Tag Archives: Lens

Three simple tips to help you buy camera equipment

Three components you should consider above all others...

Three components you should consider above all others… the camera body, the lens and you!

When buying new equipment your money is on the line.

And, camera equipment is expensive. To make the best purchase you need to consider three essential things above all else. These are the fundamentals of buying the best kit you can afford.

Seeing is believing…

The camera is NOT the most important purchase. Your lenses are the most important. A camera records light. If the lens is perfect the camera will record it. If the lens suffers from chromatic aberration, optical distortion, internal reflection, inaccurate element alignment or any one of many other defects your record will be affected. The lens is the critical component. The lens forms your picture. Buy a bad lens you will get a bad picture. The camera comes second.

Don’t purchase your equipment mainly around your camera. Think first of what you want to achieve, then consider what lens you need to achieve it. Next, work out what camera you should buy to record the pictures created by that lens. Future additional lenses you buy should be of at least the quality established by your original lens purchase. Lesser lenses would compromise your standards. The lens governs the integrity of your system.

Buy your camera for what you need

Don’t buy a camera body to impress others. Buy a camera body to meet the quality needs of your lens. A body that exceeds the quality of your lens is wasted money unless you know you will be able to afford to trade up your lenses later. You will probably spend more money on lenses than camera bodies for your hobby. So, buy the best possible lens you can afford. Then, with the rest of the money, buy your body to meet the quality standard established by your lens. Don’t buy the camera and get a cheap lens with the rest of the money! Look to the future.

Make sure your camera body is what you need. Modern cameras are pretty sophisticated. They have the ability to out perform the inexperienced user by a long distance. So if you are inexperienced at buying/using a camera, make sure you get the camera you need. If you are buying a camera that has everything then you may not be able to carry it. So consider size weight, functions and image quality – but most important consider what you want to do with it.

There is little point buying a Top-Of-The-Range professional camera, for holiday snaps once a year. There is little point buying a point-and-shoot camera if you want to do high quality macro work. Spend time listing what you are interested in and then look for the camera body to meet that need and match the quality of your lens.

Give yourself time

People often rush into buying a camera. A committed and experienced owner will probably have a pretty good idea from discussions with other photographers and some reading about their needs and aspirations. They will have spent months thinking about it and considering the options. Inexperienced user/buyers don’t have that background. Consider joining a club and talking with members for a while first. Get a range of opinions and try to understand the issues that make the purchase correct for you before buying.

Don’t just walk into a camera shop and hope you will get good advice. You will probably get great advice relating to the person serving you. A sales assistant will think hard about two things… her commission and what she would do in your place. Both those are not about your photography. Spend time looking carefully at your requirements before passing over hard-earned cash. Your judgement will be about your photography.

Take time, learn a few lessons and understand photography before making a big purchase. It has been said many, many times that you can make great photographs on quite cheap equipment. Great photographs are not created on expensive, feature-rich equipment unless you are able to use that equipment properly and have lenses that match its quality.

Photographing the wonder of churches

Churches have a lot to offer the photographer...

Churches have a lot to offer the photographer… magnificence, detail, contrast, art, history and more. Click the image to view large.

Churches are really photogenic places.

They provide a wide range of interesting materials, textures, contrasts and subjects. The architecture is often magnificent and feature rich. They are tidy, well tended and active social centres. Photographers can find a lot of interest and endless ways to express it.

The approach

Not all churches allow photography. Check that you can use a camera and if so under what circumstances. You might be allowed to use a camera, but not flash. Sudden bright lights are disturbing and invasive in a place of peace and worship. All cameras can turn off the flash so check the manual to find out how. Quite often you are not allowed to use tripods either – they might present a trip hazard or block passage. If photography is not allowed this is usually so that you do not disturb worship or block through-ways. Ask the person in charge if there is a time when you could come back and take some shots. Offer them copies of your pictures so they can use them for literature and newsletters. Be polite, accommodating and helpful. If you are willing to work on their terms most people are reasonable in return.

It is equally important to remember you are in a place of worship. Churches are places of emotion and feeling. You should respect the privacy, commitment and activities of the worshippers and other visitors. Be courteous, respectful and deferential, don’t disturb others. This will help you enjoy the peace and atmosphere as much as it will enable people to go about their worship undisturbed.

Churches and places of worship are not state maintained. It is worth remembering that the congregations raise the money for the upkeep of the staff, buildings and equipment. If you are in a church and taking pictures please consider donating a few pounds to the church funds. It helps the church to stay open and keep the buildings in good condition.

A word about lenses

The magnificent proportions of churches and cathedrals is intended to awe people who visit. And it works on me. Even small chapels are more cavernous than the the local houses, a fact not lost on worshippers. To capture these proportions and to convey this same feeling in an image is best done with wide angle lenses or lenses which mimic the human eyes. Broadly speaking a wide angle lens will be 24mm or less on a full frame camera, or 16mm down to about 6mm on cropped sensors or point and shoot cameras. We use wide angle lenses to exaggerate the proportions in the longest dimension of the picture. A wide angle landscape emphasises the broadness of the architecture. A wide angle shot in portrait view will really bring out the height and the magnificence of the cavernous roof spaces, arches and supports.

The shot above was taken with a 50mm lens on a Canon 5D. The 50mm on a full frame camera mimics closely the way the human eye sees. The design of churches and cathedrals is meant to impress and awe the human eye so a 50mm prime lens is ideal to convey that sense to the image. On a cropped sensor the same can be achieved by using an 80mm Lens.

Longer focal length lenses like a 200mm lenses have the tendency to foreshorten the scene. This will cause distances to be less exaggerated. A fact that will make the scene less impressive. Of course careful use of perspective in the composition will help. You can achieve this by placing something close to the camera in the foreground so it appears large compared to the rest of the scene.


Shooting in low light and no flash means long exposures to get sufficient light to make an image. If you are not allowed to use tripods there are alternatives. A Gorillapod, a sort of gripping-tripod can be used on the tops of pews. But don’t try to mount your camera on sculpture or features. Bean bags can be purchased cheaply and used to rest your camera on things.

One way to take photographs in low light is by adjusting your camera for high ISO levels. This will allow you to have shorter exposures for hand-holding your shot. However, this will introduce digital noise. There is a fine balance, so practice beforehand.

You can also open up the aperture to increase the light entering the camera too. Of course this will reduce your depth of field. You will get some nice shots with bokeh in churches. However that will reduce the potential for showing the magnificence of the building since deeper into the scene will be blurred.

Exposures in churches are sometimes difficult. However, longer exposures tend to promote the shadow, contrasts and dimensions that emphasise the wonderful proportions of the church environment. It is therefore worth trying to find ways to keep your camera stable long enough for a great shot.


Often the light in churches and cathedrals is low level. Try to visit at times when there is great light coming into the building. Often a sunset or bright sunlight at a low angle through stained glass will really stand out. These will lift the mood and bring colour to the stonework.

Great light lifts the mood and brings out texture and colour

Great light lifts the mood and brings out texture and colour. Look for sunset times or bright sunlight through stained glass windows.

Great light helps bring out colour, texture and contrasts. Try to avoid high contrast light. Very bright illumination from a window will often make it pure white and everything inside around it very dark. You need to control that. Focus on the window and press the button – you will get the stained glass – everything else will be lost in white or darkness. Focus off the window and shoot and you will lose everything in the brightness from the window. Instead, look to accommodate both bright and dark by focusing on the places where the light falls, rather than its source. That way you get the colours and textures without the brightness.

What to photograph

The astonishing range of things to photograph is great for the photographer. You can exercise a lot of artistic interpretation. The architecture is impressive on the larger scale. On the other hand the the stone-work, detail and carvings are worth following up on the small scale too. There are art works, carvings and textures as well as people and activities. All are worthy of photographic attention.

You have to start somewhere. The outside of the building tells its own story. To tell it properly shoot inside first. You gain a sense of history and find more about the building. While inside look for clues about what is important in the building, the design and the build history. This will help you pick out the best features of the outside later.

I like to sit quietly for a while and take in the view of the inside of a church before shooting. I am looking for the strong lines in the architecture that lead the eye. Tall columns lead the eye upward. Often these lead to buttresses and arches that create a sense of power and support. If you can incorporate this perspective with a long view of the inner space you will convey proportion and depth – the essential magnificence of the church. There are two ways I have found that achieve these layers.

  • A concourse of columns, arches and chambers give the eye a repeating pattern into the depth of the church. In the picture above the columns and arches in a converging pattern down the length of the nave provides a sense of depth and height.
  • Picking out different activity areas provides a clear definition of depth in the church. In the picture above this is shown by the pews in the foreground, the altar area in the mid-ground and the depth of the ceiling into the distance after that.

Individual features of the church make a great study

Individual features of the church make a great study. It is worth taking time and effort to get clear features, textures and detail.

Distinct features of the building also provide great shots. Side chapels, sculptures, carvings tombs, artworks all mark specific areas. While they have an interest value on their own, the context is also important. Often the wonder in a place of worship is the history and commitment invested in it over time. When looking in chapels and side chambers try to show the sense of history and the love that has lead to its character today. Of course each place like this has its own character so you need to bring out meaning of historical events, the people involved and the dedications shown there.

The central feature of most churches and cathedrals is the altar and the space around it. This is where the architecture often comes into its own as a focal point for the eye. So use it. Look for features, lines, supports and other compositional properties that make it impressive. The altar piece itself is often simple. However, it is also a place of colour too. Show it off so that all the best of the features stand out. Try to find ways to catch the light so all the architectural features are well defined by shadow and light contrasts. If they are flat you will lose the power in the artwork.

The altar is a central place, look for the ways the art and architecture bring out its importance

The altar at Winchester Cathedral… The altar is a central place, look for the ways the art and architecture bring out its importance

Other points of interest include the people, candles, floor coverings, tiles, carvings, sculpture, coverings, clocks, bells, exhibitions, books of dedication and remembrance… the list is pretty long. It is easy to just snap at these, especially carvings or artwork. Don’t end up making a record shot unless that is the point. Try to get some sense of awe into your pictures so they tell a story. When you shoot these things put them in context. Show a close-up of a carving. Do it close up and powerful, but show the distance away to the next wall too – invite the eye to be impressed. Or, show features like these as part of the whole, so they fit in but have individual character.

Outside the building the overall design is important. Often getting a shot from some distance away is a good way to show the magnificence of the building, especially if there is a nice contrast in size, shape or design with nearby buildings or features. Again, a wide angle lens will help with this.

Churches are often in urban areas with little space around them. With a shorter view the outside of the building will often look good from close to the walls, looking steeply upward. This will exaggerate the tallness. Make the most of the proportions of the building. Especially follow the lines of the height and depth of the architecture.

If you take a shot further from the walls you will get converging verticals. This will take a lot of time to correct in post processing unless you do it artfully. Try to avoid that. Plan your shot so the camera is level, not pointing upwards. The level angle will minimise the convergence but you may find it difficult to get the whole building into the shot. You can still find great views on most churches. So try to concentrate on great features and lines instead.

Churches and cathedrals are wonderful places of peace and magnificence. I am amazed at the beauty and awesome architecture. In your photography try to show the commitment and love that has gone into creating these great places and what they represent.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Creating a Fake Smoke Effect

Smokin'... A cool smoke effect for your photographs

Smokin’… A cool smoke effect for your photographs.

A great effect to add to your photography skills

This effect works very well but requires a little preparation and a little practice to get right. It’s great to liven up and add interest to a still life image, making the image stand out and get noticed. Everyone will be asking “how did you do that?”

You will need a small torch (I used an LED torch as the light is whiter than an ordinary bulb), a piece of string, length depending on the height of your background and a plain background.

Firstly, position the background in a suitable place. You will need a dark room as this is going to be a long exposure and you don’t want any stray light affecting your images. As my subjects were not too big I used some black paper covered foam craft boards. These are available at any office supplies store very cheaply.

Then attach one end of the string to the bottom of the torch by tying or use sticky tape.

Set your camera on the tripod. I used a 28mm prime lens as it gives great, sharp images but any lens will do the trick. Set the ISO to as low as your camera will go. An ISO of 100 or less is great. Make sure your camera is in manual mode. Set the time value to 10 secs and F11. Pre-focus on the subject in with the lights on in the room and then switch your lens to manual focus. This way, you will not lose the focus when the lights go out and press the shutter.

Hold the torch above the subject and let the string dangle below the torch and around the subject. Turn on the torch and turn out the lights. Push the shutter release and within the 10 secs, drape and slowly move the string above, around and over the subject. As you are moving the string, this is not fully captured by the sensor and creates a blurring of the string. This results in a misty effect that looks like smoke rising out of the subject. The torch is acting as the light source so can give some lovely shadows that can make the shot look very effective. Try it using different subjects. It can look good with smoke coming from a hand or fruit or even ice!

Bottles behavin' badly... a smoky atmospheric shot.

Bottles behavin’ badly… a smoky atmospheric shot.

It can take a few practice shots to get the speed of the string right. If you twirl the string so it moves too fast, the sensor will not pick it up. Then you will not see it. Too slow means you will see the string as string and not smoke!

As you can see from the images it looks great and is very easy to do. For more creative ideas this website is very informative PhotoExtremist.com External link - opens new tab/page

By Steve Maidwell (contributing author)

Steve Maidwell is a keen amateur photographer and active member of Marlow Camera Club. He has some superb images to his name and enjoys working with special effects. His website is imageinnation.com  External link - opens new tab/page. You can also see his images on his 365Project  External link - opens new tab/page

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How do you make a camera lens?

A lens is a high-tech piece of equipment

We don’t see what goes into their production and we also see straight through them. So it is easy to see why lenses are not appreciated as high-tech components. So when I saw these three videos I was suddenly intrigued. They are produced by Canon to show what goes into making lenses. Considering how much work and manufacturing technology is involved we should not be surprised by the cost.

The first video in the series especially fascinated me. I had no idea that creating the glass in lenses was such an involved process. It is not just glass, it is high-quality, high-technology, high production work all in one.

More after the jump…

The grinding of the lenses is also a very precise and time-intensive process. The coatings applied to lenses are high-tech processes too.

In the final video we see how a lens is actually constructed. There is a lot of very detailed and skilled work done by hand. The use use of a whole range of special tools and adhesives makes it inadvisable to take lenes apart!

A personal recommendation…
This little lens cloth is a very handy item. It hangs on any ring or strap right next to your camera. It’s completely out of the way until you need it and then it is right on hand. It is a quality cloth and because if is always near at hand reminds you to keep your lenses clean. Clean lenses have a longer life and your images will be free of dirt smudges.
Lenses are expensive. Protect them for the long-run. Buy now while you remember!


The Aperture in Action

Seeing the aperture in action

In a previous post I showed a video that documented how a camera shutter works. Quite a short video, it looked at what happens when the shutter button is pressed and the shutter is activated. In the video below the authors have used a high speed video camera shooting at 1000 frames per second. They have used it to examine how a Nikon D4 shoots video at eleven frames per second. This Nikon is actually taking eleven still photographs per second.

From our point of view, in this video you can see, the shutter working, the cameras’ mirror lifting and the aperture opening and shutting. In particular the open/shut movement of the aperture shows how it changes the size of the hole in the centre of the diaphragm. It is worth taking a moment to see this in action. It is a great demonstration of the working aperture. If you read about the iris-diaphragm, you will understand how the aperture and iris mechanism works to create the aperture and to change its size. The part with the working diaphragm is near to the end of the video.
Video Authors: Scheimpflug Employees Jason Kolsch, and Jayson Jordan

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An Old Camera Teaches Modern Photographers

The exposure triangle – a way to see into exposure

This great video brings an interesting light to bear on our modern technology. Digital cameras have been around long enough now that quite a few digital photographers have never used film. However, as this video shows, there is still plenty to learn from the older technology. The video uses an old film camera to explain important components of the exposure triangle. It also shows the three main aspects of exposure in context. Really worth a look. Enjoy!

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Depth of Field – extending your skills

The depth of field is where you can see sharply

Following the recent articles and entries into the Photographic Glossary we have explored a lot about aspects of focus. Here is an eight minute video that shows how the different factors of exposure, depth of field, aperture; circle of confusion and bokeh come together. The aim of this video is to help you see some of the factors that come into play when you are setting up your shot. It is especially important with respect to understanding the way that depth of field works out with distance. Enjoy!

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.