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What are the Best Lenses?

I have been teaching photography to beginners for over seven years, and one of the most common questions I receive is, “What are the best lenses to use in my digital photography?” That is a loaded question, and the answer is usually, “It depends.” It depends on one’s budget and the genre of photography one is interested in. For example: a recommended lens for landscape photography might not be a wise choice for portrait photography or vice versa. Lenses vary a lot in price, starting with the Nifty Fifty at $125 to a prime lens priced at over $1500. Understanding one’s budget and needs are paramount in recommending the best lenses.

In this blog, I am going to break the mystery

of the best lenses by describing what I own as a portrait photographer and what the typical amateur needs for travel photography. Most of my students are hobbyists yearning to take better photos with their DSLR cameras, so that is why I am going to focus on that segment of the population, which could be you.

What’s in My Camera Bag?

  • Canon 28-105mm f/4
  • Canon 70-200mm f/4
  • Canon 50mm f/1.8
  • Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art Lens
  • Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6

The Canon 28-105mm is a good all-purpose lens. It covers a wide focal range and can be used for interiors, architecture, street scenes and portraits. The f/4 provides a great bokeh when used properly.

The Canon 70-200mm is the perfect portrait lens. It is light enough that I can hand-hold it at shutter speeds of 1/250 second or faster. It is much smaller, lighter and less expensive than the same zoom lens with a 2.8 aperture setting.

Steet photography

Photo taken with the 35mm Sigma Art Lens

The Sigma 35mm is my newest lens. When I decided to go to Cuba for street photography, I purchased this lens. The short focal length forces you to get close-up to the subject for interaction. It is on the edge of the long limit of focal lengths for street photography, so sometimes you will have to step back a bit to include everything in your image. The lens is very sharp and the background blur is amazing at the widest aperture of f/1.4. It can also be used as a portrait lens but will show some distortion.

Lastly, is the Lensbaby Velvet. I rented this lens before I bought it and because I had so much fun with it, I knew I had to have it. This lens creates soft and blurry edges to an image, making it look more ethereal. It has a lot of creative purposes when you want to capture an image that looks out-of-the-box.  Please see image below.

Lenses for Travel Photography

  • Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3
  • Canon or Nikon 50mm f/1.8The Tamron 16-300mm lens is terrific for travel because of its large focal length range. You can literally use this lens for an entire vacation capturing everything from the wide expanse of the ocean to a close-up of an egret. It is also very useful for travel to national parks where you can photograph a mountain range at the wide angle focal length and zoom in to capture a soaring eagle. It is small and lightweight and will fit in a smaller camera bag. To learn more about this lens, click here.The Canon or Nikon Nifty Fifty 50 mm is always a recommendation from me. Because it is so small, it is a good fit for the traveler. It fills in when you need a wide aperture that the Tamron lens cannot fulfill. To learn more about this lens, click here.

To learn more about digital SLR photography, visit my website at . I offer online classes and private lessons for those who would like to become better photographers.

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Photography in Cuba

Cuban PhotographyMy trip to Cuba was a dream of a lifetime. People often ask me why Cuba? Why not Hawaii, Europe or another Caribbean Island? As a photographer, I have been fascinated with Cuba for years and decided I wanted to go before everything changed.  I signed up for a group trip under the leadership of Peter Turnley, former Newsweek Photographer.

What I found in Cuba, I don’t thing you could find anywhere else in the world. I was mostly struck by the beautiful color palette of the pastel buildings, the textures, the classic cars and finally the wonderful spirit of the people. There are photo opps just about everywhere.

In my forty years, as a photographer, I have never been exposed to the ‘photo-journalism’ side of the craft. I learned a lot from Peter about how to tell a story within your frame. What I learned was a different way of thinking from being a portrait photographer. I was there the last weekend of Fidel’s mourning, so it was a very historic moment. What I found in Cuba is a treasure of photography moments and I can’t wait until I go again.

I challenge all of you to try something new this year with your photography. Try not to be too stuck in your ways. Capture an image that tells a story and that needs no words. Look through the frame of your camera and examine all four edges. Is your story complete within the frame? Zoom in or out as needed and do not omit anything necessary that will convey your message. Focus on the eyes of your subject.  A more extreme depth of field is sometimes necessary so the viewer can sense the time and place of the story.

Below are some of my favorite photos from the trip. To view the entire galleries from my group you can visit the Cuba Gallery here.

Cuban Photography

Cuban Photography

Cuban Photography

Cuban Photography

Cuban Photography

bike taxi in Havana



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How to Make the Colors Pop in Your Summer Photos

394Summer is settling in with 90 degree temperatures in much of the country. I love to go out on a warm summer night to take photographs. The light is just right about an hour before sunset. This is a great time for landscape photography because the light is not as harsh as the middle of the day. During this time (also know as the Sweet Hour) I look for back light, front light, interesting shadows, transparency in the subject and golden hues in the atmosphere.  Top this off with my traveling glass of wine, and I am ready to shoot! I prefer my landscapes photos to be on the vivid side. The like it when the greens and oranges pop and the subject is tack sharp. This can be accomplished many ways but the way I like to teach beginners is by using settings inside the camera. In this article, I will explain how I handle this in the camera and will also explain how this technique can be accomplished in post processing by using Camera RAW for those of you who are more advanced.

There are just two simple steps to enhance the color of your photos using your DSLR camera settings:
1) Use a Circular Polarizing filter. This is an “old school” technique that was used in the film days. The purpose of a polarizer is to saturate colors.  A polarizer can also improve the skies in your photography.  Polarizers can deepen the blue sky and brighten the white clouds to create stunning and dramatic skies even in bright sunny conditions. A polarizer blocks the light by 1.5 stops therefore should only be used on bright days or evenings. The shutter speed can be reduced resulting in a blurry picture, so it is a good idea to have a tripod on hand.
2) Change the Picture Style (Canon) or Picture Control (Nikon) from ‘standard’ to ‘landscape’ (also ‘vivid’ in some cameras). This setting alone will produce a noticeable difference. The greens, blues and oranges are enhanced and the sharpening is increased. This setting can be found in your camera menu.

IMG_0540For more advanced students who are familiar with Photoshop there are a couple additional steps you can take:
1) Use Camera RAW setting
2) Process in RAW. Change the color space depth to 16 bit (this can be found in the lower part of the Camera Raw dialog between ‘save image’ and ‘open image’).  Click on it and it will bring you to a new dialog where you can change from 8 bits per channel to 16 bits per channel. This change gives you more pixels to work with.  To learn more about why this matters click here.
3) Continue processing in RAW by adjusting the color temperature (increasing it will warm up the image), increasing the vibrancy (this will make all colors more vibrant EXCEPT for skin tones).  Lastly increase the sharpness of the image, being careful not to over-sharpen. For more localized vibrancy you can use the adjustment brush and brush on vibrancy (or saturation) on parts of the image.

If you don’t have a Circular Polarizer yet, go out and get one. They can be purchased online or at a camera store. You will need to get one that fits your camera lens. If you use several lenses, you will need to get one for each lense. The polarizer rotates, so you simply rotate it until the image that you see through the viewfinder looks right. It works better when the sun is at a 90 degree angle to the sun. Remember to take off the polarizer when you are shooting in dim conditions.  For the advanced students you will have more options on how to make the color pop in your photographs. Try both methods and find a technique that works best for you and your style

Happy shooting!  For more information on how to use a DSLR camera check the Studio 2.8 website.

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Do You Edit or Enhance Your Photos?

It is very common these days to edit and/or enhance photos using a post-processing editing software. Is there a  difference between editing and enhancing?

I have always felt there was a difference so I went to the dictionary to find out the definitions of both words. This is what I found:

  • Edit To prepare for publication or presentation, as by correcting, revising, or adapting.  The word is most often used for written material.
  • Enhance – The simple definition is to  increase or improve something. A more complex definition is to raise to a higher degree. To intensify or magnify something. To increase the value or price of something. 

Certainly you can increase or improve an image with an edit, so there is a fine line of distinction between the two verbs but there is clearly a difference for me.

Edit – When you edit, you correct exposure, white balance, contrast,  brightness and crop.  Many of these edits could have been handled properly in the camera and that is how I make the distinction. Perhaps using a custom white balance or a targeted exposure setting in manual mode would result in an image that does not need correcting.  The picture style setting in a Canon  (picture control in a Nikon) allows you to make your own presets for sharpness and contrast. Learning these features can definitely assist you in creating a cleaner image that does not require much editing. Using Live View will enable you to view the histogram while you are shooting and get more precise exposure.  Shooting in RAW format, does require more editing than shooting in jpeg and this is the choice you have to make as a photographer.  If you shoot in RAW you will spend more time behind the computer editing the photos.  Certainly there are pros and cons to RAW vs. JPEG.  I prefer to shoot in JPEG so I do not have to spend a lot of time editing.  An image can also be cropped in the camera, by filling the frame, and enabling the grids (not all cameras have this feature) so that the Rule of Thirds can be applied.

Enhance – An enhancement is generally done after the image is edited. This is the time that I take advantage of the many Photoshop plug-ins and actions that I have installed on my computer.

My definition of enhance is “creating a unique image that further improves it beyond the editing stage – manipulating the image to intensify the story behind the subject.”

This can be accomplished through color manipulation, pixel painting, vignetting, retouching imperfections, and much, much more.  I am a big fan of Topaz filters. If you haven’t heard the term “I Topazed it” then you haven’t been around this software yet. It is simply amazing (no I am not a seller of Topaz).  Thousands of plug-ins exist for Photoshop, just for the purpose of enhancing images.  There are no right and wrong answers to the how much you should enhance as beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder.  Enhancing an image is really the icing on the cake.

My advice (and how I teach my class on Take Creative Control of Your SLR Camera) is to get it right in the camera to avoid a lot of editing and post-process to your heart’s content. Enhancing a photo is way more fun than editing one.
Below are some photos I enhanced using Topaz Impression and Topaz Detail.


I used Topaz Detail to bring out the saturation, contrast and texture of the orchids.


I used Topaz Impression to create the painterly look. of this landscape scene at Gibbs Gardens.








For more information on beginner level photography courses check my website.

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