A process of observation.       

Salmon Arm

Street rest art

Town sculpture

Shuswap Lake

Pier view

Dragon boat

Lakeside residents

Smugglers love

My wife, Linda, has been wanting to really put her new 135mm lens to the test.   Even though the 135mm focal length is normally used for portraitures, she wanted to give it a roadside work out and suggested we take a short drive. We decided a morning drive along the meandering South Thompson River ending in Salmon Arm, just short of an hour away, for coffee and some photographs.

The British Columbia city of Salmon Arm with it’s unique, picturesque downtown and what residents claim to be the longest, curved wooden wharf in North America is located on the Shuswap Lake, midway between Calgary and Vancouver on the Trans-Canada Highway. The lakeside city also became infamous in August of 1982 when then Canadian Premier Pierre Trudeau raised his middle finger at protesters from his seat inside a private rail car.

When I’m not making portraits I prefer zoom lenses. Using a multi-focal length lens when photographing buildings and other features that one finds along a busy city street makes photography easy to do because it’s simple to crop out people, cars and other unwanted elements. Nevertheless, Linda wanted to use her 135mm and I decided to follow suit and brought my 105mm.

We wandered the downtown photographing anything that caught our attention. It was Sunday and most shops were closed and the streets, other than a couple of people walking to the grocery store or, like us, driving to Tim Horton’s for coffee, were almost empty.

It was a perfect day to walk around, and there was plenty of room to step backwards on to the street or move around in front of shops with our prime lenses. We spent a leisurely hour or so just taking pictures in town before driving to the lakeside park to sit in the shade, take in the view, and talk about our pictures.

My preference would have been to use my 24-86mm and although Linda really liked the 135mm, she wished I had brought along her 70-300mm. However, we both thought using the long prime lenses was a good exercise. Placing a subject and composing the final image took longer than just zooming the lens length forwards or back. Our fixed focal length lenses required that we had to physically move about to get the image we desired. There was also a change in perspective because of the mid-range of our lenses.

I have been trying to think of some words that would sum up our experience. Maybe American documentary photographer and author, Elliott Erwitt, got the closest to what I was experiencing when he wrote, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Perhaps our exercise wasn’t so much, “an art of observation” as it was an “act of observation”.

Thinking about, Just what is a Great Lens for Portraiture

Model 1,   Danielle, 24-120lens at 105mm  Ms. Perault

This past week a friend of mine dropped off his lens for me to try. After talking about the lens’ quality, he added that it was a great lens for portraiture. Now there is a lingering question, “What is a great lens for portraiture?”

Although I hadn’t given his Tokina 50 -135mm a run through yet, I expected he was right regarding it being a good portrait lens.  On my cropped sensor camera the lens would have an effective focal length of approximately 75-202mm.

I mentioned this to another photographer, and he paused for a moment, and then said, “Oh, it acts like a 75-202”. I realized he had no idea what “focal length” meant and although I didn’t go into it at that moment, I’ll mention for those few readers that aren’t familiar with the long used photographic term. A lens’ focal length refers to the distance between the imaging plane, or the sensor, and the point where all light rays intersect inside the lens. A longer focal length leads to higher magnification (telephoto) with a narrower angle of view. A shorter focal length lens has less magnification and a wider angle of view.

The longer focal length, as in my friend’s 50 -135mm will have a pleasing effect on a subject because the minimally curved surface of the lens flattens the perspective between the eyes and ears. The wider the focal length is the more the front element (lens glass) is curved making the distance or perspective between the eyes and ears more visible.  A wide angle enlarges the nose and reduces the size of the ears.

Personally, I want as much focal length as I can get. The longer a lens is the better, and my choice then depends the ratio of length to weight, as in my big 70-200mm would be a perfect lens in the studio, but it’s weight becomes a liability when following a couple around at their wedding.

I have heard photographers say that the 50mm lens is a good portrait lens. Well, that’s 70mm on my cropped sensor camera, but still has too much curve in the front element for my comfort. An actual 70mm lens acts like a 105mm on my camera and that’s much nicer.

I can remember going to a Dean Collins’ workshop. I had worked hard to get an invite to one of his limited participant sessions. Collins demonstrated his shooting techniques on both a medium format (2 ¼ in film) and 35mm cameras. He used a 350mm on the medium format, and 300mm on the 35mm, and with the addition of a slide presentation he discussed how the longer lenses flattered the features of those he made portraits.

Information on Dean Collins can be found at: http://strobist.blogspot.ca/2006/08/review-best-of-dean-collins-on.html

A three hundred millimeter lens is spectacular to use for portraits and I think there are lots of fashion photographers that might be using 300mm and longer lenses, but I have to use a tripod or at least a monopod when using longer than 200mm or I have camera shake, so I defer to a lens that is much easier with which to move around. I have used that 50-135mm for some staff portraits I made for a local business and I must say it was fun to use; most of my shots were at 105mm and longer.

I recently read a post by a photographer who stated that only lenses with an aperture of f2.8 or wider were good for portraits, and his reasoning is because the background should always be out of focus.  I don’t really agree with that. A wide aperture just means one can reduce the depth of field. To me it depends on how far away, or how busy the background is, and I know how to control depth of field when required. The length of the lens, and how it affects my subject, is much more important.

A longer focal length, or telephoto lens reduces the effect of lens distortion and helps keep facial features in proportion. The longer lens also creates a more shallow depth of field that helps one’s subject to stand out from the background. I think those photographers that regularly do portraiture all have their preferred lenses that they are comfortable using. Photography is a creative medium and the final answer as to what is the best is up to the photographer and, of course, whether or not the subject is happy with the result.

I always appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographing Eagle’s Nest – An Adventure


Generally, when looking for eagles viewers are peering upwards, and most photographs of eagles are of eagles flying high or perched overhead. So, thinking of all that, it was with excitement that my friend, Walter, and I began a somewhat hazardous climb up a steep, loose, shale-covered hill that would allow us to photograph an eagle’s nest from above.  He had found and climbed to this nest late in the spring about four years ago, but that time he only made a couple of photographic climbs because he thought he might be bothering the eagles.  I was able to photograph it only once and what a great day that was.

Last week Walter and I made the half-hour climb again and we found a position on a ledge where we could watch and photograph the eagles from a distance slightly further away than where we were four years ago.  This year there was one fluffy chick in the nest and although I am sure they were very aware of our presence, with the added distance between them and us, they didn’t seem to be bothered.

Walter brought his Sigma120-400mm and I had my wife’s 150-500mm. Both are big and heavy lenses, but because we followed the old photographers adage, “always select a shutter speed number that matches the focal length” neither of us had a problem handholding our hefty lenses. I know fixed-focal length lenses tend to focus faster and are usually sharper, but for this excursion we both wanted the versatility of multi-focal length (zoom) lenses.

The only difficulty we had was the climb. The shale was loose and we caused small avalanches as we crossed and slipped over the face of the hill. I stepped wide and constantly leaned into the hill and had to watch where I placed my feet seeking stable footing. And looking about, or straightening up, only increased the probability that one would end up bruised some distance down the steep hill with damaged equipment.

When we finally reached our photography perches we sat quietly for a while as our trip up was noisy and we expected we might have agitated the eagles.  After a time we moved to where we each could see the family of eagles, then pressing our eyes against our viewfinders we both began photographing them.

The day was clear and bright, so a sky shot, although dramatic, was always a silhouette. I wanted to show the eagles on the nest, to include parents and the chick, so most of my shots were level or angled downwards. The eagles would sit at the nest for long periods, and then seemingly take turns flying off to perform acrobatics high in the windy sky. Too high to photograph, but amazing to watch all the same and when they did zoom back to the nest I would start releasing the shutter all the time wondering if any of my captures would be usable.

Bird Forum, www.birdforum.net, claims to be the largest birding community, dedicated to wild birds and birding. The advice on photographing birds, by one of the moderators is, “A bird will pretty much let you know if they feel threatened by you so you should let them be your guide… The birds come first. Sometimes your close proximity to a nest can cause the parents to abandon the nest,… close proximity to a nest will only invite other predators to the nest… The best way to photograph birds is to make yourself stationary rather than chase them down. Stay put, you would be amazed at just how close the birds will come to you once they are comfortable”.

It was a great day for both of us; outdoors, fresh air, sun, wildlife, and great pictures to help us remember.  The eagle chick should be full grown by nine weeks, and now that we know we aren’t bothering them we’ll plan another visit shortly.

Be sure to press the “Follow” button.

my website www.enmanscamera.com

How about telephoto Lenses for Scenic Photography


Last summer I wrote an article entitled, “What is the Best Lens for Scenics?” in which I discussed using different focal lengths, depth of field, and the effect upon perspective, however, I left the answer as to the preferred lens for each scenic location to individual photographers. My opinion then, as now, is that it really depends on what a photographer wants to say about a particular scene. I also said that I regularly used lenses such as my 24-120, or 18-200mm, because I like lightweight lenses if I have any distance to walk. Those two lenses offer lots of focal length choices that will allow me to include only whatever I want in a picture.

I thought about these comments earlier this week as I sold my 80-400mm lens.  My discussion with the new owner was mostly about the lens’ functions; its ability to produce sharp images, and how the vibration reduction mode easily allows handholding.  What we hadn’t talked about was what he intended to photograph with his new lens. I assumed he was into wildlife photography, but as we stood in my shop talking he mentioned that he would be going on a bit of a hike this next weekend and hoped it wasn’t going to be too cold. I mentioned that the cold weather might be good because it kept the bighorn sheep down in the valley west of the city. It was then that he said, “ I am mostly into scenics”.

Many photographers are of the opinion that scenic photography is about the landscape and needs to be as much of panorama as possible, and for that purpose, select wide-angle lenses as they trudge into the wilderness. They aren’t so much interested in what elements make up the scene they capture as to what the overall view is.  However, there are those photographers like the fellow who bought my 80-400mm lens that have discovered how to build exciting scenics with telephoto lenses.

A wide-angle lens has a curved front surface allowing for a wider view. The distance between the foreground and background subjects will seem extended, and objects closer to the lens will look much bigger in relation to those in the background. Whereas, with a long-focal-length lens like the 400mm all the elements will be compressed, depth of field reduced, and in the final image no one subject in the photograph gains significance over another.

Maybe it’s the compressed effect that makes scenic photographs made with telephoto lenses sometimes stand out, and I think the photograph is more dependent on how things front to back are placed. There seems to be more subject selection, or in artistic terms, a more specific visual discussion.

I don’t believe that every scenic photograph needs to be a wide landscape. I do, however, believe that successful scenic photographs need to say something and follow the rules of composition.

Using 300mm or 400mm telephoto lenses almost demands that a photographer slows down, and thinks about what one sees through the viewfinder as the image is composed. I am not saying that one can’t do that with a wide-angle lens, only that it is harder with a tight, cropped, limiting, and enlarged view from a long-focal-length telephoto lens.

If we think that the majority of successful scenic images are those that were photographed from the most interesting view, or where one sets the camera for the most pleasing perspective, why not try the longest focal length lens available, and take the time to move the viewfinder around to fill the frame while maintaining all the rules of composition?