An HDR from one RAW shot

Consider this image from Aruba, of a rental car inside:

Without a flash, a dynamic range like that is difficult. So look at the before/after:

And so yes, from that image on the left with its very black blacks and blown out whites I can still get back to a reasonable picture—provided I shot in RAW, of course. Here’s my develop settings:

This gives me a sort of one-image HDR.

What lens what used, you ask? My standard ultra-wide, the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens set to its widest 16mm zoom. Shot at 1/100th sec at f/5.6, 200 ISO.



The Seven Benefits To Wide

A lot of my teaching involves lenses, and lens choices. Tough choices, especially when you cannot just “bring them all”, for example when you travelling.

For travel, my favourite lens, as you know, is the extreme wide angle. “Wide angle” for me in this context means 16-35 on a full frame camera (10-20mm on a crop sensor camera); used usually on the wide side (16mm, for me; 10mm on a crop sensor camera).

Yes, the first reason is obvious: a wide angle lens allows me to “get more in”.  But this “pedestrian” reason is not at all the main reason I like it. First there are three additional “creative” advantages:

  1. I get nice diagonals.
  2. I can easily introduce depth (“close-far”).
  3. The wrap-around feeling that is so good for environmental shots – which is what travel shots often are.

There are three practical benefits, too:

  1. A wide angle lens is usually smaller  and lighter than a longer lens.
  2. I can shoot with slow shutter speeds without blurring the image.
  3. It is easy to get very extended depth of field, even at low “f-numbers”.

Now you see why I like wide angle lenses. “It’s like you’re there”:


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Snapping Away…

…at The Distillery. Today, on the short walk from my car to the gallery, I used my wide angle lens, the 16-35 mm lens, set to 16mm.

Close to a car, that leads to distortion:

When faced with a large area, when not close to anything, you do not get that, but you can get it all in. I preferred the Distillery without that huge new skyscraper next to it, by the way.

And “wide” allows you to get “into” a scene. Like in this shot: if it had a coffee on this table, I would imagine myself sitting there:

And when I aim close to the ground, and shoot from close to the ground, the ground seems to come up at me:

…and you can see the depth in a street (and the “rule of thirds” in the composition):

…and get an appreciation of the high gallery ceilings:

(yes, my works are still for sale at The Kodiak Gallery – I shall be there noon-6pm every day this week).

None of those shots could have been done in quite the same way without that wide a wide angle lens. 16mm on a full-frame camera means 10mm on a “crop” camera, which you are most likely to have.  So a 10mm lens will give you the ability to:

  1. Get it all in
  2. Show depth
  3. Show people or items “surrounded by their environment”
  4. Shoot at slow shutter speeds (lke 1/10th sec) without blur
  5. Get great depth of field (“sharp-o-matic” even at f/5.6 or f/4!)

That is why if you do not yet have a wide angle lens, a 10-20 (or if you have a full-frame camera a 16-35),  you might consider adding one. I shall not stop saying it!


Open wide!

I mean – wide angle lenses are more useful than most people realize. As frequent readers here know, I do tend to say this over and over. And let me reiterate it here, again.

Last week I shot an industrial food facility. And again, the shots I like most are the wide angle shots – like 16mm on a full-frame camera (that is 10mm on your crop DSLR).

And that gets us shots like this:

Industrial Food Facility (Photo: Michael Willems)

Industrial Food Facility (Photo: Michael Willems)

Industrial Food Facility (Photo: Michael Willems)

A wide angle lens, especially when you get close, introduces – you know it – depth, three-dimensionality, perspective, size, and hence drama; and above all, it gives a 2-D still photo credibility.

So if you do not have one yet, ask Santa now (*and you can also ask him for a gift certificate for personal training while you are at it – ask me how).

A “wide” lens is a 10-20mm lens, that order, when you are using a crop DSLR, or a 16-35 or 17-40 when using a fill-frame camera.



Michael’s Top Ten Dicta

Legally speaking, a Dictum is “a statement of opinion or belief considered authoritative though not binding, because of the authority of the person making it”. More generally, it is “a noteworthy statement: as (a) : a formal pronouncement of a principle, proposition, or opinion; (b) : an observation intended or regarded as authoritative.” Google it if you want.

So, assuming you know me and trust my judgement, you may well be interested in my Top Ten Dicta:

  1. Bright pixels are sharp pixels. The more you make your subject bright pixels, the more it will be sharp and crisp. Noise hides in the darkness, like cockroaches. Light your subject and it becomes sharp.
  2. Go wide and get close. Wide angles combined with proximity to something introduces depth and perspective into y our images.
  3. Indoors flash: point your flash up, 45 degrees behind you. This gives you the correct light angle for close-by portraits, like in events.
  4. Indoors flash: Use the “4-4-4″ rule” as your camera setting starting point: Camera on manual, 400 ISO, 1/40th sec, f/4. Then adjust for brighter or darker rooms, to give average ambient exposure of around -2 stop.
  5. Turn baby turn. Feel free to angle your shots whenever you like. Composition, simplifying, energy: whatever your reasons. It’s cool, it’s allowed.
  6. You, and the lens, make the picture. Cameras are cool – I buy a lot of them – but the picture is made by you – even an iPhone can produce cool shots – and more technically, by the lens. A good lens on a cheap body is great. A cheap lens on a good body, not so much.
  7. Go Prime If You Can. Prime lenses lose on convenience but win in every other way. I love my 35mm f/1.4 lens.
  8. Use off-centre composition and the rule of thirds in your compositions.
  9. Get close: fill the frame. This so often makes your images better, it is worth stressing as a Dictum.
  10. Simplify! Ask yourself: is everything in my image the subject or the supporting background? If not, get rid of it. A circle has 360 degrees.

That’s my wisdom in a nutshell. Do you know, understand, feel, and above all use all ten principles above?

Learn about these and much more in one of my training or private coaching sessions. There is 10% December Discount – this is a great time to consider buying a friend a session with me: buy a Gift Certificate for the holiday season!

Open wide

I have said it many times: wide angle lenses are under-rated. Few of my readers even have one.

I mean a wide angle lens in the range of 16-35mm if you have a full-frame camera like a 5D or a D700, or 10-20mm on a crop camera like a digital Rebel, D90, 60D, or D7000.

A wide lens, as I said yesterday, makes the scene wrap around you, or around the close by object.

Upstate New York (Photo: Michael Willems)

Upstate New York (Photo: Michael Willems)

Upstate New York (Photo: Michael Willems)

Boating in upstate New York (Photo: Michael Willems)

Frequent readers here will know the following:

  • Do include a close object (even the ground, as in picture #1 above)
  • Do not put people in the corners – they will be distorted, sinc eanything near the edges will look larger.

Use a wide lens and get close, and your pictures will look unlike others’.


Wide angle diffuser tip

Tip: if you use a wide angle lens – and I hope you are, because you will get pictures like this, that look very three-dimensional, with the scene “wrapping around you”:

Upstate New York (Photo: Michael Willems)

…then you need to know about your flash’s wide angle diffuser.

This is the piece of plastic that you can pull out, that looks like a diffuser:

It looks like a diffuser, but it is not. All it does is make the light go to a wider angle, when you are using a lens wider than the flash’s internal zoom mechanism can handle. Else, you would get vignetting.

When you shoot with a lens wider than around 24mm (on full frame), you need it to ensure the entire picture is lit. Like in this 16mm (on full frame) image, the sign would not be lit if I had not used the adapter.

Upstate New York (Photo: Michael Willems)

But here comes tip 2: you can also choose not not use it, when shooting with a wide lens. This might be a good choice if you want vignetting, or if you are short of power, like on a sunny day, and your subject is in the middle. Then why waste power lighting up the side?



Open wide

My friend Peter McKinnon, of, visited me tonight.

Peter is a very talented international photographer (and magician, as it happens: a skill that comes in handy during some of the wedding he shoots, I bet).

Peter and I share a love of wide angle lenses. Like the 14mm f/2.8 lens he shoots with – a lens that is on my wish list. Look at Peter here, holding that lens – all that glorious glass:

Peter shoots with this lens very often, even where others would shy from a wide lens – and I do not blame him: it is wonderful, rectilinear, and very, very sharp (especially when stopped down).

So – something to explain. Why do I say “some would shy away”?

Because some people think wide angle lenses distort.

So do they? Depends.

  • If you mean “make straight lines into curves” – a good lens is rectilinear. Meaning straight lines remain straight. So in that sense: no distortion.
  • Very wide lenses are, however, not entirely sharp at the very edge – in that sense, yes, some distortion, if you will.
  • What they do do is show perspective from the point of view. And if I get close to something, the scene will look dramatic in the corners and at the edges This is not, strictly speaking, distortion. It is showing me basic geometry. If I am one inch away from your nose, your nose will look extra big – that is not distortion, it is reality.

Regardless, for the last two reasons above you should avoid putting important objects at edges and in corners:

But provided you avoid that, a wide lens will work great:

That sense of space, of the subject being surrounded by his environment, is typical of extra wide angle lenses.

Another note. Prime lenses enforce discipline. Instead of zooming, you must move or turn.

And you have to get close. When people are reluctant to use wide lenses, it is because they are reluctant to get close to people. A wide lens forces you to get close – which is a good thing. Photographers need to interact with their subjects.

So I encourage you to go wide. Meaning as wide as 8-20 on a crop camera (equivalent to 14-35mm on a full-frame camera) – that sort of range.

And have fun!


Wide means deep

“Wide angle means deep depth of field”. Meaning, a wide angle lens makes everything sharp, from close to far.

That’s true, but as this image of my friend and colleague Joseph Marranca shows,  it is not quite all there is to be said:

Even with a 16mm lens you can create selective depth of field, by:

  1. Using the lens open (this was at f/4)
  2. Getting close to the subject that is closest.

You see, it is the ratio between close and far that counts. If the far subject is twice as far as the closest subject, then both will be sharp. But if the far subject is, say, twenty times as far as the closest subject, then it’s a different story: you can get the far subject blurred.

And getting it 20 times farther can be done in two ways: move it farther, or move the closest subject closer.  Or get closer to it. And that is why, and how, this works.

Open wide

Wide angle lenses tend to be under-appreciated by amateur photographers. “Surely to get a good photo you need to have a long lens: the longer the better!”

No, not so. A wide angle lens (say, a 10-20mm lens on a crop camera, or a 16-35mm lens on a full-frame camera) allows for interesting pictures.

Wide lenses are great for creative reasons:

  • You get depth, three-dimensionality – we call that “close-far” technique.
  • You get leading lines, strong diagonals.
  • You can make great “environmental” portraits, with a person surrounded; enveloped, as it were, by their environment.

And for technical reasons:

  • It is easy to focus “everywhere:”: depth of field is extensive.
  • It is easy to use slow shutter speeds without motion blur (rough guideline: a 15mm lens can be used at 1/15th second, while a 200mm lens needs 1/200th second).

If I were to have to choose one lens (admittedly this would have to be with a gun to my head: life is not that simple) – but if I had to choose one lens, then I would choose the wide angle zoom as my lens of choice.