Tag Archives: zoom

Welcome to My Playground


This is the title that I gave to the photograph which I posted in Flickr. I chose the word playground to portray fun and joy. For me, fun should always come first in photography.

But what does it take to capture such a simple photograph?

The main ingredient is light. Photography, afterall, means painting with light. Not just light intensity or brightness but the quality of light as well. In landscape photography, there are two choices: dawn or dusk. Anything in between is just a variation of the word CRAP. Dawn and dusk have different qualities of light. When you are in the east coast and facing east, dawn will give you a warm orange light while dusk gives a cooler magenta glow. If you are in the west, it’s the opposite. Depending on your location or the time of year, you can have both at the same time. The photo below was taken at dawn as well but notice the magenta tint:


Shooting at dawn has several advantages compared to dusk. People are generally too lazy to wake up early which means you have the entire spot all to yourself. No distractions. For those who have day jobs it means you can still shoot during weekdays especially during summer where a typical session ends around 5:30AM. You’ll be home before the rest of your household is awake.

Dusk sessions have advantages as well. You can shoot longer even up until blue hour kicks in and get nice long exposures. Cityscapes look fantastic when artificial lights turn on.

Anyway, let’s concentrate on the first photo. I woke up at around 3:30AM to prepare myself. My friend’s house is still a 20-minute drive to my place where we agreed to meet. While waiting for him, I started putting on my ski gear because it was just 6 degrees outside. I checked the weather report again to make sure that our target location is free of any weather disturbances. If we suspect heavy clouds then we may need to divert to Cedar Creek instead to capture the waterfalls. The day before, I already knew the tide pattern so Point Halloran was the perfect spot. The tide will be high enough to give us some reflections but low enough such that the small boats won’t move. Timing should be perfect. If the tide comes in too quick before sunrise then our plans are ruined.

My friend arrived around 4:20AM. That’s the advantage of shooting in winter. The sun rises at 6:30AM so we didn’t have to wake up that early. During summer we usually start driving at 3:00 AM for a 5:00AM sunrise. Anyway, we left for Point Halloran and arrived at around 5:45AM. Being on location 45 minutes before sunrise is just right. One hour would be ideal so that you can scout the area. Because we were “late”, we had to rush and start shooting whatever subject we could find.

Let’s talk about equipment. A tripod is essential. Don’t leave home without it. A torch is very handy so you can find your way in the dark. I also brought my gummy boots because I know that the location is quite muddy. My trusty Pentax K5 is fully charged with the initial ISO set to 200 and configured to capture RAW plus JPG. I only have one lens: a cheap Sigma 17-70 which you could buy brand new for a little over $300. I had a cheap 0.9 GND filter attached to a knock-off filter holder. Don’t bother using a UV filter; it’s the most useless accessory you could buy for your lens. Use a proper lens cover instead and a lens hood if you are concerned about scratching your lens. Now that I have enumerated my gear, the point is that ANY camera and kit lens will do. There is absolutely no need for expensive gear in landscape photography.

So what did actually happen when I captured this moment? I was taking photos of a boat that was docked along the muddy shore. I was shooting wide at 17mm, aperture set to f16 and manually focused to 7 feet with exposure compensation set to +1. I was about to change position when I saw my friend about 20 meters away taking photos along the edge of the water. I immediately recognized the photo opportunity. I quickly opened my aperture to f11 and zoomed in to 70mm which was the longest my lens could go. It was just long enough to get a nice compression. I also had to raise my tripod to avoid his silhouette from merging with the horizon. I immediately thought about my composition. I had him positioned on the left third of the frame with the silhouette of the shoreline going from the bottom of the frame towards the horizon. The horizon was placed high enough but also making sure that my friend’s reflection is positioned nicely along the lower third of the frame. I then set my camera to autofocus and shifted the focus sensor to point at my friend. This was the quickest way to focus at infinity. Unlike older lenses that lock into infinity, modern (crippled) lenses don’t do this. Instead they focus past infinity and completely ruin your shot. Knowing that it’s going to be a silhouette shot, I dialed exposure compensation down to -0.5 to make the colors pop and darken the darkest blacks. I did one last peek to check my shutter speed and noticed that it wasn’t fast enough. So I shouted at him “Wag kang gumalaw!”, which is Filipino for “Don’t move!”. I pressed the shutter and my timer automatically started the 2-second countdown. Just before the timer expired, the camera flipped the mirror into a lock up position before finally opening the shutter curtain to capture the image. All of these happened in about 15-20 seconds. I chimped to confirm that the camera did what it was supposed to do and told my friend that he can continue whatever he was doing…after thanking him of course for being a cooperative model 🙂

I would like to emphasize the importance of an inexpensive kit lens here. Had I used an ultrawide lens, I would not have been able to capture this shot. Those distant mountains would have disappeared in an ultrawide lens and the horizon would have merged with my subject unless I shot from a very high position. If I brought a prime lens, I may had to swap lenses thus totally missing the opportunity or walked very slowly in the mud towards or away from the subject just to frame him correctly. Your kit lens is good enough for just about anything.

We started packing up at around 7AM with several keepers safely stored in our cameras.

Post processing is easy when you have done the difficult part of capturing the moment. A simple curves adjustment to enhance the contrast was enough. I did not crop at all. This is how it showed up in the LCD. I softened the image a bit to avoid halos along the edges of high contrast portions of the image. This halo effect is an artifact of digital capture. All my digital cameras do this. If you want to avoid this artifact, shoot film.

What do I like about this shot? I like the silhouette figures. The silhouette of the shoreline added depth to an otherwise flattened image that was brought about by the mid telephoto zoom. The main subject of course is shown here in a position typical of landscape photographers; bent over holding a leash to make sure that their cameras don’t run away. The mix of warm colors and cool blue foreground was a welcome surprise. I liked it a lot so I put my stamp of approval on the lower right portion of the frame 🙂

Allow me to summarize this post:

1. Light is everything.
2. Shoot at dawn/sunrise or dusk/sunset. Anything in between is crap unless you have something very special in the frame.
3. Preparation will consume most of your time.
4. You have to think fast and react just as fast. Which means …
5. Know your camera. Pick one that does not get in the way. You should be able to operate it even in complete darkness.
6. You do not need expensive equipment for landscape photography.
7. Laziness will get you nowhere.

For lessons on lens compression and zoom factor please refer to my previous tutorials:

Understanding your lens

Zoom factor

Advertisements

Understanding Your Lens (Part 2)

This is the second installment of the Understanding Your Lens series of tutorials. If you have not read the  first part I suggest that you go through it otherwise this lesson will be a bit tricky to comprehend.

Part one discussed the effects of varying focal lengths in terms of lens compression; how a wide angle lens seem to make  the background more distant while a telephoto lens brings the background closer. This is a very important concept in understanding this next topic which is crop factor.

Technically, crop factor is not a feature of the lens but of the camera sensor. You are probably familiar with the different digital sensor formats. We have the full frame sensor which has the same size as a 35mm film frame, the APS-C sensor which is approximately 2/3 the size of a full frame and the 4/3rds format which is 1/2 the full frame size.

Full frame cameras include the Nikon D700/D800 and the Canon 5D series and most high end versions from both manufacturers. Sony also has full frame cameras, the A800 and A900. APS-C sensor cameras are the most common. Examples are the Nikon D300/D7000/D5000, Canon 7D/60D/600D, Sony A77/A65/A55 and Pentax K5/K30/K7. Then we have the 4/3rds format like the Olympus E-5/E-P3/OM-D and the Panasonic G/GF series.

Different sensor sizes generally require different types of lenses. In the case of Nikon we have FX for full frame and DX for APS-C. With Canon, EF lenses are for full frame and EF-S are for APS-C. A full frame lens will work with an APS-C sensor but not the other way around (although there are still exceptions).

A common source of confusion is in what photographers call the lens zoom factor. You have probably heard of a normal 50mm full frame lens becoming a mid telephoto (75mm) when attached to an APS-C sensor camera or why you should get a 35mm lens instead if you want a “normal” lens because your camera uses a crop sensor or how a 200mm lens magically becomes a 300mm.

What exactly is this zoom factor?

Zoom is used incorrectly in this context. The lens actually remains the same. A 50mm is still a 50mm no matter which type of sensor it is attached to. What this means is that the effects of lens compression does NOT change. The perceived distance between the foreground and the background remains the same for the same focal length. There is no zoom at all.

Let’s use the same (crappy) shot that I took in part one. This is a full frame shot of Thomas the tank engine:

Image

If the same scene is captured by the same focal length at the same distance to subject by a crop sensor camera, this is how it will look like:

Image

At first sight, it seems that you have magically zoomed in. Well not really. Have a closer look at the perceived distance between Thomas and the house. It is exactly the same. The same amount of lens compression is taking place. The “zoom” is purely an illusion. A fake zoom produced by the smaller sensor’s tighter field of view. The “zoom” is a side effect of the cropped sensor.

So again, zoom factor is a misnomer.

A common follow up question is, so which one is better, a full frame or a crop sensor camera?

There are advantages to using a crop sensor camera:

1. Lenses are sharpest at the center and gradually become softer around the edges. Crop sensors utliize only the center of the lens thus producing generally sharper images compared to full frame cameras.

2. Lenses designed for crop sensors are smaller because they only have to cover a smaller image circle.

3. For the same field of view and aperture, crop sensor lenses/cameras have greater depth of field. This is a huge advantage for landscape, low light and macro photography where focus is very important. For example, while a full frame camera might require f5.6 at ISO 6400 to shoot a concert while keeping all the band members in focus, a micro 4/3rds camera can shoot the same scene at f2.8 ISO 1600 thus producing much cleaner images. In macro photography, full frame cameras will stop down to f16 or f22 but a micro 4/3rds can shoot at f8 or f11 respectively for the same depth of field therefore gaining two stops of light advantage.

Of course there are disadvantages for using crop sensor lenses as well. If shallow depth of field is your thing, full frame is the way to go. Full frame cameras also offer bigger, brighter view finders which to me is very very important. Bigger sensors generally produce cleaner images at the same resolution because of the larger sensel dot pitch.

So let me summarize everything:

1. There is no such thing as zoom factor. It does not exist. It is purely an illusion.

2. A 50mm lens is a 50mm lens no matter which camera it is attached to. The same lens compression is produced. The perceived distance between foreground and background remains the same.

3. Full frame and crop sensor cameras have their own advantages and disadvantages. What matters is whether you understand the implications and whether you can fully utilize those in your photography.