Gear Recommendations

Portrait Photography Using a Telephoto Lens

Portrait photographers often overlook a telephoto lens because many people are under the misconception that these lenses are only for stunning skylines and distant subjects. However, these versatile pieces of photography equipment can create stunning portraits that flatter your subject better than an 18mm lens. Using a telephoto lens when shooting portraits will help reduce distortion that can unfortunately occur with wide-angle lenses.

Shot with my 28-300mm

The focal length of telephoto lenses range from about 28mm to 800mm and above. The longer the focal length the more detail the lens can capture from a distance. It also means the lens is bigger, heavier and more expensive. Telephoto lenses can be separated into three types:

1. Short Telephoto Lenses - These range from 85mm to 135mm (your mileage may vary) and are perfect for shooting candid shots and portraits. For example, the short telephoto lenses allow you to take stunning pictures at weddings where you're close to your subjects yet you don't want to intrude in the process. These shorter lenses are lightweight, compact and easier to hand, which allows for fast shooting.

2. Medium Telephoto Lenses - Ranging from 135mm to 300mm, medium lenses are ideal for action and sport photographers who -- for example -- are standing on the sidelines but need to get close to where the action is. This type of photography requires proper aperture setting to minimize blur when shooting fast-moving subjects. 

3. Super Telephoto Lenses - Typically, these types of telephoto lenses -- which range from 300mm and beyond -- are used only in professional nature, wildlife and sports photography, and are not used for portraits.

Nikor 28-300mm lens

These are not hard and fast numbers and you can find a number of ranges to play with. For instance I've fallen in love with the 28-300mm Nikor lens that lets me stand back and zoom in tight for great portrait photos.

Longer lenses provide a shallow depth of field, which helps isolate the subjects from the background and creates a strong, pleasant image. However, remember not to stop down the camera's aperture too much and instead leave it a bit wide so you don't lose the depth of field. When shooting from below or above the subject, you can unintentionally lose the unwanted perspective. With a telephoto lens, you are able to step back from the subject and the farther away you are, the less noticeable the height difference will be. This provides you with a head on, level view. Keep in mind that these longer lenses generally require a higher shutter speed to prevent camera shake.

Using a telephoto lens can help you step out of your comfort zone and improve your photography no matter what level of experience you have under your belt. Plus it'll let you keep your distance from your subject so you can still get great portraits without standing in his/her face. 

Review: Sony RX1 Camera Hands-On

Sony has set the camera world on fire with the release of the RX1 Cybershot. he accolades are appropriate even if the cost is high ($2,799). It's the first time a full-frame sensor has been shoved into a body this compact and precise. It's truly a beautiful thing to hold and a joy to use. 

I'm not going to fill these pages with a massive specs review, others have done a fine job, but I will give you a few highlights and lowlights. 

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The Body: It's sturdy and well crafted for the hand although a tad smaller than I'm used to, and that's a good thing. 'm so used to holding my hulking Nikon D800 that I did have to get used to holding the RX1 like a hot piece of toast, with just the tips of my fingers.  

 

The Three Dials: There's a smart use of the dials here for quick access to the things that matter most like the mode dial with three customization options, an exposure compensation dial in case you quickly fire off a few versions of a shot for an HDR, and a dual function dial used for both ISO and shutter speed. I've been shooting in Manual mode for most of the past year and it's nice to have a dial with quick access to those functions. 

The View Finder: My biggest gripe is that the RX1 has no electronic viewfinder. My eyes have gotten progressively worse over the years and peering down the barrel of a viewfinder is essential. I need to check focus, compensate for bright light all without the bright sunlight shining in my eyes. Sure you can buy a good electronic view finder for about $400 but the price on this camera demands one built-in. 

Auto Focus: It has a 25 zone contrasted detect AF system and it's very nice. I like a fast auto focus for grabbing those quick shots of the kids and I was pleasantly suprised. It's not as fast as my Sony NEX-7 or the D800 but it wasn't slow enough that I didn't want to shoot with it. 

RAW: I always shoot in RAW format thanks to my buddy Trey Ratcliff who showed me the value in being able to pull as much light data you need from a RAW shot during post processing. Shooting in JPG format simply keeps you from doing more with the photo in Lightroom or Photoshop. That's a long way of saying the RX1 shoots exceptional RAW shots and the amount of data available was stunning. 

Here's a gallery of shots taken with the RX1. All of these were RAW photos with some minimal processing. In fact here's a little secret, I was traveling for most of these shots and I didn't have access to Lightroom on my iMac so I edited the RAW photos on my iPad using Photosmith, SnapSeed, and iPhoto. The future! And don't forget to scroll down for a little hands-on video.

 

Sony NEX 5R Hands On

Spent the morning testing out a few new Sony camera's. I snapped this today using the Sony NEX 5R. I got in tight using the 18-55mm kit lens that comes with the camera. That's right, I said 'kit lens'. This is a great, affordable camera for the person who doesn't care about all the bells and whistles of the higher-end Sony NEX-7. You know how much I love the NEX-7. 

This takes really sharp fast focused shots, faster than the NEX-7 by the way. I am also impressed with its low light performance. This is a great camera to take to the ball park, beach or family vacation. You won't be disappointed when you put the camera in Intelligent Auto mode and just have fun shooting away. It boasts 

 

 Sony NEX 5R

Sony NEX 5R

3 Best Camera Lenses for Beginners

Even though the camera doesn't make the photographer, the lens can make the camera and careful consideration should be given for deciding which lens you should use. The best lenses for beginners depend on what the novice photographer will be shooting. For example, if you want a versatile lens that you can whip out for any occasion; consider the normal 50mm lens. The wide-angle lens is the ideal choice for landscape photography while macro lenses work best for extreme close-up nature photography. Once you figure out what you plan on doing with your camera, you can decide which lens is the best choice for your situation.

 

For the longest time I only owned one lens and that's a good thing. It's good because technique is more important that what lens is on the camera. But pretty soon I realized there was simply no way of getting those sweeping landscape shots that I aspired to without changing my lenses. I quickly started learning the best lenses for beginners. Here are three great ones. 

 

 

Normal 50mm Lenses

 

 

 

All photographers -- no matter what their level of experience -- should own a fast 50mm lens. The 50mm lens has a depth of field that most mimics that of the human eye and is the ideal go-to lens that can work for just about any situation. Also called standard 50mm lenses, this lens produces clean, sharp images and is one of the more affordable lenses on the market. The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor Lens, Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor lens and Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II are three good choices for beginners.

Wide Angle Lenses

For beginners focusing on environmental, landscapes and architectural photography, choose a wide-angle lens. However, how wide is wide enough? A 20mm to 28mm lens should provide a good focal length for most situations. The extremely wide lenses -- such as 14mm or 16mm -- are available, but are generally too expensive and not necessary for beginner photographers. Nikon 20mm f/2.8D AF Nikkor lens and Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM wide angle lens are two good choices for beginners looking for a wide-angle lens. For more advanced landscape folks you'll want to try the 14-24mm Nikor lens, it's big and beautiful. 

Macro Lenses

50mm Prime Lens

Defined as photography at 1x magnification and above, macro photography is most often used for extremely close up pictures of insects and flowers. These specialty lenses are not necessary if you are planning on limiting your pictures to portraits or landscapes. However, if you want to get up close and personal with nature, consider the macro lens. There are several macro lenses available on the market and trying to find which one is best for beginners can be a difficult task. When choosing the lens, consider the working distance and focal length. Macro lenses range between 50mm to 200mm. The short focal length lenses are ideal for object photography while the longer focal lengths work better for insect photography. Furthermore, the longer the focal length, the more camera shake you will have to deal with. If you plan on hand shooting the camera via handholding, consider a 100mm macro lens for insect photography. However, if you will be using a tripod, consider a 150mm to 200mm lens.

 

Just start somewhere and grab the 50mm lens for a few portrait shots. Once you see the beautiful depth of field you'll never go back.

Using the Drobo mini for Travel Photography

I'm getting ready for a big photography trip to New Zealand in February. I needed a great way to back up and store the hundreds of RAW photos I plan to shoot. Enter the Drobo mini. 

Drobo mini

I've been a Drobo user for years and I was anxious to get my hands on their brand-new portable 'mini'. It sports 4 ports for small SSD drives, lightening connectors and USB 3.0 for super fast data transfers, and a polycarbonate durable case that makes it a pleasure to hold and put in a bag.

Here's a set up video I put together showing the unboxing and software installation. I also show you how freaking fast the photo transfer speeds are from the desktop to the mini using the Lightening port. 

Sony 50mm f/1.8 Prime Lens Review

I just received my new 50mm f/1.8 Mid-Range Prime Lens for my Sony NEX-7 and here's my early review. Wow! It is stunning that it's this good for under $300. It's even more impressive because it's just as outstanding as the more expensive 50mm Prime I'd been using before. And I've heard from fellow photographers that even it rivals the $4,000 Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4.

Sony 50mm f/1.8 Prime Lens

The only reasons I kept my Canon D-Mark II camera for as long as I did was (a) I loved that camera (b) the 50mm Prime lens I had to go with it was just a gorgeous piece of glass. But I've moved onto to different cameras with more advanced lenses. The new Sony lens is a perfect substitute. And there's simply no reason to be using an older 50mm lens other than cost at this point. 

I got this lens to shoot portraits, plain and simple. I wanted a crisp shot with shallow depth of field and this lens gives you that creamy Bokeh that brings out the subject beautifully. The reason for this is because of the large aperture of the lens and what Sony calls its 'circular aperture design'. Who cares what they call it, it takes amazing pictures. 

It's also really light and compact. My older Canon 50mm Prime could be used as a paper weight it was heavy.

I'm going to add more to this post over the next few months as I spend more and more time with it. In the meantime please enjoy a few of these photos that were shot with the new Sony 50mm lens. 

My daughter

My son the photog.

Play time.