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Which lens should you use?

By Ric Wallis 28/2/19

This morning I was speaking to a friend who said he had just bought a new wide angle lens and was exploring nearby bushland with it to get used to it. I was inspired to write about it because I have often thought that people fill their camera bags with an assortment of lenses and never really use just one enough to really understand what it will do for them.

Your choice of lens has a profound effect on any shot you take, Long lenses (telephoto) compress perspective and reduce depth of field whereas wide angle lenses increase perspective and depth of field.

It is true to say that a telephoto lens gets you in closer but there is so much more going on. Because of the compressed perspective objects behind your subject look much closer and softer due to the reduced depth of field. This makes your subject jump out of a busy background.

A great example of this is the rock Wallabies at Arkaroola, where we tour in June and July, their colouring matches their environment so well that you really don’t see them until they move. Photographing them with a wide angle lens and therefore a lot of depth of field does not work – they will just blend in with their environment, however, if you use a telephoto lens and minimal depth of field you can easily pick the wallaby out of the background – Sharp wallaby, out of focus background.

Wide angle lenses give you a very wide view, however things in the distance look even more distant and you finish up with either a lot of sky or a lot of foreground with everything looking pretty sharp from front to back.

Wide angle lenses also distort things like buildings and anything circular, which can be a disadvantage or an advantage depending on what you are doing.

There are many examples I can think of for how lenses affect images but what I think everyone should do is put one lens on the camera and shoot around a subject until you get a real feel for what that particular lens does – do it a few times on different subjects with the same lens then do the same exercise with each lens you own.

When you've done it enough you will turn up at a location or look at a subject and know just which lens to use without even taking the camera out, then you can reach in and pull out exactly the right piece of glass – Magic.

Camera Settings

By Ric Wallis 15/2/19

People often ask about the right camera settings to use. Of course that always depends on the exactly what you are photographing at the time, however, for the sake of this I’ll speak in general terms and presume you are not using supplementary lighting.

I know some photographers who take tours recommend using manual settings which I don’t agree with. Everyone has a different opinion and this ¬IS a matter of opinion.

I have put the idea of using manual settings on modern cameras to a number of my professional photographer friends and they all agree that, in natural light, they tend to use their cameras in an automatic mode, mostly with aperture priority - which is what I do and recommend.

Before taking a photograph photographers should be thinking about how much depth of field they want because, beyond exposure, this is the only way a photographer can change the feel of a picture, without changing lenses, filters and things.

For the uninitiated, the aperture is the diameter of the variable diaphragm in the lens measured relative to the focal length of the lens and expressed as eg. F/11. F being the focal length of the lens and 11, the number of times the diameter of the aperture divides into it. This is why a small aperture is expressed as a higher number than a large aperture. A small aperture gives you more depth of field and a large aperture less, so a high number like F16 gives more depth of field and a low number like 2.8, less.

The term "depth of field" refers to the area of the scene which appears in reasonably sharp focus going into the picture – the third dimension after width and height.

As much as a smaller aperture gives more depth of field it allows less light to pass through the lens this means that an increase in shutter speed is necessary to maintain the correct exposure. Conversely, using a wider aperture gives less depth of field but allows a faster shutter speed because it allows more light to pass through the lens.

So, I recommend using the camera set on Aperture priority auto. This gives you, the photographer, control over depth of field and, hopefully, causes you to think about it every time you take a picture. The camera will then automatically set what it thinks is the correct shutter speed – they are normally pretty right.

When a high shutter speed is an issue, because you need to record a fast moving object, all you need to do is use a wide aperture (low number like 5.6 or 4) which allows more light to pass through the lens and will cause the camera to increase the shutter speed to compensate and therefore freeze the movement.

I also recommend not using Auto ISO because the camera will happily increase the ISO to a point where you get horrible noisy results. All this means that you still need to think about it but Aperture priority gives you full control without having to guess at the correct exposure.

Remember: A high number on the aperture scale gives you high of depth of field and a low number on the aperture scale gives you low depth of field.  

A wide aperture, F/5.6, which produces low depth of field, see example oposite.
Low number low DOF

Shot at F/5.6, note the street sign - not readable.

A small aperture, F/16, a high number which produces high DOF

Shot at F/16, note the street sign now - it's readable.

Photo Escapades, Australia 18/8/17

Putting paid to the idea that post processing in the computer is cheating.

Hands up those who think that processing in computer software is cheating. I keep hearing people say it and it's a LOAD OF RUBBISH!

When I first started working in photography, much of my day was taken up in the darkroom. I would make a print, take it wet in a tray, and show the photographer. He, it was a male dominated industry then, would tell me to darken the sky, darken the foreground, vignette, lighten an area and/or darken another. Like all serious photographers of the time, I developed an amazing ability to dodge and burn using my hands in front of the enlarger lens, sort of like making rabbits in a light striking a wall. In fashion, women had very light skin, men had darker skin, we lightened the centre of women's faces and often darkened the shadows on a man's face. This was all done by shading an area we wanted to lighten (dodging) and burning (giving more exposure) areas we wanted darker. These techniques were passed down through all the photographers that went before me. Was this cheating? Did Ansel Adams go out, shoot a picture, process the film and make a straight print? – I don't think so! Ansell Adams was a master of the darkroom and is arguably the most famous landscape photographer to have lived. When digital photography came along, it made these techniques much easier, quicker and more accurate to apply. 

Photography allows us to express what we saw, in a picture. In interpreting our pictures during processing we can inject and or enhance, emotion, thus making the picture much more than just a snapshot. On this level I recently came across a very interesting article. It points up the thought process and the level of detail considered in making a famous B&W print. Have a read and then consider using these ‘dodging and burning’ techniques when you next process an image in your chosen software, keep it simple for a start, but in the end I think you’ll find that by simply dodging and burning, you can control the way the eye travels through the picture, which is what makes a picture interesting. Have a look: Magnum and the Dying Art of Darkroom Printing. Maybe it's not dying after all, just changing.

Ric Wallis.

Seeing like a photographer - it's a mind set.

Posted by Ric Wallis, 25/7/17

In order to take great pictures, seeing like a photographer is THE most important thing. If you take a lot of pictures then start calling yourself a photographer and thinking of yourself as a photographer, this will help you observe the world as a photographer. After the sun sets you'll notice the effect the reflected sky has on buildings, water and especially car paintwork. When the sun shines you'll notice shadows cast, highlights on dull surfaces and the effect it has on colour. There's just a myriad of things to be seen and noted so that when you go to make a picture, as opposed to taking a photo, you'll be able to plan the best time to be on your location or where to put an object to get the best result and, more importantly, the result you saw in your minds eye.

Ric Wallis.

Photo Escapades, Australia. 13/3/16

We took 2 planes to Three Hummock Island and late on the Sunday afternoon while on our way home, we overtook the beautiful Beechcraft Travelair containing some of our party, and got this wonderful view of it skimming the tops of the clouds over Bass Strait. Yarra Valley Aviation own and operate a vatiety of aeroplanes idealy suited to flyiing into the remote destinations Photo Escapades frequent.

Photo Escapades, Egg Beach, Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia,  27/1/17

One of the highlights of our visits to Flinders Island is Egg Beach. It's quite a long beach completely covered in egg shaped rocks of all sizes most of them perfectly smooth. When you think about it it's pretty obvious that the shaping is due to tidal and wave action rolling them around against each other but of course everybody asks how it happened. A while back I wrote to the head of geology at Melbourne Uni and asked how he thought they were formed. Unfortunately, he was too busy to reply, however further investigations have born out the obvious theory. Anyway, it's an amazing place!

Ric Wallis.

Photo Escapades, Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia, 28/12/16

Chappell Island sits off the west coast of Flinders Island and is normally just a barren island which rises about 200 meters out of the water. It has it's own particular brand of Tiger Snake. Matthew Flinders named it after his wife Anne, Chappelle (yes, they left the 'e' off the name of the island!)  being her maiden name - the poor guy had been at sea for a long time and I think maybe it was the shape that inspired him! Anyway, one morning after our dawn shoot, we saw this amazing sight. I think it's caused by warm wet air flowing over the cool island causing it to condense into a thin layer of fog with the bottom of the island uncovered. Really great!

Ric Wallis.

Photo Escapades, Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia, 28/3/15 – 8:04 AM.

When I'm on a Photo Escapade I only sometimes take a 'real' camera. We were in the ranges doing our dawn shoot and it was a bit cool. When everyone had had enough, we climbed into the van and started heading back for breakfast. As we were driving down the hill the sun shot through the hills and licked over the clouds, "wow, does anybody want to get out and get that?" no, they were all too warm and cosy. I shot this on my little Canon G10 happy snapper through the open passenger side front window - I was driving. It just goes to show how important 'right place right time' is. I wish I'd had a propper camera though.

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Address: 47 Chestnut Street, Cremorne, Victoria, 3121, Australia. 



    By John Smith posted July 30, 2015