Foundations of Photography: Specialty Lenses
Illustration by Petra Stefankova

Shooting distant subjects


Foundations of Photography: Specialty Lenses

with Ben Long

Video: Shooting distant subjects

Behind me is a small herd of buffalo, majestic animals. It's really impressive to stand out here in the presence of this thundering herd and just imagine what it was once like out on the Great Plains. All right, let's talk about this lens. This thing is enormous, this is the Sigma 800-mm Canon Mount lens, and it's ideal for a situation like this where I've got a distant subject, and I'm wanting to get in close. This is a case where I cannot get in close because there's a fence in the way, and I don't really feel like trotting up to a herd of buffalo anyway.
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  1. 4m 10s
    1. Welcome
      1m 46s
    2. Roadmap of the course
      2m 24s
  2. 3m 53s
    1. Words about focal length
      2m 6s
    2. Understanding camera position
      1m 47s
  3. 39m 19s
    1. What filters are for
      2m 37s
    2. Shopping for filters
      3m 55s
    3. Understanding neutral density filters
      4m 53s
    4. Applying neutral density filters
      3m 55s
    5. Polarizing filters
      3m 4s
    6. Some shooting tips for working with a polarizing filter
      2m 32s
    7. Using infrared filters
      9m 15s
    8. Processing the infrared image
      6m 7s
    9. Handling stuck filters
      3m 1s
  4. 38m 37s
    1. Working with ultra-wide lenses
      7m 19s
    2. Using a wide-angle lens
      4m 43s
    3. Understanding fisheye lenses
      4m 2s
    4. Working with fisheye lenses
      3m 59s
    5. Understanding fisheye exposure
      3m 3s
    6. Taking fisheye further
      4m 16s
    7. Processing fisheye and wide-angle images
      7m 38s
    8. Correcting tone in fisheye images
      3m 37s
  5. 35m 37s
    1. Understanding super telephoto
      6m 21s
    2. Shooting distant subjects
      8m 26s
    3. Compressing the sense of depth
      7m 53s
    4. Working with shallow depth of field
      5m 35s
    5. Working with teleconverters
      2m 38s
    6. Editing telephoto images
      4m 44s
  6. 16m 47s
    1. Understanding macro basics
      2m 47s
    2. Shooting close
      4m 52s
    3. Shooting macro
      5m 20s
    4. Working with a point-and-shoot for macro
      1m 58s
    5. Using a two-lens strategy
      1m 50s
  7. 16m 39s
    1. Understanding tilt shift
      3m 37s
    2. Correcting perspective
      4m 29s
    3. Creating the toy effect
      4m 41s
    4. Deepening depth of field
      3m 52s
  8. 32m 39s
    1. Working with specialty lenses
      2m 43s
    2. Using the Lensbaby
      9m 13s
    3. Working with the Lensbaby Macro attachment
      3m 50s
    4. Shooting with a Holga attachment
      3m 4s
    5. Using an alternative mount lens
      2m 18s
    6. Using super-fast lenses
      1m 47s
    7. Correcting Lensbaby images
      9m 44s
  9. 39m 48s
    1. Correcting perspective
      10m 41s
    2. Creating the toy effect
      6m 31s
    3. Getting the lo-fi Holga look
      11m 17s
    4. Reproducing the effect of a Lensbaby
      8m 17s
    5. Cropping and enlarging images
      3m 2s
  10. 2m 47s
    1. Choosing whether to borrow or buy
      2m 0s
    2. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Foundations of Photography: Specialty Lenses
3h 50m Intermediate Dec 17, 2012

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Join photographer, author, and teacher Ben Long on location in San Francisco as he explores the creative options provided by the kinds of lenses and lens accessories that don't always make it into most camera bags.

The course begins with a look at several common and inexpensive lens attachments, from polarizers to neutral density filters. The course then explores ultra-wide angle and fisheye lenses as well as ultra-long telephoto and macro lenses. The course concludes with a look at tilt-shift lenses, which are useful for architectural photography and special effects, and at offbeat lenses, such as Lensbaby and Holga attachments.

The course also contains Photoshop postproduction advice and examples that illustrate the creative possibilities that an expanded lens collection provides. And because some specialty lenses are extremely expensive, the course also contains advice on renting gear.

Ben Long

Shooting distant subjects

Behind me is a small herd of buffalo, majestic animals. It's really impressive to stand out here in the presence of this thundering herd and just imagine what it was once like out on the Great Plains. All right, let's talk about this lens. This thing is enormous, this is the Sigma 800-mm Canon Mount lens, and it's ideal for a situation like this where I've got a distant subject, and I'm wanting to get in close. This is a case where I cannot get in close because there's a fence in the way, and I don't really feel like trotting up to a herd of buffalo anyway.

And very often, of course, that's how it is with nature shooting, sports shooting and any other subject where you can't actually get access to the thing you want to shoot. Now, you may think, wow, then I guess telephoto shooting isn't for me because there's no way I'm going to carry something like this around. And you're right to think that way. This lens is enormous. It's very unwieldy, it's a lot of trouble to work with, you cannot handle it. It's so heavy, it's got its own tripod mount. This thing has its own room actually. And so we have mounted the lens on the tripod and just stuck the camera on the back, it's that heavy.

Carrying its drag it comes in this huge bag. Working with it, carrying it around on a tripod is a hassle, this is a lens for a time when you can sit in one place and know that your subject is going to be in front of you. If you're shooting a soccer game or something, and you can just set up on the edge of the field in one spot, this is probably a more practical lens. For toting around the world, not really. But do you need 800 mm? What's the difference between one long lens and another? Take a look at this, here's a shot at 50 mm, now we're going to shoot the same scene at increasing focal lengths, with a series of different lenses, and you can see that there is obviously a change.

I'm hoping going to give you an idea of what the difference is between these different focal lengths. But I want you to pay attention to what happens once you past 300. There's not actually a huge gain. The difference between a 300-mm lens and a 400-mm lens is not actually that great. 400 to 800 is not as big as you would think it would be. I'll confess I was a little surprised when we came out here today, and I mounted the lens and pointed at the buffalo, I thought I was going to see you know a buffalo eye, and I wasn't, it was still a pretty wide shot. So whether you need this much power, it's a very specialized lens.

You probably don't actually need to worry about whether you're supposed to be carrying something like this around, most of us are not. One advantage of this lens is or one reason it's so big is because it has the advantage of being a fairly fast lens, this is a 5.6. If you look at the front of the lens--and notice it takes me some effort to turn it around here--it's got this huge front element. This is just actually a lens hood, it's got this huge front element in there. Trying to stick a filter on that would be ludicrous.

You would have a filter the size of a Frisbee, and Wham-O doesn't make lens filters, so that's not really an option. So instead Sigma has built this really cool mechanism that gives you a different way of adding a filter to this lens. This is somewhere in my pocket I have the polarizer for this lens, and it's very tiny. In fact, it's so tiny I can't find it. No, here we go, here it is. All right, so rather than having to deal with that huge front element, I have just this little thing, this very, very small polarizer.

So what I do with it is on the top of the lens is a little tray, and all I have to do is squeeze this and pull this out, and I have a little filter holder. There's already like a UV filter in here. I just unscrew this and put the polarizer in here and then slip this back down. It's a circular polarizer, and there's a built-in mechanism for actually rotating the polarizer. So this is very cool, this lens has some wonderful features. It's not stabilized, which is probably good, it would make the lens even heavier.

But it does have focus limitations which are nice, these can really help speed up auto-focus and the auto-focus is very quick and very accurate. I'm really impressed with this lens, but again, whether you need something this big, you probably don't. So how do you shoot with a lens like this, or even a more reasonable lens like a 400? In a situation like this--I'll be honest these buffalo aren't really thundering around, they are not moving very much--so in a situation like this it's pretty easy. You just point it at the buffalo that's sitting there, and you shoot. If it's a moving situation, you've got to work a little bit harder.

This is not a lens--this lens has such a tight field of view, you're going to have trouble trying to follow and track a moving subject, even on the tripod moving it around is pretty slow. So you need to really be able to anticipate where something is going to be and try to plan ahead, get focused ahead of time. If it's something that's moving in a predictable manner, you're going to have an easier time following it. If you're working with a smaller lens like a 70 to 200 or 100 to 400, you're going to stand a better chance of actually being able to move the lens around. What's really going to help is to activate your camera's servo focus mechanism or focus tracking.

This is where the camera identifies what's moving in the frame and keeps it in focus as it moves around. We're not going to go into specific controls here because every camera is different. So check out your manual or look for one of the camera-specific courses that we have here at that will walk you through the features of specific cameras. Servo focus features often have different modes for different types of motion. So if something is moving in a predictable manner, you can set it in that mode. If something is moving a little more erratically, you can set it in that mode, and it will try to keep it in focus.

This can be really critical when you're working up close like this. I mentioned earlier that vibration and camera shake is your real issue when working with something this long. It's such a tiny field of view that even a little bit of camera motion will cause your frame to change. You will actually have a pretty significant shift in composition as well as running the risk of introducing camera shake. In fact, the camera shake is so significant that by simply placing my hand on the camera and pressing the button I can see a change in composition.

Take a look at this, here's my shot and here's my shot while pressing the shutter button, there's a little bit of a bump there. So to get around that I'm working with a remote control, I've got a wired remote here. It can easily be a wireless remote. If you don't have that, you could use the self-timer. You just need to get your hands off the camera when you're zoomed in this far to ensure that your composition doesn't change. I have not always been a big telephoto person. I like wide angles, and I do most of my shooting with wide angles.

But over the last couple of years I've been in a few situations where I've been around people with some long lenses who have shot some things, I've seen them shooting things that I've shot a lot and been really struck by how they've come back with very, very different things than I usually see. If you don't usually use a telephoto, it's worth renting one or borrowing one and taking it out for a day to see how much it changes your visual sense. What's great about a telephoto is it really changes the relationships of things in the scene because it compresses depth, and because a shallow depth of field can blur things out, you get a lot of new shapes to play with, you get a lot of new relationships to play with.

It's a bad idea to always shoot with the same range of focal lengths. All your pictures end up having kind of the same character. So switching it up with a longer lens is going to give you a very different look, and that's going to make pictures that maybe go together in a more interesting way. So I really recommend if you don't normally shoot with a telephoto, taking one out and seeing just how different the world looks when you look through it. Now, conversely if you regularly shoot with a telephoto, go get yourself an ultra wide and give that a try because you're going to have the same experience in the opposite direction.

My big surprise is there's so much depth compression that things will end up in your frame that you didn't realize would be there. Sometimes that's a drag, but more often than not, you go, oh look, here's another shape I can work with. So there's really nothing too much to shooting with it other than that you've got to be careful of shutter speed, and you got to be careful of vibration. The real power of the telephoto comes from the way that it makes you see and what that change feels like to you while you're working and the new types of photos that it can lead you to. So, you don't need an 800, but as you saw earlier, even going up to a 300 can get you a very different reach, and that can lead you to a very different type of image.

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