Business & Education

Lens Love

A photographer is only as good as their creative toolkit, and that includes their lens of choice. Newcomers to the world of photography may be a little hesitant on committing to one lens, curious to explore the full spectrum before settling down – and if that’s you, we’re about to break it down to make your search for the perfect lens a little easier. First things first.
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Focal Length

Focal length is measured in millimetres and describes the zoom capabilities of a lens, with a higher number meaning bigger zoom – whereas a lower focal length is better suited to wide shots. Put simply, the higher your lens’ focal length, the less you will be able to capture – and the closer you’ll be able to get.

Maximum Aperture

Maximum aperture, measured in f-stops, refers to the maximum amount of light gathered by your lens – with larger maximum apertures capable of letting in much more light. Your maximum aperture can be used in low-light contexts and produces a shallower depth of field, creating an image where only your focal point is shown in crisp focus.

tony-howell

 “The thing to remember about depth-of-field is that when you’re looking through your lens you’re seeing everything at the smallest f-number the lens has (could be f/4 or f/5.6). This is the way cameras work – they only close the lens down to your chosen aperture during the split second after you’ve pressed the shutter. This lesson is only important for medium-long lenses (50mm to 500mm range), as they have a much shallower depth of field.

So imagine you’re looking at a flower above through your viewfinder with a long lens setting. If you focus on the flower, the background will look nicely blurred as in the left-hand image, because your long lens will show you it at the smallest f-number the lens has (could be f/4 or f/5.6). But watch out – if you have your aperture set at f/16 or f/22, you’ll see the flower image on the left, take the picture and walk away – then when you get home, you’ll notice that you actually ended up with the picture on the right! If you wanted the picture on the left, you’d have had to change the aperture to the smallest f-number the lens has (could be f/4 or f/5.6).

This is why I always emphasise this when teaching landscape photography – check your screen after every shot! So to recap, your camera doesn’t act like a ‘what you see is what you get’ when you have a medium-long lens on. Check your screen carefully and re-take if necessary.”

Tony Howell, tonyhowell.co.uk

The Wide Angle Lens

Wide angle lenses generally have a focal length of 24-35mm – available as either primes or zooms, and with either a fixed or variable maximum aperture. The wide angle lens, as you might expect, gives you a significantly wider field of view, and can achieve a particularly low minimum focusing distance – ideal for those up close and personal shots.

Subject: This one’s all about the background, so buildings, landscapes and group shots are a breeze with a wide angle lens. Or for a unique portrait shot, use wide angle lenses to place your subject in a contextual background.

The Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens generally has a focal length beyond 70mm – some even surpassing 135mm – offering an incredibly narrow field of view. This makes them perfect for capturing faraway subjects and finer details, bringing distant objects closer and compressing the sense of distance between various components. The narrow depth of field afforded by a telephoto lens allows your central subject to stay in focus, while both the foreground and background remain blurry.

Subject: Ideal for sports and wildlife photography where you’d struggle to get up close and personal with your subject, as well as portraits and landscapes in need of a sense of relative scaling.

“Definitely spend as much as you can – glass is so much more important than sensors! My go-to lens would have to be the 50mm f1.4. I love the soft look that you get from prime lenses and I could shoot pretty much a whole wedding on that one lens. One of the great advantages of working with prime lenses is that you zoom with your feet and this discipline really makes you feel at one with your equipment and knowing what its strengths and limitations are. I generally shoot at f2 – f2.8 for most things so this again gives a distinct look that works beautifully for portraiture.”

Stu Cooper, cooper-photography.co.uk

The Macro Lens

Macro lenses are capable of production ratios beyond 1:1, meaning your subjects can be photographed to scale. The term ‘macro’ is generally attributed to any lens used for extreme close-ups, with a focal length of 40-200mm. With macro, photographers can achieve an exceptional level of sharpness and detail, although with a lesser depth of field than other lenses – meaning very little of the image will be in focus.

Subject: The macro lens’ close-up capabilities make it ideal for nature and wildlife photography, as well as portraits – credited by their ability to enhance subjects with their superior sharpness ideal focal length.

The Fisheye Lens

Less conventional than telephoto or macro lenses, fisheyes are essentially ultra-wide angle lenses, capable of some powerful visual distortion – producing a hemispherical or panoramic image. Lines of perspective are bent spectacularly with a fisheye lens, giving your subject a trademark convex look. The fisheye lens generally has a focal length of 8-10mm for circular images, or 15-16mm for a full frame image.

Subject: Originally known as “whole-sky lenses”, fisheyes are capable of capturing an immense field of view – making them an offbeat but legitimate choice for street, landscape and art photography – as well as being a favourite among scientific photographers when capturing the heavens.

“The one type of lens that had the greatest impact on my photography and how I see structure in the world was the shift lens.

Many assume that you can ‘fix’ image geometry perfectly well in Photoshop afterwards. Well, you can to some extent, but it misses the advantage of being able to accurately compose your images, or being able to take multiple shots and simply stitch them for wider coverage.

There are two sorts of architectural photographers: those who understand shift lenses, and those who want to be an architectural photographer.

For more information, see this introduction to tilt and shift lenses.”

Keith Cooper, northlight-images.co.uk

 

With the help of the right equipment, combined with a trained artistic eye, photographers can excel in in any medium and begin to develop a style that suits their approach and perfectly complements their skillset.

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