sigma 20mm f/1.8 This is my wide angle baby. I love using this lens for landscrapes or buildings. Not so great with very close portraits--it's SO wide that it gives you the bobble head look.

I also use this for close up images--flowers, etc. Something still life that I can get SUPER close--I'm talking it's almost touching my lens. Great, crisp images

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L ("L" means professional grade lenses) This was SO expensive, but I loooove it and use it at every shoot/sporting event. A great idea is to rent this lens if you have a special event or want some awesome pictures.

Hope it helps! Thanks for the questions and enthusiasm!!!

Kylene said...

Thanks for the info! I still need to dig through boxes and find my old Canon. I told Matt and got him very happy to not pay full price...He's been pricing them with me :)

Also, scrolling down the posts...sorry about all the puke...tell Blake he's welcome :p

Jen said...

Greta... I had the D40, then returned it for the D60 (went on sale at Costco the next week for the same price, figured I might as well!) and while I LIKE it, I'm a little frustrated by the lens situation. If you want to use the autofocus, you HAVE to use AF-S lenses, which are generally more expensive than plain old regular lenses. The AF-S lenses have the focusing motor in the lens, instead of in the camera. Other than that- it's a great camera. The color is wonderful and the accessories (external flash, remote, battery grip) have been pretty affordable and fun to play with.
Have fun choosing!

(Also, Harmony- you rock. The end.)


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