One of the components of photography I have come to really appreciate is the ability to create a three-dimensional image with a two-dimensional medium. Never having had the sense to take a photo class, I slowly stumbled on compositional techniques that create a very real sense of depth, from forced perspective to leading lines.
A framing element in photography is essentially a visual frame within the frame of our image. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, but like many techniques in photography, framing elements have their own set of rules.
Usually a framing element is positioned in front of our main subject. Well, pretty much always. In addition to creating a sense of depth, it helps focus a viewer’s attention on the main subject in our image and can be used to hide elements we don’t want the viewer to see—like a parking area in the image above.
If the foreground framing element is slightly darker than our main subject, it creates a greater sense of depth, as will keeping the framing element softer than our main subject using shallow depth of field.
Having said all this, I occasionally use a framing element solely to capture the viewer’s attention and skip trying to create the 3D effect. The framing element can be tight to the main subject and can be brighter or just a color that contrasts with our subject, like the image of lobster in the .featured image above.
An open doorway, trees and leaves, cornstalks, archways, window frames, shadows, a fence—the choices are endless. In any case, the framing element should relate to the storyline of the image or increase the visual drama of the photograph.
Try adding this technique to your own bag of tricks. It can change an average image to a good one and a good image to a great one.
Have you ever driven through an unfamiliar town thinking, this would be a fun place to explore with ny camera? Maybe it’s a small coastal town with commercial fishing boats and an old wharf or a picturesque mountain town with a mining history and a classic saloon. One of my favorite aspects of photography is how it gives me an excuse to explore things.
I have come to realize, however, that if I take random images as I explore a new area, the work has little impact. It doesn’t speak to me. They are just random pics. I’m sure many of us have come to the same realization.
Years of shooting for editorial clients has taught me that thinking in terms of a photo essay provides the visual framework on which to base my image production. So simple! It shouldn’t have taken me so long to realize how this works.
Photo essays have a long, illustrious history and were actually standardized by magazines like the old, venerable Life Magazine. In addition to giving their photographers a specific shoot list of subjects, Life photographers were asked to produce a certain variety of images, from establishing shots and portraits to action, details and the signature image. The variety was critical to Life Magazine’s success, as it is now for National Geographic and many others.
I try to do the same when creating my own photo essays. You can put together a short shoot list in your head if it’s just a quick photo shoot or actually write it out if you are lucky enough to be able to spend some time on the project. This list will keep you from getting “tunnel vision”, shooting too much of one thing and not enough of another. It’s very much like a story outline for a writer.
If it’s a bigger project—I consider a photo book a long photo essay—online research will give you information on such things as the most important building in a location and whether it is a sunrise or sunset shoot. Should you bring your big telephoto for events or your new drone for aerials?
Meeting new people, learning new facts and seeing new subjects will constantly change your shoot list. Adding notes as you go along can help you envision different visual approaches to a location.
Is there a particular subject or area you love to photograph? Do you go back to capture the same area at different times of the year? Does your shoot list keep growing? This is an affliction common among many photographers.
Be careful with this particular obsession. I have had three photo essays evolve into books and one of them took three years to complete. If you are curious, adventurous and love creating images, you are at special risk and no vaccine has been developed to protect you. If you are a photographer, however, you are almost obligated to try this experience at least once. Be warned, shooting photo essays is a hard habit to break.
Are you ready to start modifying the lighting in your images for more impact? There is an easy and inexpensive way to do this without carrying cumbersome and expensive photographic lighting equipment. Photo reflectors make it possible to control contrast, change lighting patterns and alter the color of the light you are using. You can even change the apparent time of day with a reflector. They are light weight, inexpensive and you can even see the results before you press the shutter button. Are you getting to the point in your photography where you are developing a personal style or creating storylines in your work? Take your work to the next level by using photographic reflectors to modify and shape the light in your images.
Available in a wide range of shapes, sizes, colors and surface reflectivity, photographic reflectors are light weight and inexpensive tools to modify light. Shooting professionally, I have a collection of reflectors ranging in size from 3×6 feet to a tiny 12 inch disc that looks like a frisbee.
My favorite reflector is a 24 inch round disc that folds to 8 inches that always hangs off one end of my camera bag. It weighs only ounces and has a matt white surface on one side and a shiny, reflective surface on the other side composed of tiny gold and silver rectangles. The white side reflects soft, neutral light while the other produces a brighter light with a slightly warm tint. It’s versatility makes it invaluable in a wide range of situations.
The most basic reflector use is controlling contrast by adding light to the shadow side of a person or subject. See Featured Image above. This is useful in backlit subjects, where you want your subject nearly as bright as the background, or side-lit subjects, where you want to reduce the contrast between the bright key side of your subject and the darker shadow side.
Using a silver reflector, it is also possible to change the lighting pattern on a subject’s face, creating a flatter “beauty” lighting pattern with a single, available light source.
One of my favorite uses for my small 22 inch reflector is simulating sunlight. I first place my subject in open shade next to a building and set my camera to underexpose my subject, usually a food dish, about 2/3 of a stop. I next place my reflector out in direct sunlight with the gold/silver side aimed roughly at my subject. I adjust the reflector’s position to give me the angle I want and feather it to get the amount of “morning sunshine” that I want for my image.
I’m essentially blending the soft cool blue light of open shade with the more specular warmed sunlight from my reflector. I use a tripod and long cable release so I can manipulate the reflector and fire the camera at the same time. Depending on how much light I add with my reflector, I may have to adjust the exposure a bit. This is a great technique for simulating early or late-in-the-day sunlight during a mid-day photo shoot.
This is a great technique for simulating early or late-in-the-day sunlight during a mid-day photo shoot.
Keep in mind that you do not aim the reflector directly at your subject. Because light bounces off a reflector at the same angle that it hits the reflector, you always aim roughly in the middle between your light source and your subject. And if your model is looking in the general direction of the reflector, be careful not to blind them with a bright, specular light.
The possibilities are endless for shaping or completely altering ambient light using a reflector. It’s merely a matter of previsualizing the final image. The question, of course, is why aren’t you working with this simple tool to manipulate ambient light and produce more dramatic photographs?
Have you ever asked yourself why you love photography? Is it that creative urge you need to feed? Is it sharing your life with others? How about just plain adventure? All of the above probably works for most of us, but for me, adventure is one of the strongest motivations in photography.
And nothing embodies adventure like a photography road trip!
In my photography career, I have taken many road trips. Each one of my books was really one long road trip, but road trips come in all sizes and colors. I enjoy short ones just as well as the long ones and being situated in Santa Barbara gives me lots of choices for one-day trips.
Recently, one of my editorial clients sent me a stock image request list for an article on the nearby Santa Ynez Valley. I had material on a number of the subjects, but there was one location I knew nothing about—Folded Hills Farmstead and Winery. I did a little research and found that Folded Hills is a working farm that welcomes visitors. The adjacent wine tasting room was a bonus.
I arrived early. My camera does its best work early and late in the day and I never argue with it. There was no one there yet and the coastal fog was just breaking, so I found a nearby high vantage point that looked over the little valley and captured a few atmospheric images with a long lens.
After the fog cleared, I headed back down to the farmstead and spoke to some employees about permission to photograph the farm. The owner was very gracious and gave me permission to photograph the farmstead and tasting room and I could use my drone as long as I didn’t frighten the livestock.
Folded Hills Farmstead is a collection of beautiful old barns, corrals with livestock, a produce stand, u-pick fields of produce and an old farmhouse converted to a an elegant tasting room with outdoor seating. Lots to explore.
I started with the barns and u-pick fields, using a drone for high angles. When I moved to a barn and corral with goats, a pig, a cow and a lama, the shoot got interesting. The goats slept through it all in the shade. The pig and cow ambled around, ignoring the drone completely, but the llama knew something wasn’t right with that strange bird. As I repositioned the drone for each shot, the llama moved with it, not taking its eyes off the drone for a moment. I finally landed the drone and moved on. I could feel the llama’s eyes on me every step of the way.
As the farm stand was getting ready to open, I roamed the barn area for interesting details. I love finding what I think of as “photographer’s images”, those details that make each location unique to itself—antlers on an old barn, a veggie cleaning station for u-pick produce. It often feels like an Easter Egg Hunt when I was a kid.
I know there are treasured images out there. I just have to find them.
My focus then moved to visitors when the Farmstead opened.
The goats, cow and pig had all moved to the corral directly behind the small barn with the produce stand and families bought lettuce and carrots to feed to the livestock. I asked permission before I photographed anyone and had a great time capturing the interaction between kids and livestock, including a classic tug-of-war over a carrot between a young, curly-haired girl and a huge cow. Results were predictable but very cute.
I pushed up my ISO to 800 to capture a few interiors of the farm stand and then moved across the street to the Folded Hills Winery tasting room. I talked to the two young women behind the bar in the tasting room for a few minutes and was able to stage a pouring. A quick couple images outside under the shady umbrellas and oak trees finished my shoot.
I ran into the owner, who gave me some fresh peaches, and stopped back at the farm stand to buy some of their amazing heirloom tomatoes. It had gotten hot and I was pleasantly worn out. The wine selection and tasting room would require a more in-depth investigation which I promised myself would happen when the weather cooled down in the fall. You can’t explore everything with a camera.
Although Folded Hills Farmstead is less than an hour’s drive from my home, it was a unique adventure that I always seem to experience on a road trip. The Santa Ynez Valley Scarecrow Fest is coming up in October and many of the local vineyards explode in fall colors in November.
Just because our travels are a bit limited right now, it doesn’t mean our photography has to be.
If you want to fine tune your photographic techniques a bit or get more comfortable with your camera controls, my popular Santa Barbara City College Non-Credit class “Digital Cameras Digital Photos” starts on October 6 from 4:30-6:40PM. It is a free class and will be held on Zoom. The class can be found in the Career Skills section of the School of Extended Learning. The links below should help in the registration process. Hope to see you soon.
One of my favorite lenses is my Canon 300mm f2.8 telephoto. Sure, it’s big, it’s heavy and it’s really pricy. And although I only occasionally photograph sports or wildlife, the most popular subjects for these big telephotos, the images I create with that lens are always captivating. Let me walk you through the 3 techniques I employ most often when shooting with a telephoto lens. Let’s see if you agree?
Reach, Isolate or Compress—those are the 3 main reasons to own a telephoto lens.
Long lenses, or telephotos, have a narrower field of vision than a normal lens. This narrowing or cropping of our normal field of vision effectively magnifies the objects or main subjects in our image.
This, of course, leads us to the main use of telephoto lenses—reaching out to fill the frame with our main subject. This creates the effect of placing the viewer right in the action, whether it is a young bull rider in a rodeo hanging on for dear life or a sailboat crew hustling to set a spinnaker during a race in San Francisco Bay.
Telephoto lenses come in a range of focal lengths and in both fixed focal lengths, like the 300mm lens, and various zoom configurations. My go-to telephoto lens for events like the Tournament of Roses Parade is a Canon 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens. It covers short to medium telephoto ranges and gives me the ability to change the degree of magnification so that I can move in tight on an amazing parade float while cropping out distractions like the parade crowds.
It is also possible to increase the focal length of a telephoto by placing a teleconverter between the camera body and lens. Mine converts my 300mm to a 420mm telephoto that can transport a viewer twenty feet up in a tree to view, up close, one of the Monarch butterfly migration roosting sites here in California.
Having that kind of reach for a photographer is invaluable.
Reach is only one aspect of a telephoto, however. The ability of a telephoto to isolate a subject is not only a function of reach but often depth of field as well. It’s no accident that both of my telephoto lenses are f2.8 lenses, capable of creating images with very shallow depth of field. Picking out a single dancer at a Cinco de Mayo celebration has more impact if the surrounding area is softened with very shallow depth of field.
Also keep in mind that the longer the telephoto focal length, the softer the background becomes. For this very reason, telephoto lenses are often used to produce portraits with very soft, buttery backgrounds, creating a wonderful separation between subject and background.
The third creative technique for which I employ a telephoto lens is compression.
Unlike a wide angle lens, which creates a feeling of greater depth in a scene, a telephoto lens has the ability to pull the distant components of a scene closer to the foreground subjects, compressing the distance between near and far objects. I find this technique especially powerful for visually linking two distant subjects into a single storyline.
A 300mm telephoto lens was used to connect the ruins of an ancient pueblo in Wupatki National Monument, see the featured image above, with the distant San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona. The San Francisco Peaks are one of four peaks in this part of the Southwest considered sacred to the Navajo and other Native American groups. Located many miles apart, the long telephoto compressed the scene, producing a dramatic image with a strong storyline connecting the two sites.
Use a telephoto lens to combine the Golden Gate Bridge and the skyline of San Francisco or a snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains Peak and the Alabama Hills framing the foreground. In each case, compressing the distance between near and far subjects creates the dramatic visual storyline that we strive to produce.
Next time you are out shooting with your telephoto lens, keep in mind that your lens can do much more than just reach out to capture a subject. Open your aperture to its widest setting and try separating your subject from the background with shallow depth of field.
And don’t forget the compression effect. Line up two distant but related objects in your frame and stop down the aperture for maximum depth of field. Use your telephoto’s ability to compress a scene and create a unique storyline.
If you are only using your telephoto to reach out to a subject, you are missing out on much of the potential of that lens. Try these techniques to expand the creative possibilities of these long lenses. You may be surprised at what you can create.
Back in the day when my students actually shot on location together, pre-virus, discussions on depth of field were a continual topic. This was partly because some my students had just moved away from full camera automation, the dreaded “P” setting for Program, and had tasked themselves with taking control of their camera. Using the class recommended “Av” or “A” setting, Aperture Priority, photographers have to manually set the aperture, or f-stop, and the camera picks the shutter speed for the exposure. The “A” setting not only controls exposure but also depth of field and that is where the confusion often erupted.
Now, if you have ever taken one of my classes, you know I stress the need to create a storyline with each image we create. Photography provides a wide range of tools with which to fine tune our storyline, including light quality, composition, lens focal length and many others. Arguably the most powerful tool in our shop, however, is the ability to control depth of field.
Depth of field is defined as the area of an image in front of and behind the plane of focus that is sharp. By changing the aperture setting, or f-stop, we control how much of our image is sharp and how much is soft. Because sharp detail is one of the components of an image that attracts a viewer’s attention first, this ability to guide the viewer’s eye gives photographers a powerful tool with which to show an audience what we feel is the most important aspect of an image. Every photographic decision we make impacts our storyline.
So, why would you want to make sure everything in your image is sharp? Landscapes are a popular subject where pretty much everything in the image has equal value, from the foreground to the background. Composition may be used to emphasize some component of the scene, but if everything is sharp, the photographer is indicating to the viewer that every aspect of the scene is equally important. Architecture is often handled the same way.
Maybe you have a subject within a larger environment. If everything is sharp, you are telling the viewer that both the main subject and the environment are equally important to your storyline.
Let’s look at the 3 techniques we use to create extreme depth of field.
#1 The first, and most obvious step, is stopping down the lens aperture. Remember how apertures work? The higher the aperture number, say f-16 to f-22, gives you the smallest lens opening and the greatest depth of field. This is why we need to take over setting the aperture on our camera so that we can control the amount of depth of field created by our aperture or f-stop setting. In this case, stopping down to f-22 gives us lots of depth.
#2 The second step is choosing a lens focal length. Wide angle lenses have depth built in and the wider the lens, the greater the built-in depth of field. This is not to say that a normal or telephoto lens can not achieve extreme depth, but a wide angle lens can achieve this depth even at midrange aperture settings of f-8 or so.
#3 The third step is a little trickier to understand. The greater the camera to subject distance, the easier it is to achieve great depth of field. As you move farther from your main subject, the difference between camera to subject distance and camera to background distance becomes less, making it easier to get maximum depth of field. If you move closer to your main subject, the difference between the two distances becomes greater and both smaller aperture and wider lens may be necessary to achievee the proper depth.
There you have it. The three tools for creating extensive depth of field in an image are smaller lens aperture, wider focal length lens and greater camera to subject distance. But remember, you need a reason to keep your background as sharp as your subject. Know what you want to say about a subject or location and then create the necessary amount of depth of field. This is a fluid system in which depth of field is almost always your first decision. Take control by setting your camera to “A “ or “Av”, Aperture Priority, and set your lens aperture appropriately. All of this is just a bunch of words, of course, until you set your camera to “A” and start adjusting your depth of field as you shoot.
“You don’t take a photograph. You make it.” Ansel Adams
Our next post will be geared towards creating shallow depth of field, a great technique for separating your subject from the background. Coming soon.
A great blue heron glided into my image, landing right where I would have placed it—if I had a trained blue heron. Better lucky than good! I was photographing a book on San Diego, working with reflections of the ornate Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Balboa Park. Afternoon was not a particularly colorful time, but as the sun moved lower, the warm tones of the buildings were intensifying and I was photographing the saturated reflection of the architecture in the Reflection Pond. Almost at sunset, the surface of the Reflection Pond was shaded while the buildings caught the last rays of the sun. The golden reflection of an ornate Spanish Revival building was contrasting beautifully with the cool tones of the green lily pads and blue reflected sky, producing a unique image of Balboa Park.
If there is a trick to photographing dynamic reflections, it is making sure that the subject is well lit while the reflecting surface is shaded. Almost any shiny surface can be used to produce a colorful reflection, including store windows and car hoods. My favorite, however, remains water. For me, nothing else conveys the serenity of being on the ocean as does warm light relected off of fishing boats or a coastline at the beginning or end of the day. Even a choppy ocean surface can reflect well with a long enough exposure.
Still water acts exactly like a mirror, to the point where some of my tight reflection images have been published upside down. I now add lilly pads or some reference object, if there is no background, to indicate which side is up. I will have to admit, however, some reflections are fscinating viewed upside down and in either case, a reflection provides a unique view of the world and a great change of pace for a photographer.
A student recently asked me how I consistently produce images with so much color. I have been working as a professional photographer for over twenty-five years and do many things automatically. I had to think about the question for a few minutes before I could explain it properly.
The short answer, of course, is that I look for color everywhere I travel.
For me, color is an integral part of the travel experience. A vendor’s stall of colorful fruit in a Mexican mercado at sunrise or the rainbow hues of Native American regalia at a powwow draw me like a magnet. Throw in an occasional sunset and you have the photographer’s “easy” color.
Most travel photographers look for the right light, rather than just colorful subjects. Color tends to be emphasized in certain situations and we capitalize on that. The first and last hour of the day is definitely the most popular time to shoot for many professionals, from nature and travel shooters to architectural photographers. That warm light streaming through your image sets a mood that is hard to beat.
I was standing there, panting, at the top of a bell tower in Sienna, Italy. I had dragged my gear up what seemed like, at least, a thousand stairs, but I knew the image I was about to make would be worth the effort. The sun was on the verge of setting and delicate pink light was sweeping across the ochre-colored town below me, long shadows giving the buildings volume. I merely had to crop tightly with my 80-200 mm zoom lens to capture the intricate mosaic of a beautifully lit Italian hill town.
This opportunity was not an accident or plain old good luck. I had planned this image before I had even left home. I try to plan my shooting schedule so that, for each location, I have at least one main subject to cover each sunrise and sunset. My research even tells me what direction each main building faces, so I know what time of day will give me the best results.
Creating images during the “Magic Hours” of sunrise and sunset can certainly give a photographer great color, but rather than capturing just another sunrise/sunset, use that warm light to create atmosphere as it washes over a new location or subject. Break the “sunset habit” and turn your back on the sun. You may find the color just as saturated and the subjects considerably more interesting.
My favorite lens is my 24mm-70mm f2.8 Canon Zoom Lens. I use it to create a vast majority of my images and often shoot at either end of its zoom range. It’s my “walking around” lens and the most versatile lens that I own. I tend to keep it set on a wide angle setting which I use more often than the longer focal lengths. Wide angle images are just more fun.
I work with full-chip bodies, meaning the sensor is the same size as original 35mm film, and a normal focal length lens on my camera is 50mm. This covers the same angle of view as human vision and anything with a wider angle of view is considered a wide angle lens. If you shoot a small-chip body, a normal lens is more like 38mm and anything wider is a wide angle lens.
OK. That gets rid of the technical definitions.
Personally, I don’t care about the technology. Everything in photography seems like magic to me. I only care that my equipment gives me the results that I visualized before hitting the shutter button.
Wide angle lenses do just what their name implies—they capture a wider angle of view than we can see without moving our head. The only part of this that captures my attention is how can that unique ability of the lens help me to create images with impact and a meaningful storyline? That’s all that matters, right? Let’s see what we can do.
You can break wide angle images down into 3 broad categories with the first being the most obvious—the sweeping scenic.
Broad natural vistas such as National Park Viewing Points make beautiful wide angle images. The park terrain and features are dramatic and a wide angle zoom lens allows us to capture as much of the vista as we want. Add in great lighting or weather events and you have a great image. The same can be said for city views or even cloud patterns or lightning storms. This is often the first subject photographer’s capture using a wide angle lens.
Because wide angle lenses have “built in” depth of field and most objects are distant in a scenic, it isn’t necessary to stop down very far to get everything in focus. This is another advantage of these lenses.
Scenics, however, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wide angle images.
Another consideration is convergence. If you can keep your camera lens horizontal, vertical lines run straight up and down, but if you have to tilt your lens up slightly to capture the tops of buildings, vertical lines will converge.
If this leaning in of buildings is too extreme, then it feels like the buildings are going to fall in on the viewer. Unless that is the effect you want, going to a wider focal length with its wider angle of view and stepping back a ways allows you to lower your lens into a more horizontal position reducing the effect of convergence. Conversely, if I am shooting down on a structure, like a huge multi-storied shopping mall in China, vertical lines will spread apart or diverge.
My favorite use of a wide angle lens involves the distortion properties of that type of lens. This is where a wide angle is really fun!
Practically every camera out there comes with a wide angle to short telephoto zoom lens. The wide angle range is much more than a tool to capture wide open spaces. Use it to create a sense of great depth or produce an image with a dramatic foreground. Work with the distortion and pump up the impact of your images. That is why wide angle lenses are fun, and in my view fun is the whole point of photography.
It has always seemed ironic to me that, as a professional photographer, the technique I use most often is something I can not see with my own eyes. Shallow depth of field is a product of camera optics and I can only “see” it as I previsualize an image and on the back of my camera, of course, after I shoot.
Shallow depth of field is such a powerful effect that I carry my camera with the lens set to f2.8, no matter what focal length lens I have mounted on my camera. I can always stop down the aperture for more depth of field if I need it—see my previous post—but most of the subjects I like to photograph appear best with shallow depth of field. People, food, flowers, wine—they all “pop” with shallow depth of field.
Let’s start with “Why” we would use shallow depth of field and then get to the “How To”.
Shallow depth of field is used to separate our main subject from the background and sometimes even from the foreground. This sharply defined subject forces our viewers to focus on our main subject first and understand that the softly focused environment is secondary in importance to our main subject. It helps create a visual storyline, something I strive to create in all my images.
If everything in the frame is sharp due to great depth of field, as in a landscape, a viewer tends to wander around the image visually and decides for themselves what is important and what isn’t. Leading lines and forced perspective can guide the viewer to some extent, but the photographer is telling their viewers that everything in the frame has equal importance.
It all depends on your storyline!
The first step in creating shallow depth of field is setting your lens to a wide aperture or f-stop. F2.8 to f4 or so will do the job and because these settings let in lots of light, a fast shutter speed is often necessary for a proper exposure. This is a bonus when photographing people, wildlife or sports.
Shooting a longer focal length lens also help soften the background behind your subject. The longer the lens, the softer the background becomes. Keep in mind that wide angle lenses have built in depth of field and it is pretty tough to do a wide angle shot with shallow depth of field, even with your aperture wide open.
The last step is rather counter-intuitive but makes sense if you think it through. Move closer to your subject. As the camera to subject distance gets shorter, the camera to background distance becomes relatively greater and the background becomes softer. Try it and see. Keep in mind the focal length should remain the same and because of that you will need to crop tighter on your subject as you move closer.
There you have it. For sharp subjects with soft, buttery backgrounds, open your aperture wide, shoot with a longer focal length lens and move closer to your subject.
Whether you are photographing people portraits at a busy Farmer’s Market, creating the perfect image of a margarita in a crowded restaurant or capturing an intimate moment with the kitten your kids just brought home, shallow depth of field pulls your main subject out of the background with great visual impact.
Don’t you wish your own eyes could work that way? Give it time. They will.
Recently I gave one of my photography classes a lecture on lens focal lengths—their strengths, weaknesses and their creative potential. Because I listed the focal length of the lens used to create each image on a full chip camera body in our presentation, I reminded everyone that the effective focal length of a lens can change with the size of the sensor in their camera, as we had discussed in our first class a couple weeks before.
One of the great failings of on-line classes, in my view, is that I can’t see a wave of confusion sweep over my class when I make a statement like that.
An email arrived the next day asking for more information on effective focal lengths. I realized I needed to cover the subject in greater detail and felt a new post on my photography blog was the best solution.
Most 35mm cameras contain one of two sensor sizes. Full frame, or full chip, camera bodies contain sensors the same size as 35mm film—24x36mm. Most small chip cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony come equipped with sensors that are roughly 15x23mm with a crop factor, or magnification factor, of about 1.5X.
Let’s look at an example of how effective focal length works.
A 50mm lens mounted on a full frame camera is considered a “normal” lens because it’s angle of view is similar to that of the human eye. A normal lens is also the dividing point between wide angle and telephoto lenses. If we mount that 50mm lens on a small chip body with a crop factor of 1.5X, it is still a 50mm lens, but the angle of view is narrowed by the smaller sensor, effectively creating the equivalent angle of view of a 75mm lens, a short telephoto, on a full frame body.
50mm X 1.5 = 75mm
If we take that 50mm lens and multiply it by .66, or 2/3, we get the focal length lens that will give us a similar angle of view on a small chip body, roughly 33-35mm. That would be a normal lens and the dividing line between wide angle and telephoto lenses for a small chip body with a crop factor of 1.5X. Essentially every lens focal length gets longer when mounted on a small chip body due to the cropping effect of the smaller sensor.
Knowing how to convert lens focal lengths is useful if you shoot both a full chip body and a small chip body, although most photographers shoot one or the other. It is also useful to be able to equate a lens with a similar angle of view on a small chip body during a lecture like mine where focal lengths are given for a full chip body.
But in any case, we all get used to using certain lens focal lengths for particular effects and subjects. We don’t need to do conversions in the field as long as we stay with one sensor size in our camera bodies and start to anticipate the way our camera sees the world.
To avoid future confusion, I think I’ll change the labels on my presentation PowerPoint slides to wide angle, normal and telephoto lenses and get rid of the actual focal lengths. Simpler.
RAW file versus JPEG? Which is the best image format? Well, I have found that it really depends on a number of variables. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look at both.
Original unprocessed RAW file of image above exposed for maximum data capture
Do you want large prints of your work to hang over the living room couch? Starting with a RAW file and creating a derivative high-res TIFF file will give you the best quality prints.
RAW files capture the maximum amount of raw data that reaches your camera’s chip. Although RAW files are slightly compressed during capture, RAW files use lossless compression so no data is lost. You can’t print directly from a RAW file or post it on the web. They are large files and must be used to create derivative files such as high-res TIFFs for printing or low-res JPEGs for the web.
RAW files provide maximum data for producing large prints
Did you get some great shots of your daughter’s soccer game over the weekend and want to post them to the family Facebook page? JPEGs are the format you want for anything on the web.
JPEG files are also compressed during capture, but the process uses lossy compression. Due to a greater amount of compression, JPEG files are much smaller than RAW files, which is critical for any image posted to the internet. These small files load quickly on the web, but do not have the amount of image information that a RAW file imparts to a high-res TIFF. In addition, image data is lost each time you save a JPEG due to the compression process, so a high-res TIFF is a better choice if you plan to retouch or manipulate an image to any degree.
RAW file of fitness studio processed for edgy, desaturated look
Most cameras come set from the manufacturer for JPEG capture.
This is fine if you don’t do any processing of your image files or if you shoot strictly for your social media, website or blog. These files will also work well for prints in the 11×14 range or smaller. You can go into your camera menu and set the JPEG quality for high, which gives you a better quality file with less compression, and you can adjust the degree of saturation as well. A camera can also capture JPEG files faster than RAW files, making this a good format choice for sports or wildlife photographers working with motion and high-speed motor drives.
JPEG files would be a better format for high-speed capture of the action in a sailboat race
If you have started processing your files in Lightroom or Photoshop, however, shooting RAW files is a much better choice.
The depth of information in a RAW file makes it possible to alter the basic image in a wide range of directions without the image breaking down. RAW files have so much information that you can push those pixels all over the place.
The RAW file on the left and the JPEG on the right, shot at the same time, are quite similar
If you are just starting to learn how to process your images for greater impact, but you still feel more comfortable with JPEGs, open your camera menu and set your camera to capture both JPEG and RAW files for each image. This gives you a finished JPEG to use immediately and a RAW file to process into an image that has your stamp on it. If you are serious about image quality and don’t need to capture multiple images quickly, set your camera to RAW format. You can then create JPEG or TIFF files on demand, depending on the planned use of each image.
Maybe you want a unique “look” to define your style.
This is quite common among portrait or food photographers. Much of their distinctive “look” is created in post-production. Some photographers even sell groups of presets for use with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop that create certain contrast and toning effects. All of this requires image files that have large amounts of data—a RAW file.
Normally processed RAW file of risotto balls on the left and cooler version using a preset on the right
In many ways, Ansel Adams started this trend with his Zone System. It was essentially a system used to manipulate black and white images. Imagine what he would think of being able to process RAW files in Lightroom or Photoshop? I’m sure he would be fascinated to see the variety of images that can be produced from a single RAW File—essentially a digital negative.