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Month: March 2016

Choosing Camera Lenses

Choosing lenses can be confusing with so many things to take into consideration… Focal length, maximum aperture, weight, price, prime vs. zoom, etc. I’m going to try and break things down as best I can and hopefully give you a better understanding of all this so you can make a more informed decision on what to purchase.

What Do All Those Numbers Mean?
When looking at lenses, you’re going to see lots of different numbers. The first ones are going to be followed by mm. So, 24-70mm or 70-200mm or 16-35mm or whatever. This is the focal length. The smaller the number, the “wider” the lens, so these are called wide angle lenses. The bigger the number, the “longer” the lens, and these are called telephoto lenses once they’re 70mm or more. After these numbers, you’ll see some that start with f/. So, f/2.8, f/4, f/3.5-5.6, etc. This is the maximum f-stop or aperture (the terms are relatively interchangeable). The lower the number, the “faster” the lens, aka glass. The bigger the number, the “slower” the lens/glass. Let’s dig into these two sets of numbers a little deeper…

Zoom vs. Prime Lenses
If you see two numbers, like 24-70mm, on a lens, that means it’s a zoom lens. These lenses let you get closer to or further away from your subject without physically moving yourself to do so. If there’s only one number, like 35mm, this means it’s a fixed focal length, or “prime,” lens. So if you want to get closer or further away from your subject, you have to “zoom with your feet,” as Joe McNally says.

Fixed vs. Variable Aperture
If you see one number, like f/2.8, on a lens, that means it’s a fixed aperture lens. All prime lenses are fixed aperture, as well as some zoom lenses. This means that no matter what focal length the lens is at, your maximum aperture will remain the same. If you see two numbers, like f/3.5-5.6, then it’s a variable aperture lens. This means that as you zoom the lens in or back out, the maximum aperture is going to change. If I’m using an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, the maximum aperture will change from f/3.5 when I’m at 18mm and then incrementally increase to f/5.6 as I zoom to 135mm.

Putting It All Together
While zoom lenses can be fast, prime lenses tend to be faster. For example, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 is around $1750 currently. But if I wanted a faster fixed lens, I have lots of options at different price points. I can get a 35mm f/2 lens for around $600 or the original f/1.4 version for around $1000 (there’s a new version that is priced around $1800). Lots of 35mm options for Nikon shooters as well. Or I can look at the Canon 50mm lineup and go anywhere from $110 for the f/1.8 version to $350 for the f/1.4 version  or even tack on an extra grand and spend $1350 for the f/1.2 version. Again, Nikon also has various 50mm options.

But, you have to take into account what kinds of shooting situations you find yourself in most often. Can you zoom with your feet? If so, then prime lenses might be the best for you. If not and you’re in situations with limited space (say, a photo pit at a concert), then zoom lenses might be best. And what camera are you shooting with? Does it handle high ISO situations pretty well? If so, you might prefer shooting at a higher ISO with a slower lens to spending more money on a faster lens.

The “Standard” Pro Setup
A lot of working pros have what is referred to as the “trinity” of lenses. For Canon shooters, that’s the 11-24mm f/4 or 16-35mm f/2.824-70mm f/2.8, and 70-200mm f/2.8. For Nikon shooters, it’s the 14-24mm f/2.824-70mm f/2.8, and 70-200mm f/2.8. Why these lenses? They’re going to cover you really well in most situations all the way from super wide to telephoto, and they’re all pretty fast lenses so they’re helpful if you’re shooting in low light situations. These are also high end lenses, so they’re going to put a dent in your wallet. Worth it if you need it, but…

Saving Money
Do you really need to spring for the most expensive options? Unless you’re shooting in low light situations, you probably don’t. For example, my buddy Peter Hurley does the vast majority of his work in the studio where he’s controlling the light, so he uses the Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens instead of the 70-200mm f/2.8. What’s the difference? About $1350, a stop of light, and nearly half the weight.

So, for Peter the f/4 version makes more sense because if he needs more light, he’s in his studio and can adjust the power. And he never shoots at f/2.8, so why spend all that extra money and add twice the weight to what he’s holding and carrying around in his gear bag? Nikon makes 70-200mm f/4 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses as well. The price difference isn’t as big as Canon’s, but $600 is still a lot of money!

But for someone like me who does concert and behind the scenes work, I need that extra stop of light that the f/2.8 version gives me. Could I get by with the f/4? A lot of the time, yes. But if I’m in a small venue with bad lighting trying to shoot a high-energy artist that doesn’t allow flash, I’m going to be hard pressed to get a single shot that isn’t blurry, even at 25,600 ISO. My wallet may be thinner and my shoulders may be a bit more sore at the end of the night, but at least the images are sharp!

Full Frame vs. Crop Frame

One last thing to consider is whether you’re shooting on a full frame or a crop sensor camera. Most of the lower-end DSLRs are crop sensors, meaning they are smaller than full frame sensors. Some lenses are made to only cover the size of the crop sensor, so if you use them on a full frame camera, your image will be cropped and you’ll lose some of your resolution, as you see below on the right.

However, if you purchase full frame lenses, you can use them on any camera without a loss of image resolution. If you do use them on a crop sensor camera, then they effectively become a “longer” lens because of the smaller sensor size. So what was a 70-200mm lens becomes an approximately 105-300mm lens, depending on the exact size of the crop sensor.

So which should you buy? If you never plan on upgrading to a full-frame camera and alway sticking with a crop sensor camera, then you can save some money and only buy crop lenses. But if you think you might make the jump to a full frame camera, it’s up to you if you want to save in the short term then buy new lenses when you make the jump, or go ahead and invest now to save yourself the hassle later.

On Canon, crop lenses are indicated by the letters EF-S (full frame lenses are just EF), and Nikon indicates their crop lenses with the letters DX (full frame lenses are FX). And to find out if your camera body is full frame or crop sensor, just look up the specs online and it should be one of the first things listed. Canon crop sensors will say APS-C sensor (full frame will just say full frame), and Nikon crop sensors will say DX-Format while full frame will say FX-Format.

I hope this helps you when choosing which lenses to buy. When in doubt, you can always rent lenses (and other gear) from places like LensProToGoBorrow Lenses, or Lens Rentals to try them before you buy them. And once you do decide to make the purchase, using my B&H affiliate links for Canon lenses and Nikon lenses will help me keep bringing you content like this.

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Dealing With Red Light When Photographing Concerts

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips performs in an onslaught of red light at Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa, Florida

It’s every concert photographer’s nightmare… The dreaded red wash of light. No matter how much we despise it though, it’s something we are probably all going to have to deal with at some point. So, what’s the trick to making our photos look decent when faced with this challenge?

Our goal here is to minimize “blooming” that red light tends to produce while still maintaining the gWhether you’re processing your shots in Lightroom or Camera Raw, your first stop is going to be the Profile menu in the Camera Calibration panel. Now, what you see and choose here is going to depend on what camera(s) you have.

Lightroom on the left, Camera Raw on the right

Generally speaking, you’re probably going to see Adobe Standard, then Camera Faithful, Landscape, Neutral, Portrait, and Standard. You may see others depending on your camera or if you have other third party profiles installed, like VSCO. The trick here is to try each profile and see how it treats your images. In this particular case, Camera Neutral works the best for me, but a different profile may work better in another instance.

Once you’ve chosen the profile that looks best, you can further make adjustments using the RGB hue/saturation sliders. The secret here is to adjust the Red sliders sparingly and stick to the Green and Blue sliders. You can try them, but they usually do more harm than good.

Here’s where we are now with the Camera Calibration settings you see above

Now that you’ve tweaked everything in the Camera Calibration panel, most of the heavy lifting is done. From here any other adjustments you make are most likely going to only make minimal changes.

Let’s go back to the Basic panel. Here we can play around with the White Balance temp/tint sliders and see if they can be of any help. Adjust to your liking, then move on to the other adjustment sliders. Increasing the Clarity can help with the red “bloom,” and decreasing the Vibrance can as well.

A few more adjustments courtesy of the Basic panel

There’s also the HSL panel… You may see some improvement with minor tweaking of the red and orange Hue sliders (just be careful not to go overboard with these). And, of course, the red and orange Saturation and Luminance sliders can help as well.

A few more minor adjustments via the HSL panel

Now, depending on how well (or badly) your camera handles the red light, you may either be satisfied with your image now, or it may still look terrible. If you’re in the latter scenario, it’s time to break out the secret weapon… Black and white.

When all else fails, tap the letter V when you’re in Lightroom, then make adjustments in the Develop module to your liking for a black and white conversion

There you have it… All of my tricks for dealing with red light. The settings and adjustments you see here were based on my example photo and not meant to be a fix-all for every right light image. You can try them on yours if you want, but your results will definitely vary from image to image. My objective here was to point you to the most useful adjustments and settings.

If you do find settings that are a useful starting point for your red light shots, you might want to create a preset so you can save time on your next edit!

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Your Calendar Isn’t Your To-Do List… It’s Who You Want To Be.

I was recently in a conversation with my pastor, Tommy, who was talking about counseling people regarding their lives and relationships. He mentioned talking with people who have these big aspirations of things they want to do with their lives… Become a pilot, get their black belt, write a book, etc. Yet when he asks if they have the steps toward doing those things on their calendar, they don’t. And that’s when he said the thing that’s stuck with me since… “Your calendar isn’t your to-do list. It’s who you want to be. If they were serious about these things, they would be scheduling time for them. Otherwise they’re just pipe dreams.

Tommy Phillips at Watermark Tampa

Every year, Tommy and his wife Sarah map out their family calendar to be sure they make time for the important things: Date nights with each other, family time together, one on one time with each of their three kids, evenings on the porch remembering the past and discussing the future. They’re not just going about their lives and marriage haphazardly. They’re being purposeful about it and planning for the future they want together.

A not very well planned month

So all of this got me thinking about my own life. Am I just taking things a day at a time, or am I planning and taking steps to become the person I want to be? Am I saying yes to the things I want to do and that are important to me? Am I saying no to the things that are just distractions and won’t mean anything a year from now? Have I been taking advantage of my free time and using it to better myself and accomplish the things I want to accomplish in life? Or have I been wasting it away in the vast, bottomless, never-ending (though very entertaining) vacuum that is Netflix and giving in to every distraction that pops up?

As we draw near to the end of 2015, I’m going to invite you to join me in making a plan for 2016. Grab a calendar and think about the things you want to accomplish in the next 12 months. Then figure out the steps you need to take each month, week, and day to accomplish those things and put those steps on the calendar. And along the way, say no to the things that are just distractions from accomplishing those goals. If you get to the point where you have so much on your plate that you can’t handle it all, learn to ask for help and delegate the things that don’t require your full attention to others.

If you know you have a habit of starting strong but not finishing, plan for that. If one of your goals is to get in better shape, maybe just joining a gym isn’t enough. Maybe you need to take the extra step of hiring a personal trainer or enlisting a friend who will hold you accountable. If you want to up your photography game, watch some classes and read some books, but don’t stop there. Actually schedule shoots and make time to experiment with new techniques. Explore other genres of photography outside of what you normally shoot to see what looks and techniques you can apply to your own work.

What if you’re not happy with where you are but you don’t know where you want to be? Ask the people in your life to describe you. What traits do they see when they think about you? Are you a strong leader? Do you find joy in helping people? Are you happiest when you’re working by yourself or with others? Do you like variety or repetition? Ask yourself the age old question… What would you do if you could do anything and money didn’t matter? Then figure out what steps you can take now to start working toward that.

Make time for the important things, both personal and professional

This isn’t a set of New Year’s resolutions that are going to be abandoned by March. Put the steps on your calendar and stick to them. Seek support through friends, family, prayer, community, and any other ways you can stay accountable to yourself. Learn to adjust to the things that life throws at you without abandoning what’s important to you. Let’s make 2016 our best year yet!

This post originally appeared on on December 16, 2015.

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