Photography Tip - look closer

Sometimes finding an amazing subject is very easy and obvious, like when you are around Mt. Fuji for example.  However, many interesting subjects go totally unseen if one does not make an effort to look closer.  Passing by this tree in South Straub Park I peeked inside a hole on the trunk (as I am apt to do on all trees) to find a small branch (or plant?) growing inside it.  This was a nice surprise.  By looking closer I found a very unexpected subject to photograph.  From the normal photo view of the tree above you can see how easy it would be to just walk right on by without ever seeing it.  This was actually the second time I found such a small plant growing inside a hole in a tree, so I knew from past experience to always peek inside trees for potential hidden wonders.

The final shot I made of this look closer hidden subject going back with a proper macro lens.I actually had to go back a second time to photograph the hidden leaves properly because the first time I only had a wide angle lens with me.  I went back with a proper macro lens and made the above shot.

On your next photo walk be sure and look closer to find surprising photography subjects.  Let me know what you find in the comments below.

Photography Tip - which lens do I use?

These are 3 of my own lenses, how do I choose which one to shoot with?My photography students often ask me, "which lens should I use?"  To me that question does not make much sense because there is usually no question about which lens to use.  Plus, without a lot more information, the question cannot even be answered.  The real problem is that many people start by asking which lens, or which settings should I use instead of starting with, what is the subject?  That is the question that needs to be asked first and answering it makes which lens to use usually pretty obvious.

Once you determine your subject, then simply choose the lens that fits that subject within the framing you want.  If you want to photograph some friends in your living room, it does not make much sense to use a 70-200mm lens does it as you will not be able to fit everyone in the frame.  Likewise, if you want to photograph a mountain top in the distance, using a 17-50mm lens does not make much sense as you will hardly even be able to see the intended subject in the frame.  

So what your subject is, and how much of your subject you want to get in the frame, dictates which lens you should shoot with.  

Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens St. Petersburg Florida

Ovation condos in St. Petersburg Florida given the miniature treatment by a tilt-shift lens - Canon 5D Mark III with Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L lens @ f/4 ISO 100 1/400thA recent client requested the use of a very specialized lens, the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L tilt-shift lens.  As this lens costs $4,000 and I am a Nikon shooter, I used the very easy to use borrowlenses.com to rent both that lens and a Canon 5D Mark III body.  I rented them for three days so before I had to ship that gear back, I had a chance to roam the rooftops of a couple of parking garages in downtown St. Petersburg to make some of the miniature looking shots you can do with a tilt-shift lens.

Al Lang Stadium tilt-shift style St. Petersburg, Florida - Canon 5D Mark III with Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L lens @ f/4 ISO 100 1/800thA tilt-shift lens is actually a rather tricky piece of gear to use.  A couple of things to know about them:  1.) manual focus only  2.) the meter does not work while tilted or shifted

Standing in the middle of Beach Drive NE to get this shot - Canon 5D Mark III with Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L lens @ f/4 ISO 100 1/200thA tilt-shift lens allows you to photograph buildings without them looking like they are tipping over.  If you tilt the lens opposite of that purpose, however, especially when shooting from high up, then the subjects look tiny.

Unusual DoF from a tilt-shift lens in St. Petersburg Florida - Canon 5D Mark III with Canon TS-E f/4L lens @ f/4 ISO 100 1/500thThe whole lens itself rotates on the camera mounting, so you can tilt the lens not just up and down but also side-to-side.  This allows creating vertical DoF as seen in the above shot with a strip alone the lines of the seawall being the only part of the photograph in focus.  

Photography Tip - subject dictates lens dictates aperture

If you find yourself thinking, which lens should I use?  Or if you are thinking, which aperture should I use?  Well, I suggest first thinking about what subject are you going to photograph.  I have lenses with the following focal lengths:  17-50mm, 50mm, 105mm, and 80-200mm.  Each one is very good at photographing different subjects.  After all, why have lenses that largely overlap in purpose?  Since I have these different lenses, how do I know which one to use?  And with what aperture?  I decide this by thinking of the subject first.  I phrase it like this:

subject dictates lens --> lens dictates aperture

Using the above image as a reference, if my subject was a single person for a headshot, that dictates to me I want to use my 80-200mm lens (pictured) and when I use that lens, I most often use it at f/5.6 (read this photography tip for more on which aperture for which lens).  In that way my subject dictates everything I need to know for making the shot as far as which lens & which aperture.  

Likewise, if my subject was a landscape, that would then dictate that I use my 17-50mm lens and that lens dictates that I most often want to use an aperture of f/11.  

So my advice is to always think of your subject first, then think which lens is best for that, and then for each lens you have you know which aperture you like to shoot at with it.  If you only have one lens, or a lens with a wide focal range of 18-200mm for example, you can still use the same process, just instead subject dictates lens dictates aperture, it would be subject dictates focal range dictates aperture.  I would think of the lens then as an 18-50mm and a 50mm-200mm in that regard.

Photography Tip - Which Aperture with which lens?

When I put a lens on my DSLR, I already have an idea of which aperture I want to use because I know which aperture is usually best for that particular lens.  I may of course fine tune that aperture, or I may be shooting an unusual subject matter for that lens, but in general I start at these apertures for these lenses.


  • 18-50mm lens --> f/11
  • 70-200mm lens --> f/5.6
  • 50mm lens --> f/2.8

So if you are looking for a good default aperture to start shooting with when using a particular lens, the apertures above are what I recommend.