What’s with the long lens?

So when I shoot portraits, my favourite lens, if I can use it, is the 70-200.

Why “if I can use it”?

Because it is long. That means I need a large studio to stand back a lot. And not every studio is large. In all probability, your kitchen isn’t large, and I bet you do portraits there sometimes.

OK… but why would I want that long lens in the first place?

Because then I get very little distortion. Here’s a student, a few years ago on an Oakville Photo Walk, from far away, with the 70-200mm lens:

That’s what he looked like.

But now let’s get closer. And closer. So we zoom out. Closer still. Wide angle. Closer still. Now we have a very wide angle lens (16-35), and we are very close:

Can you see that’s a very different (and distorted) person?

Sometimes, in an environmental portrait, you may want to get close to the second picture—though never that close, distortion is out. But generally speaking, if it’s a headshot, you want accuracy, and the farther back you stand, the more accurate the representation of the person is.

There is a second advantage to being far away: you are not “in their face”. That means you are not perceived as threatening and something to fear. Which in turn means your subject will relax more. Basic psychology.

Practice: 50mm (on a full frame) is the minimum for half body shots; 85mm (ditto) is the minimum for headshots; longer is better for neutral, accurate portraits.

Lesson learned: If you go wide, stand back. Because of course it’s not the lens that does this magic: it’s how far away you stand. The lens just facilitates that.


Make Do

Much as I loved it, I no longer own this lens:

Instead., I own the 85mm f/1.2. More glass.

Why can I live without the 35mm? Because I have a crop camera too. And the 35mm f/1.4, which I also own, on the crop camera is very similar in effect and angle to the 50mm on a full frame camera.

And that is the point. I have:

  • 35mm f/1.4
  • 45mm f/1.2 T/S
  • 85mm f/1.2
  • 100mm f/2.8
  • 16-35 f/2.8
  • 24-70 f/2.8
  • 70-200 f/2.8

But that also means I have, approximately:

  • 55mm f/1.4
  • 72mm f/1.2 T/S
  • 135mm f/1.2
  • 160mm f/2.8
  • 26-55 f/2.8
  • 38-110 f/2.8
  • 110-320 f/2.8

So the total number of focal lengths I have:

  • 35mm
  • 45mm
  • 55mm (*)
  • 72mm(*)
  • 85mm
  • 100mm
  • 135mm(*)
  • 160mm(*)
  • 16-35
  • 24-70
  • 26-55(*)
  • 38-110(*)
  • 70-200
  • 110-320(*)

(*) By using the Canon 7D, a 1.6 crop camera

Michael's lenses

Michael's lenses (a few years back: now I have more)

So I have a very wide range of available focal lengths! If you have two crop factors, that is how you should look at your lenses. Making dfo with what you have is a great thing.

Yet another reason to own two cameras.


Video Tip

I use my DSLRs for video; I also teach a course I developed on shooting video with DSLR cameras (see here).

Today, a tip from that course: Audio. Audio is very important, and I recommend a few simple things:

One: turn off auto level. Set the audio recording level manually, else every time no-one speaks the noise goes up.

Two: use an iPhone in your pocket if you have no lapel microphone. An iPhone gives you great audio quality at an incremental cost of zero, if you already have an iphone.

And three: use a clapper board app such as Digislate (thank you, intern Daniel, for this one). Using a clapperboard allows you to synchronize this iPhone audio with the video from your DSLR.

Done. Professional audio from an iPhone, a simple camera, and free iMovie software. Simple, innit?



The special on headshots is still on. Buy this week; take the headshot in my studio by August 14, and get a pro headshiot for much less than the regular price. See http://learning.photography or scroll down to yesterday’s post.



Gee. Nine?

I have an old Canon G9. A great camera in its day, but small sensor/high noise by today’s standards. Here it is:

So. Useless. Right?


This camera is great for one thing in particular: close-up photos. Because of the small sensor, I can get very close. Here’s a shot of some jewellery:

Made like this:

But I can get closer:

AND HERE’S A 1:1 SECTION (each pixel in this, once you click on it, represents one pixel on the sensor):

These are very small beads in real life!

So an old G9 does a great job as a macro camera, if you have left your macro lens at home. Here’s another full shot of another piece:

I guess the lesson for today is that you should not throw old equipment out. I am pretty sure you can buy a G9 for a price approaching $ zero… and it’s plenty good for a lot of pro work, as long as you keep it to low ISO settings. Keep it our little secret!

Jewellery by Becky.


Through The Eye Of A Woman

OK, maybe that title is a little silly. But it IS through the eye of a woman that I shone my flash

And here, lit from the back:

Macro lens, 1/80 sec, f/16, 100 ISO, hand held.

The flash was shining from the back. This can give you pretty weird effects:

My eye here looks light green, while in fact it is light blue. Back lighting can do that.

But go back to the first shot. See that? Look carefully. A little white point, in the centre of the pupil,next to the actual catch light.

This is mysterious, because I was using an off-camera flash. The on-camera flash only sends “morse code”, as it were, to the other flashes, before the shot is made.

And yet, that pin light is from the on camera flash.

Simple, actually: it is its afterglow. The flash is off, but it takes a fraction of a second to completely go out, and it is during that fraction of a second that the shot is made. Here, the proof:

See, the main flash on our left, bounced against the wall; and me and the camera including its popup flash afterglow in the centre:

And that is why you get a little pin of extra catchlight in some wireless TTL photos, even though your on camera flash is turned off.

(Thanks to Becky for the loan of an eye!)