Friday, June 5, 2009

Lenses for travel photography

I love it when people ask me questions - saves me having to rack my brain about what to write about! :) B asked a question on yesterday's post about lenses for travel photography. She mentioned the fact that lenses are expensive so she wanted to buy the right one.

The lens is, without a doubt, the most important bit of equipment you will own. Now I know that's a pretty bold statement but the camera really is just a box with buttons. Yes some have more megapickles and some have better noise and faster shutter speeds and blah, blah, blah. But at the end of the day that all means zip if your images aren't sharp, punchy and full of life. And a good lens will do that for you (everything else being equal).

The first thing you need to do is think about focal length. If you pop on over to the little Search box on the right hand side there and type in something like telephoto vs wide-angle you'll find a heap of posts I've written on these types of lenses and their different use.

You need to know what kind of things you like to shoot and make your lens choice from there. No point buying an expensive macro lens if you really don't feel like photographing little things.

It might seem a good option to go for a lens that does everything. A super zoom that covers from like 18mm all the way through to 200mm. These are nice, light lenses perfectly suited for travel photography but there is a trade-off in quality. I'm sure you all knew it but no one-fit all is going to do everything for you if your aim is to get the best you can.

In terms of having a sharper image you would be better going for two or three lenses to cover the same range. Bulkier? Sure is. More expensive? Most likely? Better quality? Without a doubt. And with the resolution of digital cameras going up and up these days you're not making full use of your sensor if you're not using really good optics.

Once you've worked out the focal length you want there are a few other things to consider. Do I want a zoom or fixed focal lenth? For most travel photography you would probably be better off with a zoom (a personal opinion anyway) just because it gives you the ability to frame pictures really quickly in situations where you can't move for whatever reason.

If you decide on a zoom you need to decide if you're going to shoot it in low-light, or whether you like the really shallow depth-of-field look. If you do then be prepared to hit the wallet because fast f2.8 zoom lenses are expensive, bulky and heavy. But the images are beautiful. An alternative might be to choose a slightly slower aperture - say f4. Any slower will mean that in low light you will have to bump up your ISO to get fast enough shutter speeds to handhold the lens. Of course vibration reduction (image stabilisation or whatever the manufacturer calls it) can help a lot but you'll still have slow shutter speeds which doesn't help with moving subjects.

Another alternative is fast fixed focal length lenses. The old standard 50mm is a favourite - especially when you put it on a crop-DSLR to make it an 80mm or so.

So in short my answer to B would be to figure out exactly what you want to shoot. That should tell you the focal length you're going to need. Once you know the focal length then my advice would be to buy the fastest (largest aperture f2.8, f4) lens your budget will allow. Don't restrict yourself to only your camera manufacturer's brand because independent lens companies make excellent lenses.

When you've settled on to a lens you're interested in head on over to a site like DPReview or Photo Net and see what the forums have to say.

For the record I use four lenses - all Canon. A 10-22mm f3.5 - f4.5 wide-angle, a 28-70mm f2.8, a 70-200mm f2.8 and a 400mm f5.6. I don't always carry all of them with me because when I do I need to go to the gym for a few days beforehand to work up to it! But I do use all of them regularly. Hope this helps B and if anybody else has a question about anything please feel free to post them in the comments.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Why you need to keep your camera out of the bag

If you work in photographic situations where you know exactly what is going to happen and when then I'll forgive you if you leave your camera in its bag.

But who of us can guarantee that? If you like to walk around and take photographs of your surroundings, then the difference between having your camera out and fumbling for it in your bag...well it will most likely be the difference between getting the shot and not.

My two boys were playing on this unusually designed slide in a park called Moerenuma. It's a massive playground, with a giant water fountain which spurts water 25 metres into the air at its heart. The whole area was designed by the famous Japanese sculptor Isamu Nogouchi and is filled with weird and wonderful structures all designed to be played on.

Anyway I was just sitting around, watching my boys play on the slide when this guy rode right in front of me. I only just noticed him because I was actually looking at something in the opposite direction. So I quickly brought the camera up to my eye and got off one frame before he was out of view. He's not even pin sharp because I didn't have time to focus and the focus was already set on the slide in the background.

But how cool is it? A really funky slide, in front of which happens to ride an old Japanese guy on a chopper style, bright red bicycle with American flags all over it. It was just so bizarre that I was happy just to get this one shot, despite its obvious imperfections. Had I had the camera in the bag I never would have got the shot and I would have to have told you the story about the great shot that got away. Keep your camera out!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dealing with crowds

As a travel photographer you will often find yourself amongst a horde of tourists. That's just the nature of the beast. We tend to end up at the same places because they're famous and beautiful and photogenic.

Asahiyama Zoo is one such place. It's Japan's most popular zoo - which is pretty incredible considering it's in the middle of absolutely nowhere, smack bang in the middle of Japan's least populated main island, Hokkaido.

It was never really famous until the directors took the brave step of re-designing the entire zoo to make it as interactive as possible. And, as you can see here, it's pretty damn interactive. Here in the seal enclosure they have a plexiglass tunnel that goes down through the main viewing area and the seals swim through here constantly, much to the delight of the point and shoot armed masses.

As a photographer we have to wait for something good to happen. The gods to align the elements so that somebody photogenic is in the right place at the moment the seal comes down. So this means standing around and waiting. I do this a lot. Which means that there's always a swirl of people moving around me.

As much as possible my main aim is not to get in the way of anybody else. After all they have as much right to be there as me, and I'm probably being pretty cheeky by getting in the way. But I'm also conscious that I really want to get a good shot and do the whole experience justice. So I stand my ground as much as possible.

If I see there's nobody interesting in sight and nothing is likely to happen for a little while I let everybody go in front of me. Then when somebody photogenic comes along (like the little girl with the pink dress) I slowly edge my way forward until I'm at the front of the crowd where I want to be and just sit and wait.

The balance to find is to be determined to get the shot but not get angry at anybody, or push anybody out of the way. You kind of need to be a camera ninja. Get into the right position without anybody really noticing you've done it. Often I find that if I have my cameras out people will get out the way and beckon me forward anyway. A little bit of good feeling and a lot of smiling can get you where you need to be to wait for things to happen. And if they don't? Well it's not the end of the world and there are a million other photographs waiting for you just around the corner.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Monday's Link

Well I figure in this day and age we could all do with a laugh. The scenarios in this video are things you hear nearly every day when you're a photographer - or any other kind of creative for that matter I imagine. Only when you think about it, it's all a bit ridiculous.

Vendor Client Relationships

Mark Focus

Pay The Writer

Enjoy the laughs. Only you might want to turn the sound down on the last one - there's a few expletive deletives in there!