Photographer: Events, Weddings, Portraits – Austin, Texas

Posts tagged “photo tips

Which Digital SLR Should I Buy?

I’ve had several friends recently ask me the following question:

Can you recommend a good digital SLR camera to start out with (as a newbie to photography)?

So I thought it might be fun to blog about the subject. I’m certainly not the expert on the subject but I do feel that I have some good information that I can share from the experiences I’ve had as a photographer.

About 10 years ago I started planning my first trip abroad (to the United Kingdom: England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales) and started asking myself what kind of camera I should take. I knew very little about photography at the time and didn’t know where to start. I mentioned my problem to a friend who quickly begin diagramming how a single lens reflex camera (SLR) works and explaining the possibilities of cameras to me. And before my eyes a whole new world had opened up.

My friend eventually persuaded me that I needed to take along a SLR camera for my epic, once-in-a-lifetime trip to the U.K.; unfortunately, I didn’t have the money needed for the camera that was needed. But as luck would have it, my parents had hidden away an old camera that I could learn on. The camera I’d be using was an early 1980s Pentax ME-Super – a sturdy, well made 35 mm film camera that was capable of taking very good photos.  So I set out to learn how to use it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, you may be asking yourself, “I don’t even have a camera yet! Which one should I buy?” And that’s going to be the million dollar question for you. Only you can determine which camera is best for you. I can tell you this: you will probably go through more than one camera while learning if you are somewhat serious about learning photography. The good news is that you don’t have to buy an expensive camera to take good photos. If you visit your local book and magazine store you’ll find tons of magazines promoting the latest cameras and equipment. But you don’t need what’s in these magazines. What you need right now is to develop some skills and understanding of photography.


Photographed with Canon EOS 30D Digital SLR



Now, I’m not going to make a recommendation that new photographers should have to start out using film or slide film like I did. Here’s why. Although I have respect for those who use film, to the new photographer it can become a slow guessing game trying to figure out if you exposed the shot correctly or not. It’s no longer necessary to wait until your film is developed to see if you’ve ruined the shot; just simply look at your digital screen after snapping the photo and you can see what went wrong (or what you did so well)! Additionally, you can spend a fortune in developing or film chemical costs, so why do it if it’s not necessary? Now, if you still want to shoot film, go for it; it certainly has it’s rewards.

So what’s the advantage of using an SLR or digital SLR camera over a regular pocket point-and-shoot? Flexibility and precision are the two things that come to mind. SLR cameras allow you to be creative with your subject. Imagine creating a “star trail” photograph with and extended exposure or shooting a sporting event and capturing multiple, successive frames as a football player leaps to catch a ball.

When determining what brand of camera to purchase, I recommend choosing between Canon and Nikon. They are both well regarded cameras that are used by professionals world-wide. Both brands offer a huge selection of lenses and equipment that will likely match the camera that you choose (which will become important later on). Unfortunately, I only know what I read about Nikon, and since I use Canon equipment I will speak to that particular brand. I personally shoot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark ii. Now before you go off to purchase one you need to know that you don’t need a 5D to take great pics. While perusing used equipment on Craig’s List today I found some relatively inexpensive Canon EOS 20Ds, 30Ds and 40Ds (a step down from the 5D) that are a fraction of the cost. These are relatively inexpensive, and from someone who’s owned all of the above mentioned cameras at one time or another, I can tell you they are good cameras that take good pictures.

But, if you have more than $500 to spend and you cannot stomach the idea of used equipment, then you might consider purchasing a new Canon 50D (around $1,000 – November 2010) or one of the Canon Rebel Series cameras (less expensive). Most of the cameras I just mentioned offer lots of great features that you won’t find in a point and shoot, along with superb quality images.


Photographed with Canon EOS 30D Digital SLR



One other tip I can give is to read real people’s reviews of cameras and lenses (yep, you will need a lens too!). I look to Amazon for great, seemingly-genuine reviews on all kinds of stuff, including camera equipment. Many users are eager to share their experience of using a particular camera or gadget. Take advantage of this real feedback.

You really only need one lens to start with and there’s a good likelihood that you’ll end up with a “kit lens”. Professionals hate kit lenses because they are usually mass produced, cheaper lenses included as a combo with a camera (and perhaps other stuff). One example of this with Canon is the 18-55 mm lens, which were frequently coupled with Canon’s 20D & 30D, and later dumped on the open market for almost nothing. But I think these lenses are great to learn with and should not be underestimated.

Another lens that you might pickup inexpensively is one of the 50mm prime lenses. These are relatively inexpensive and yet capable of taking your photos to a whole other level of quality (which is what prime lenses do). These also tend to be “faster” lenses, meaning they operate better in low light, which you’ll appreciate soon enough.

If you have some money to throw at lenses and you don’t want to go the cheap route, then don’t. Purchase Canon’s L-series lenses (I’m sure Nikon has something similar), which are considered professional because they typically are faster lenses which provide higher quality images. You might change your mind though after you see how much you are going to pay. Bob Atkins has a ton of information about Canon on his website which is great if you want to know more about a series of lenses and cameras.

Ok, so you’re clueless and even more confused. For around $700 (at the moment) you can purchase a brand new Canon EOS Rebel T1i with a 50 mm f1.8 lens (sold separately on Just assume that you’ll want to upgrade in the future, so think long and hard about the camera that you purchase, because you’ll want to make sure that there are good lenses out there that you can couple with it.

Now what do you do once you have your camera? I recommend joining a photo club or taking a class. Getting involved in photography groups and classes puts you in a position to exchange good ideas with others and puts you on the hook to participate in assignments and actually get out there and shoot – which is how you are going to become a better photographer faster. Check out MeetUp to find a group of photographers in your area or take a look at the local community college’s website to determine if they offer non-credit photography classes. Once you get some knowledge and experience under your belt and you decide you want to take it further, contact a professional in your area and ask to assist him/her on one of their shoots.

Don’t forget, with the right knowledge, you can take great photos with just about any camera. Oh, and have fun! That’s what it’s all about, right?!


Photographed with Canon EOS 20D Digital SLR

























Photographed with Canon EOS 20D Digital SLR



What Is Depth Of Field?


Austin, Texas Marriage Certificate


What is Depth of Field (DOF)?

According to DOF is,

“the range of distances along the axis of an optical instrument, usually a camera lens, through which an object will produce a relatively distinct image.” 1

Viewing 2 almost identical images (below paragraph) you can see a demonstration of two very different DOFs. In the top image, moving left to right, you can see that most of the planks in the fence are relatively sharp and in focus throughout the photo. This would be considered a large DOF. In the bottom image only the very center of the image appears to be in focus. The fence planks to the left and right of center are out of focus, creating a shallow DOF. Each image is also labeled with it’s respective aperture (f-stop).


Large Depth Of Field



Small Depth Of Field


In not-so-technical terms DOF is everything that is considered to be “in-focus” or sharp in a captured image or photograph. Consider the two black & white images below…

So what’s going on inside the camera and lens to create these two separate images?

First, we need to quickly understand what aperture means. Without going off on a technical tangent here we know that as a rule of thumb, aperture is determined by how wide the iris of the camera lens opens when the shutter button is pressed (see black and white figure below). Larger apertures (think larger opening, more light) create shallower depths of field; inversely, smaller apertures (think smaller opening, less light) create deeper depths of field. A large aperture where the iris is open very wide might be f-1.2 or f-1.4. An example of a very small aperture might be f-222.


Aperture & Depth Of Field


The primary difference between these two wood fence images is the aperture (f-stop) at which the camera lens is set. Even if we didn’t have the metadata at our fingertips that would tell us the exact aperture that was selected for each photo, we could still hypothesize that the top image was captured at a small aperture (small f-stop), perhaps f-11 or f-15. The bottom image was likely captured at a large aperture (large f-stop), perhaps f-2.0.

Predicting DOF. DOF can be calculated based on three primary factors (and one secondary factor): focal length of lens (50 mm, for example), aperture or f-stop (f 2.0, for example) and subject distance (distance between camera lens and subject). The secondary factor affecting DOF is your camera; different digital cameras have different sensors and components which affect DOF. If you would like to calculate DOF for your camera and lens combination you can easily do so by imputing the three primary factors mentioned above here on the fantastic online DOF calculator graciously provided by Don Fleming of Dofmaster.com3.

Using Don’s DOF calculator I compared two of my favorite lens/camera combinations: the Canon 5D Mark ii + 50 mm prime lens with the Canon 40D + 50 mm prime lens. The factors I used were 50 mm focal length, 2.0 f-stop and 10 ft subject distance. The results:

Canon Camera Lens Focal Length (mm) F-Stop (Aperture) Subject Distance (ft) Calculated Depth of Field (ft)
5D Mark ii 50 2.0 10 1.45
Canon 40D 50 2.0 10 0.91

The differences in DOF from these two examples are significant: 0.14 (ft) [1.45 – 0.91 = 0.14 ft], which is approximately 6-7 inches in difference. I’d rather not cover too much detail here on why and how this works, primarily because I don’t pretend to be an expert in how camera sensors work or in mathematics. For the purposes of this article you only need to know that every digital camera is different and it might be worthwhile for you to bookmark the DOF calculator link for future reference.

So why do we care about DOF?

DOF and blurring created in any image is subjective and will vary from one photographer to another. Where art and science collide there can be no one rule that is never broken. In many cases photographers simply photograph a subject or event in a way that they choose to interpret it, regardless of whether another person may like the image that is captured. My rule (in general) is for the foreground to be in focus and background to blur. However there are always exceptions and the rule of universal appeal supersedes everything else; Can I answer “yes” to the question, “does the image have a general appeal about it and is it pleasing to view? Hopefully so.

If you would like more information on DOF check out the Depth of Field Video Tutorial recommended from one of the Adobe Photoshop Bloggers from The Genesis Project at Adobe.

1. Modern Language Association (MLA): “depth of field.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 14 Oct. 2009. of field>.

2. University of Victoria.

3. Depth of Field Master.

Wedding Photography Tips: Safe Shutter Speed

This week I’ve decided to add a segment to my blog with photo tips for my fellow wedding photographers out there. I love perusing other websites and photographer’s blogs for tips and information to improve my photography, and now it’s my turn to give a little back.

This weeks subject is Safe Shutter Speeds for Weddings. I frequently recruit new photographers who want to learn about wedding photography and who assist me at weddings where a 2nd shooter is not requested by the bride and groom. A pattern I’ve noticed recently among my shooters is the use of low shutter speeds in order to make up for “low light” or slow lenses.

Sometimes when photographers are shooting indoors or in areas with low light we are tempted to drop our shutter speeds to super low settings like 1/20s or 1/30s to compensate for the low light situation. These low speeds work when shooting landscapes (think: Ansel Adams) from a tripod, but when handholding our camera anything below 1/60s tends to create a blurring effect from camera shake.

Night Wedding Photo, ISO 4000 - f2.8 @ 1/60s

And even if the photographer is able to mount the camera on a tripod for the shot and the subject is moving (even slow movement) there will still be blurring of the subject at shutter speeds below 1/60s. Of course there are always exceptions (think: nighttime light trail effect), but for weddings this would be rarely utilized.

Ultimately, none of us really wants to have to use a slow shutter speed like 1/20s or 1/30s when we’re hand holding a camera; so some other options to compensate for low light situations can be increasing your camera’s ISO setting or increasing the aperture (lower f-stop) to allow more light to strike the sensor. And if all else fails, bring out your external flash, which you’ll be using a lot anyway at most weddings!

Night Shot Captured at ISO 1000, f3.5 @ 1/50s (no flash)

Wedding Fireworks - ISO 6400, f3.2 @ 1/100s

Wedding Dance - ISO 5000, f3.2 @ 1/60s