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A few days ago Reuters published a collection of the Best Photos of the Year 2012. This collection, similar to the Atlantic’s 2012: The Year in Photos, is a sometimes inspiring, often depressing look back at the events of the past year. The content and subjects of the images aside, they are both excellent presentations of some of the best in photojournalism and image making for the year, and I encourage you to not only look through the images, but to analyze the ones that you like or that move you, and determine what it is about the images that makes them so powerful. Look at the position and point of view of the camera, the aperture settings used (shallow depth of field vs. deep dof), the composition including wide vs. tight and what was put in the frame and what may have been left out, how the elements, forms, and colors in the image relate, the moment captured, etc.

Reuters photographer Joseba Etxaburu is knocked down by a wild cow during festivities in the bullring following the sixth running of the bulls of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 12, 2012. Etxaburu suffered some scratches on his right elbow but was able to continue shooting afterwards. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, lens 70-200mm, f3.5, 1/640, ISO 500.

In an interesting exercise, someone has compiled the type of cameras and lenses used for the photos, and the exposure settings, and then put it all into easy to read pie charts. To turn this information on its head, it seems that to have the best chance of make an interesting image, what you need is a Canon 1D Mark IV with a 16-35mm lens (likely the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L), set your aperture at f/2.8, shutter speed at 1/320, and use 200 ISO.

But to look seriously and more in-depth at the information compiled and presented in the charts, one can learn a lot about how photojournalists in the field operate:

They seem to prefer Canon dSLR cameras, with Canons used in about 90% of the images* – or it perhaps merely shows that Reuters provides, supports, and/ or encourages Canon equipment. (For example, they likely have a collection of Canon bodies and lenses at their offices for the photojournalists to use or to supplement their equipment when they need a specialized lens.) The top camera used, the Canon 1D Mark IV is a very rugged and reliable professional camera, which is interesting to note has “only” 16 megapixels (though it has a much higher quality image sensor than consumer cameras). It has recently been replaced with the more current Canon 1D X.

Prime lenses were used (rather than zooms) in about 55%* of the images, and the most common favorites were nearly equally divided over the 24mm, 50mm, and 16mm (each used about 8% of the time overall when including all lenses*).

With zoom lenses, the wide angle 16-35mm (EF 16-35mm f/2.8L) was used most often (about 19% of the time overall with all lenses*), followed by the 70-200mm (likely the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS version I or II). (The lens links here are for Canon lenses – I’ll try to get back to this and add similar Nikon lens links.)

(*these numbers may be off, as the numbers on Reddit seem to be inconsistent/ incomplete)

What this tells us is that wide angle lenses really are the “bread and butter” lens of the photojournalist, used to capture a wide scene or to place the subject or the action into a larger context – which is often important in telling a full and accurate story in a single image. It also means that the photographer was typically very close to the subject, right in the middle of the action. Sometimes however, a close-up portrait or detail best tells the story, or a photographer can’t get as close as desired, and that is where the 70-200mm comes in.  It is interesting to note that when I did extensive research into choosing lenses at the start of my professional career, I followed many working photographers’ advice and settled first upon these exact lenses – the 16-35mm and 70-200mm. You can do a lot of great travel and photojournalism work with those two lenses alone. One problem you will run into if you are only using one body, however, is that you sometimes have to quickly switch to the other, and that is where the more versatile 24-105mm f/4L or 24-70mm f/2.8L lenses can be more practical.  And you can see that these mid-range zooms were two of the other, lesser used zooms in the chart.

After some time with the zooms, most people want to try their hand at a prime lens – to increase image quality, help them work a bit more at composing and framing, and to provide even shallower depth of field. And as you can see, the wide primes are the most popular among photojournalists. The 50mm f/1.2L or the more affordable 50mm f/1.4 will give you a field of view approximating your normal vision (hence they are called “normal” lenses. The 24mm f/1.4L and 16mm focal lengths are much wider. These also show that the photographers were right up in the action.

The photojournalist’s expression used to be “f/8 and be there” but based on this data, it will obviously have to be modified to “f/2.8 and be there.” The most common aperture setting in these images was f/2.8, used in about 29% of the photos, followed by f/4, f/1.4 (which is possible with some of the prime lenses), and f/3.2. What this means is that they are most often using a very shallow depth of field, usually in an attempt to visually separate the subject of the image from the background, and to call attention to exactly where in the image they want the viewer’s eye to fall. Plus the wide aperture lets in lots of light, which may help them be able to use the fast shutter speeds and low ISO settings they desire.

The “f/8 and be there” expression has been interpreted in a few different ways, but what it seems to say is have your camera ready, and then just be at the scene. The camera settings aren’t nearly as important in photojournalism as simply being there to capture the action.  It also shows that with f/2.8 (and other wide apertures) being used as the most common aperture setting today, photography has likely made a shift over the past few decades where shallower depth of field is much more common.  This would be interesting to investigate, but it could be the result of autofocus systems, allowing a photojournalist to be much more sure of their focus and able to use shallow dof – where as before they had to quickly manually focus and a slightly deeper dof allowed some focusing lee-way. It could also have to do with lenses now being sharper at wider apertures.

The most often used shutter speeds were 1/320, 1/250, 1/800, and 1/640. A photojournalist is often capturing action or precise moments, and thus a fast shutter speed is desired. The best thing to do in these types of situations – especially if working in Aperture Priority Mode so that you have full control over your depth of field – is to set an ISO speed (based on the lighting of the scene) that will allow the camera to select appropriately fast shutter speeds. The best shutter speed depends on the situation and how fast/ what direction the subject might be moving, but from these results it shows that anywhere from 1/250 to 1/800 can work for many scenes – although 1/1000, 1/2000, or faster will be needed for sports and fast action. So set an ISO speed that will result in this shutter speed range when your aperture is set around f/2.8 or f/5.6 (or whatever aperture range you plan to use). The results show that the photojournalists seem to choose the lowest ISO possible for the situation (based on the lighting), as this will result in the least amount of digital noise – interestingly the most used ISO settings actually went in order from 200, 400, 800, to 1600. The fact that ISO 100 came in next, but at a much smaller percentage seems to say: don’t risk it with 100 ISO – just use 200 ISO so that you don’t inadvertently use too slow of a shutter speed when the lighting level decreases but you aren’t paying attention to the exposure settings. The noise and sharpness difference between 100 and 200 is pretty negligible for most current cameras.

Don’t quite understand all these settings and the terminology?  Have a look at my Full Stop dSLR camera guides, such as Canon 5D Mark III Experience and Nikon D600 Experience, which cover not explain the functions, features, and controls of Nikon and Canon dSLR cameras, but more importantly how, when and why to make use of them in your photography.

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon


Craft and Vision, publishers of many fine photography e-books, has just introduced a new, FREE e-book!  It is a collection of articles from various talented Craft and Vision authors/ photographer, and is intended, of course, to introduce you to their thoughts and writings and entice you to buy all the other Craft and Vision books!  This is not a bad thing, as the books are all excellent, and I’m certain you will find at least a couple, if not a handful that will appeal to you as well as help you improve your photography.

The FREE e-book, 11 Ways You Can Improve Your Photography, is available by clicking on its title or the image below.  You will be taken to the Craft and Vision site where, after getting your free book, you can view (and purchase!) all the other books.

The free book has several excellent articles discussing numerous aspects of making a photograph and improving your results including composition, exposure, making prints, self-assignments/ projects, and capturing the moment.  And it is no pamphlet…67 spreads, as in 134 magazine pages!

Authors include: David duChemin, Piet Van den Eynde, Andrew S. Gibson, Nicole S. Young, Alexandre Buisse, Stuart Sipahigil, Eli Reinholdtsen and Michael Frye.

To read my reviews or intros to other Craft and Vision books, have a look at my post Developing Your Photographic Vision as well as the other posts tagged “Craft and Vision.”

As winter is rapidly approaching in New England, I decided it was time to solve a perpetual annual problem: photographing in the cold. I went to EMS and had a look at the various gloves available that would allow me to wear them and photograph at the same time.

The obvious choice first appeared to be the North Face Etip glove.  They fit snugly on the hand and fingers, potentially allowing good control of the lens and the camera dials and buttons.  In preparation I had brought my camera along to test them out.  The silicone grippies of the palm and finger help hold the camera in place, but I soon discovered that these weren’t going to be the best choice.  Although they are designed to use with a smart phone, tablet, mouse touchpad, or similar device, the smooth silver material on the index finger and thumb proved to be too slippery for turning the camera dials, particularly the rear dial on a Canon 50D, 60D, 7D, or 5D type of camera.


North Face Etip Gloves

The next pair was the North Face Powerstretch glove.  The four-way stretch material allows the gloves to fit closely and comfortably around the fingers.  I decided that since the size of neither the L or M wasn’t quite perfect for my hands, the smaller of these two sizes would be best since it would stretch a bit to fit and wouldn’t leave extra material at the fingertips that would impede camera control.

North Face Powerstretch Gloves

This choice, the Powerstretch, worked very well and was a strong contender.

EMS also offers their own thin, stretchy gloves called EMS Axial Glove Liners.  They are thin, allowing good camera control, but intended as liners they possibly aren’t as warm as the North Face Powerstretch.

EMS Axial Glove Liners

The gloves that I finally settled on, after trying on all these options in a variety of sizes, was the EMS Altitude 3-in-1 Gloves.  For myself, this pair solved two problems:  I wanted the thin gloves for working with the camera, plus I needed heavier gloves for the upcoming New England winter.  The 3-in-1 gloves provide removable thinner gloves, appearing similar to the liners above, inside a heavier and bulkier insulated shell.

EMS Altitude 3-in-1 Gloves

However, the inner gloves aren’t just thin and stretchy liners as above but are fleece lined inside and around the wrist – a very thin but hopefully effective fleece layer.  So hopefully they will prove to be warmer than simple liners, and I can slip on the heavier shells when not shooting.

I am sure that there are many other options to choose from when it comes to gloves for cold weather photography.  I know there are fingerless gloves, with or without removable mittens or fingers for full protection.  Perhaps one of the liners combined with a knit fingerless glove will work well.  You can also have a look at gloves intended for cold weather running or exercise, which may prove to work well.

apple icloud icon button dslr tutorial aluminum metal metallic iphoto icamera camera photo

I used this great video tutorial from to create my shamelessly derivative, Apple-style, aluminum-appearing camera icon/ button, based on the profile of the Canon 7D.  I tweaked several of the numbers and settings shown in the tutorial, and I will include those details here soon…

There are several other Photoshop tutorials on the PhotoGuides site (and on its YouTube channel) that look really good, such as the “glass” app buttons, plus some non-video tutorials such as how to create the Apple-type reflection seen under my camera button.

Below my icon is the real, original Apple iCloud icon, so you can see how accurate this tutorial can be.  But you really have to fiddle with the bevel and embossing settings, and adjust your gradients settings to align the reflective light rays.  I tried to make my light rays relatively close to the original, but you can create any number of rays and align them as desired.

Now if I only had a photography iPhone/ iPad App to go along with my icon… perhaps one based on my Ten Step to Better dSLR Photography e-book!


My lists of Peru and Cusco resources later in the post, click here: Peru – Cusco Resources

There are a couple Peruvian / Andean related books that have recently been published and which I both just finished reading:  the wonderfully woven travel stories, characters, and histories of Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams, and a new print and process photography e-book from Craft and Vision called Andes by Andrew S. Gibson.

In the introduction to Andes, author Andrew Gibson shares that “Travel for many people is an unrealised dream. Things like the business of making a living, relationships and other constraints on finances and time can prevent people from turning dreams into reality. This eBook is for the dreamers, and I hope it inspires you to pick up your camera and go live out a dream or two.”  If after viewing his photographs of the people and places of Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia you aren’t yet fully motivated to undertake a similar journey, then reading Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Machu Picchu might just make up your mind.

A couple years ago I myself “picked up my camera to live out a dream” of exploring and photographing Peru, and to be honest, my life hasn’t been the same since.  The combination of volunteering, traveling, and photographing in Peru was a turning point that led me to seriously pursue photography as a profession, leave the 9 to 5 office life behind, discover the existence of an area of the craft called humanitarian photography, and to recognize and pursue many important but dormant goals in life.  If you read through the history of this blog, you should see that journey unfold.  Both Gibson and Adams pursued their dreams and goals, one through photography and the other through exploring the Inca ruins and history of Peru, and each came out of it with a book full of experiences worth sharing.

In Andes, Andrew Gibson presents the images he created, with both film and digital, on several trips to the Andes regions of Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia over a span of 6 years.  If you are familiar with his previous e-books such as The Magic of Black and White parts 1 to 3, you know he is a master of black and white, and all of the photos in this new book are black and white or toned monochome images.  The images capture the people, places, events, and sweeping landscapes of these regions, and the monochrome helps to express both the timeless nature or appearance of some of these places and their inhabitants, as well as the unique high altitude light of the mountains and altiplano.  At the end of the text, he includes the lens and camera settings details and short descriptions of the circumstances of each (see image below), as well as more detailed stories of his travels.  And for those interested in following in his footsteps, he includes practical advice for traveling and photographing in these countries.

For the first five days only, if you use the promotional code ANDES4 when you checkout, you can get the PDF version of ANDES, The Print & The Process Series for only $4 (or use the code ANDES20 to get 20% off when you buy 5 or more PDF ebooks from the Craft & Vision collection).  These codes are good until 11:59pm PST August 6th, 2011.  Learn more about Andes, Gibson’s other books, and all the Craft and Vision e-books on their website.

Back in 2008 when I was in Cusco, I met a real life explorer named Paolo Greer hanging out in the South American Explorers clubhouse.  He was preparing to publish an important article showing that Hiram Bingham was not the first outsider to “discover” Machu Picchu, and Greer was eager to tell any listener about the maps he uncovered in dusty archives that proved this.  I wrote a blog post about it at the time called The Real Story.  I didn’t think too much of it at the time, and people in Cusco aren’t too interested in Hiram Bingham so it wasn’t a big deal there – as they all know that Machu Picchu was never actually lost (Bingham himself met the farmers who lived ON the site).  But at the same time as I was running into Greer everywhere I went in Cusco, Mark Adams sat in his New York office and read about his findings, and it helped to stir his long-held desire to explore the Inca sites of Peru and re-trace Bingham’s footsteps, which eventually led to his marvelous book Turn Right at Machu Picchu.

Adams proceeded to travel to Cusco, find a dedicated and fascinating but somewhat extreme Aussie guide, and hike to the lesser known but important Inca sites that Bingham sought out as he searched for the last Inca stronghold Vilcabamba – sites like Espiritu Pampa, Choquequirao, and Llactapata.  Even though at first glance this book appears to be of the “desk-jockey heads into the wild, completely unprepared, with a crazy guide…mishaps ensue” genre, I quickly and pleasantly discovered it wasn’t. Adams expertly weaves several related stories together including a history of Hiram Bingham and his expeditions in Peru, the author’s own treks following Bingham’s footsteps, tales of his fascinating and capable Aussie guide, information about his Quechua guides and porters, a bit of Inca history, theories related to Machu Picchu and related sites and those who pursue the theories, and of course some self-depreciating travelogue humor.

After having spent time in and around Cusco and having read countless books on Incas and Machu Picchu, I still came away from this book learning much and having lots to ponder. It is a must-read for anyone who has visited or plans to visit Machu Picchu or hike the Inca Trail (or alternative trails). You will have a much greater appreciation of the Incas’ accomplishments, the hike, and the sites and people you encounter after digesting the information, experiences, and theories in the book.

Since either of these books by themselves should inspire you to want to immediately start packing and head to South America, and since they’ve cause me some intense nostalgia for my trips there, I’d like to also share some photographs from other talented photographers who have visited Peru either recently or decades ago, some of my Peru photos, and a couple of my resources for visiting Peru such as my recommended sites, stores, and restaurants in Cusco and my exhaustive list of Peru related books, movies, and resources.

When I was in Cusco in 2008 I met a young student and photographer named Peter Martin.  When I returned home and viewed his photos, I was fascinated at how we viewed and photographed the same country in such different ways.  I always zoomed in on the people, dances, and details while he captured more of the experience of “being there” in the moment or in a specific place.  Here are a couple examples, plus a link to more of them:

Peter Martin

Peter Martin

More Peru photos by Peter Martin:

A couple years ago I also came across an amazing collection of photos taken by John Tucker when he was a Peace Corp volunteer in Peru in the late 1960’s.  His photos capture the out of the way places and people that most tourists to Peru still never get a chance to see, and some of these places and outfits would appear unchanged in those remote places today.  Tucker has a photographic sensibility that reminds me of Robert Frank and his powerful and somewhat similar images of Peru from the late 1940’s, as seen in his book Peru:  Photographs.

Like the Robert Frank photos, Tucker’s photos capture the indigenous people plus a strong sense of the communities, land, and environment where they lived and worked. Both photographers create a true connection to the place for the viewer.

John Tucker

John Tucker

More Peru photos by John Tucker:

Peru – Cusco Resources

Here are my Cusco / Peru resources I referred to:  my list of Cusco Places to Visit and the Fruits of My Labor of all the research and reading I have done on Peru including books, movies, and more.  Both are Word documents that will open up when clicked.  And then some of my Peru images from 2008.

This just in from Craft and Vision and Nicole S. Young:
Craft and Vision e book micro stock Nicole S. Young photography

New eBook Available:
(micro)STOCK: From Passion to Paycheck by Nicole S. Young is a jam-packed guide to producing, managing, and marketing your photographs for digital distribution on the micro-stock market.

There is a lot more to stock photography than uploading a bunch of pictures and hoping for the best. Nicole shares her industry experience and knowledge to help you better navigate the rules, procedures, and best practices to creating quality, useful imagery for the micro-stock market. She explains how to build and deliver on a successful portfolio concept, takes the mystery out of the different types of stock, like rights-managed (RM) and royalty-free (RF), and shares the ins/outs of licensing and releases.

And it doesn’t stop there! She interviews four successful stock photographers and illustrates how others are making the big bucks online. If you’re looking to grow your revenue through digital sales then building a successful micro-stock business is a great way to do it!

Nicole S. Young is a full-time photographer and author specializing in commercial stock photography. She’s is an accredited Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) in Photoshop CS5 and is a Help Desk Specialist with the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. She is also the author of two print books Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots and Canon 60D: From Snapshots to Great Shots.


(micro)STOCK: From Passion to Paycheck is available now as a downloadable PDF for just $5USD here.
Craft and Vision e book micro stock photography Nicole S. Young


Special Offer on PDFs
For the first five days only, if you use the promotional code MICRO4 when you checkout, you can have the PDF version of (micro)STOCK for only $4 OR use the code MICRO20 to get 20% off when you buy 5 or more PDF ebooks from the Craft & Vision collection. These codes expire at 11:59pm PST June 11, 2011.

Many photographers starting out often ask working photographers if it is really necessary to get a model release – permission, from a person depicted in a photo or portrait, to use that photo for commercial or other purposes.  Between the difficulties of actually getting a release, the vague or confusing legalities (editorial use vs. commercial use, etc), or the time and hassle involved, a photographer may not bother.  Additionally, a travel photographer would need releases in various local languages and would need to be able to explain to the model exactly what they are signing, so they might not make the effort.

But if you ever plan to license a photo for commercial use – say for use in a book or in an advertisement – you really will need a release.

Recently a book publisher requested to license one of my images for use in a book.  Although the use of the image in the book might be considered editorial, the editor requested a signed model release.  The photo was taken in a foreign country, over two years ago during a public celebration, and was not at all a situation where I could have approached the subject and asked for permission.  However, with the incentive of a several hundred dollar licensing fee, I set out to get it.

Since the person in the photo was the central figure in the event, I figured I had a chance to track them down.  So one month ago, I contacted the foreign authority who organized the event, through their website.  I also contacted several friends and acquaintances who live in the city where the photo was taken and asked if they could go to the organization’s office and inquire about how to contact the person in the photo.  However, my acquaintances either didn’t respond or were out of town and unable to help.  Finally, a week or so later one of them provided me with the email address of the head of the organization, along with a warning that they would not be cooperative and that as soon as they smelled money, they would want it for themselves.  So I contacted the organizers, and sure enough, they were not cooperative and failed to provide me with a name or contact info.  After doggedly pursuing them, a couple weeks into the process they finally told me that they were inquiring about the legalities of who is authorized to give permission for use of the photo.  Since they organized the event, they implied it was likely them who should sign the model release.  (They may have also been expecting me to start discussing monetary incentives for them to continue to help me.)  I no longer had the patience to tell them that is not how a model release works, and decided to pursue different routes.

I expanded my inquiries, and another friend from the city said not only did she know the name of the person, but that it was a friend of hers!  “Great!” I said, “can you get me in touch with them?”  A week or so later (people in other countries don’t always view email as an immediate back and forth as we typically do…) my friend told me, “well, he isn’t exactly a friend,” but rather my friend had once been introduced to the person four years ago.  However, in the meantime, now armed with the name, I did some bi-lingual Internet searches, and found some indirect connections to the person.  I wrote to one, and he immediately provided me with the model’s email address.  But the subject has yet to respond, so the process continues.

This situation is obviously an exception in that a model release would not have been possible in the original photo situation.  But it is also an exception that it is somewhat possible to identify and track down the subject, a couple years later and in another country.  How often would you be able to do that with a complete stranger, even in your own city, much less in a foreign country?  If you capture a photo that you think may have the possibility of being licensed, you can see it may be worth it to go through the initial effort to get a signed release.  A two minute process at the  time vs. a one month (and counting) process later!

Model releases in numerous languages can be downloaded from Getty Images here:

I suppose I should join the photo blogger holiday tradition of putting together a holiday and Christmas gift guide for photographers or those who are shopping for the photographer in their life! If you plan to purchase any of these items through, I you can use the product links I set up throughout this post, which will bring you right to that product’s page on Amazon. (Amazon will then reward me with a small referral reward for my effort, which will help support my blog. Thanks! If you are in the UK or wish to purchase from B+H, see the end of this post for link information.) And now on to the shopping:

The first thing you are going to need is the Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens Mug or Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens Mug to drink your hot cocoa or hazelnut coffee as you are unwrapping the rest of your gifts. These extremely popular and awesomely realistic mugs, complete with rubber ring grips, have a wide f/4 or f/2.8 opening which enables them to take in copious amounts of liquid just as your lens takes in all that light. The lens caps protects your beverage when not in use – no UV filter needed.
Canon lens mug 24-105mm f/4 Nikon Lens 24-70mm f/2.8 mug

The best gift of the season for most photographers would most likely be a brand new digital dSLR camera to upgrade what they are currently shooting with – one with a few more megapixes, improved autofocus system, faster continuous shooting speeds, and some new bells and whistles.

For many photographers this will be the new Canon EOS 60D body only or the Canon 60D with 18-135mm kit lens. The EOS 60D has continued Canon’s tradition of ease of use, great ergonomics and controls, fantastic image quality and low light performance, plus added a swiveling real LCD screen. And full HD video with more frame rate options than the competitors.
canon eos 60d
For Nikon shooters the best choice is the brand new, highly sought-after Nikon D7000. The Nikon D7000 body only or D7000 with 18-105mm lens cost a bit more than the 60D, but they provide the additional features to justify the higher cost: faster continuous shooting rate, partial magnesium body, more advanced and customizable autofocus system, and two SD memory card slots to save all those shots and HD movies. Either one makes a excellent camera that is capable of producing high quality images.
Nikon D7000
Of course you are going to want some new lenses to go with these cameras. Why not step up to the professional quality lenses to see that immediate improvement in image quality, color, contrast, as well as lens and autofocus performance? For Canon this means the L series of lenses. Expand your focal range or fill in some gaps with a high quality wide angle zoom, standard zoom, or telephoto zoom.

For wide angle zooms, look at either the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM or the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

For standard zooms, which make for a great “walk-around” lens, consider the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM or EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM

And in the telephoto zoom range, look at the EF 70-200, f/2.8L II IS USM or the much less expensive and lighter EF 70-200, f/4L IS USM

One of these lenses in each pair will be both more expensive AND heavier, so be sure and handle them first before you decide on one.

This may also be a good time to start experimenting with prime lenses. Their extra wide maximum apertures will allow you to use them in much lower light, and will create great, smooth background blurring for awesome portraits. Depending on how closely you like to work to your subject, a few to consider are the Canon 35mm f/2, Canon 50mm f/1.8 II for about $100, Canon 50mm f/1.4 (a little more costly 50mm), or the Canon 85mm f/1.8.

An extremely fun lens to work with is the Canon EF 100mm f.2.8 Macro USM. It is incredibly sharp, has dramatically narrow depth of field at f/2.8, and works as a great portrait lens too. If you have never used a macro, go try one out and experience what makes them so cool. The 60D and D7000 images just above were taken with this lens, as well as the cool close up shots of the following post comparing the Nikon D7000 vs D90 vs D300s.

If you need just one versatile lens for everyday use or for travel, the three lenses to consider are the EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM in the L series lenses, or else the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS or EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS.

Of course with any of these lenses, be sure to protect them with a clear or UV filter, preferably a high quality, coated B+W brand UV filter. You can read a lot more about these lenses and how to choose between them in my earlier post, Best Lenses for Everyday and Travel Photography.

Possibly the most comfortable way to carry your camera around all day, especially when using a larger, heavier lens, is the BlackRapid RS-7 Camera Strap. I highly recommended this strap, and I use the older RS-4 version daily. They have made some steady, welcomed improvements on them, including the curved shoulder pad of the RS-7, the quick release strap, and the improved connecting hardware. The base that screws into your camera is a lower profile, stronger single piece, and the securing screw surface on the clasp ring is smooth rather than knurled so that it will no longer scratch up your camera bottom. The strap is comfortable, easy to use, quick, strong, and rugged. I often use it in conjunction with wearing a backpack, and although the straps fight for space against each other on my shoulder, it still works fine. There is also now a version designed for women, the RS-W1 plus a new woman’s version in just black. They are also introducing 2 different pieces of hardware which will allow you to attach your camera to a tripod without removing the R-Strap’s base that is already attached to your camera.

You are going to need something to carry all this equipment around in. My current favorite is the Lowepro Compu Trekker AW backpack, which is now called the Lowepro ProRunner 350 AW. I use this as both my airline carry-on and my working bag during the day. The size works perfectly for both needs. It easily fits the airline carry-on size, including smaller international requirements in some regions, yet fits more that it would first appear. With careful configuration of the interior dividers, I can fit 2 Canon bodies, three lenses, a 580EX II flash, its diffuser, 2 external hard drives in cases, a couple memory card cases, and some filters. In the outside pocket, I have a couple battery chargers, extra batteries, medium Rocket Blower, miscellaneous cords, caps, and accessories. In the rear pocket designed for a laptop, I easily fit a 32″ 5 in 1 reflector. The pack is extremely comfortable, has tons of padding on the straps and the back so that its weight never bothers me and I don’t feel the reflector in my back. I often wear it for hours a day while working, and it is never a problem. The Pro Runner 450 AW might be a better carry on size so that you could carry more gear on the plane with you (if it fits the airline’s requirements) but it would be too big for daily use. There are also rolling versions of these, with an “x” in the name, thought the retractable handles and wheels add weight and size to the bags.

For adventure videographers, the item of the year is the GoPro HD HERO Cam, which you attach to your helmet, head, mountain bike, snowboard, skateboard, motorcycle, or whatever to shoot professional quality, point of view video. It comes in a variety of packages with different mounts. Film and share your adventures in full HD video! Click the image to see it on Amazon or click here to learn more and but direct at the GoPro website.

And to save all those images you are taking, memory cards will make great stocking stuffers. I like Sandisk Extreme 16 GB SD cards. If you still use CF cards, be sure to get the SanDisk Extreme 16GB CF cards. Use a Sandisk card reader to upload the images to your computer, rather than from the camera directly, in order to save the camera batteries. This Sandisk Card Reader is for the CF cards, and the 5 in 1 reads SD cards.

And for some basic stocking stuffers, here are a few simple but essential items for keeping your camera and lenses clean:

Giottos Medium Rocket Blower in the medium or large size. Always have it handy for getting dust off lenses in a hurry, because blowing on them – no matter how careful – leads to spittle on the lenses 5% of the time when it doesn’t matter and 95% of the time when you are in the most critical situations.

Pearstone LP-1 Lens Pen – Works great for cleaning off mysterious spots, smudges, and fingerprints that always appear on the lens (this is why I always use UV filters) as well as that a-fore-mentioned spittle. There is a retractable brush on one end and a cleaning head on the other end. Twist the cap to load the cleaning tip with the carbon based cleaning material, then remove the cap and use. Please read the instructions and visit the LensPen website to fully learn how to use it properly.

For more photography equipment and accessories like those above, be sure to see this previous post Equipment for Travel (and Everyday) Photography.

To edit and save all your photos, you are going to need some hard drive space and some software:

External Hard Drives – The Iomega Ego 1TB and a Lacie Rugged USB 1TB work great both at home and when traveling. There is a FireWire version of the Lacie Rugged 500GB also. Both are built solid and sturdy, and each fit perfectly in the Case Logic Portable Hard Drive Case made for these types of drives. Get the cases in different colors so you can quickly differentiate your different drives. For storage at home, consider a couple Western Digital My Book 1TB External Hard Drives.

Post-Production – After taking all these wonderful images with your new equipment, you are going to need to organize, edit, and work on all your photos. And for that, of course you are going to need Adobe Photoshop CS4 and/ or Adobe Lightroom 3. You can start off with the trial versions that you can download from the Adobe site, but sooner or later you are going to have to get the real versions. Use that student discount if you can!

Also be sure to consider all the great photo books to help you learn to use your equipment, improve you images and compositions, and be inspired. I’ve put together a post of several of my favorites that you can read here. The most recent addition to the bookshelf is:

The Photographer’s Mind: How to See and Shoot Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman
Every time I read Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye, I lament, usually aloud, “why doesn’t he have more books like this?” Well, my wishes appear to have been answered. His next book The Photographer’s Mind has just come out.

And don’t forget the eBooks I put together for setting up and learning to use you Canon dSLR:

Your World 60D – The Still Photographer’s Guide to Operation and Image Creation with the Canon 60D – an eBook user’s guide and tutorial I wrote to help get you up and running with the 60D, quickly and competently. You can learn more about it at this post here. In addition to the PDF version, which also looks great on the iPad, it is also available in a Kindle edition on here and a Nook verion on Plus, for the Rebel T2i / EOS 550D, I have written T2i Experience – a similar guide for Canon T2i / 550D users.

Purchasing: If you plan to purchase cameras, photo equipment, books, or anything else from I encourage you to do so through any of the Amazon referral links I’ve set up. Just click on the equipment name or book title within this post and you will be taken to that Amazon page. Or click here to go directly to Amazon or click on the logo below, and start shopping. Thanks, I appreciate your support!

If you are in the UK, you can click here for the UK Amazon referral link.

For those interested in purchasing through B&H Photo, Adorama, or directly from Canon, I have set up affiliate links with them as well – find them on the left side of this page.

Happy Holidays, and I hope you get everything on your list!

This post is the second in an occasional series in which I describe the making of a photograph, from both a technical and artistic standpoint.  I’ll go through the camera settings and why they were chosen, as well as the thought processes going through my head regarding composition and the creation of the image.  These types of posts will be concrete examples of a previous post of mine called How Pros Photograph, which describes the various decisions that may be going through a photographer’s head as they work a scene and make photos.  The first post in this series can be read here.

This one can be called the Shutter Speed Edition, as you will learn below.  For those looking to learn about Depth of Field, please also view Deconstructing the Shot post 3, the Aperture Edition.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Canon Rebel XT, 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II at 50mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/20s

The Photo: The photo I’ve selected for this example (seen above) is one I took in Pucallpa, Peru in July 2008.  Pucallpa is a town located along the Ucayali River, a tributary of the Amazon.  Though it is a relatively small town, it has a bustling (though undeveloped) port which receives food and goods from deeper in the Amazon region.  The streets of Pucallpa buzz with the constant traffic of moto-taxis, the motorcycle rickshaws found in much of Peru and the developing world.  I had a few days before hopping on a slow boat to Iquitos, so I roamed the town looking for photo opportunities.  I’ve created some strips of photos to show a selection of images as I worked this particular scene:

Pucallpa Series 1

The Process: I wanted to capture the ubiquitous motion and activity of the traffic in the streets of Pucallpa, which is dominated by the moto-taxis.  The best way to do this, I decided, was to capture the blur of motion as the traffic sped by.  I was using a Canon Rebel XT with a 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II lens.  I selected a busy and interesting intersection and set the camera to Shutter Priority mode (Tv on Canon, S on Nikon).  This is so I could control the shutter speed and set it to a slow shutter speed so that fast motion would become a blur.  I initially chose a shutter speed of 1/50, but that wasn’t resulting in enough blur, so through quick experimentation, I settled on 1/20.  This shutter speed, 1/20 of a second, is very slow for hand-holding.  While the motion will blur, it is difficult at this shutter speed to hold it still enough (without a tripod) so that the background will remain sharp and not cause unwanted blur due to camera shake in the in-focus areas.  I now actually recommend using 1/30 as a starting point for creating motion blur.  But even with 1/30, you have to pay attention to holding the camera very still.  I selected ISO 100 since it was a very bright, sunny afternoon, and because I atypically needed to work in a slow shutter speed range.

I initially took some images of the traffic crossing the intersection, trying to capture many vehicles at once to accentuate my idea of the busy traffic.  However, I soon decided to face directly across the street and capture the moto-taxis as they crossed my field of view.  I set the Drive Mode to continuous so that I could fire off a series of photos each time the light turned green and the traffic crossed my view.  The Rebel XT has a slow maximum rate of 3 frames per second (fps) but many current cameras will allow a more useful and faster frame rate of 5 or 6, or even 8 fps.  White Balance was set on Auto, though Sunny setting would have worked well too.  Metering was set on Evaluative.  However, since the lighting and the scene remained relatively consistent, it would not have been a mistake to determine the best exposure then switch the camera to Manual mode, M, and set that exposure for all the photos.

In Shutter Priority mode, you choose the shutter speed and the camera will choose the aperture, based on the ISO setting.  The aperture setting for this photo wasn’t too important to me.  Since the foreground was going to be a blur of motion, it was best that the background was relatively in focus.  So a narrow aperture providing relatively deep depth of field, such as f/11 or f/16 would be fine.  Based on the ISO and the amount of light, the camera was selecting apertures ranging from f/8 to f/22 for various images, with most of them somewhere in the middle of that range.  Also, since the subject was going to be a blur of motion, there was no point in trying to focus on it.  The motion would most likely confuse the auto-focus system anyway, so I switched the lens to MF, Manual Focus, and focused on the sign post directly across the street from me.  Though I may have zoomed slightly in or out with the lens at first, I settled on a focal length of 50mm and left it there.

Pucallpa series 2

While the subject of this composition is the blur of the vehicles, the background also comes into play, and as with every image, can not be ignored.  The street and trees beyond created a nice background, both showing the urban context of the scene and blocking out what could have been a large area of dull, light sky.  The yellow sign post, where I focused, added a nice element of color.  You can see that the yellow post and the curb of the far side of the street lie near the “rule of thirds” lines.  This isn’t an accident, and they were consciously placed there to help create an interesting composition.  This was done through squatting or kneeling in order to place myself at the desired point of view and still capture most of the vehicles from top to bottom.

I took a series of 59 images over a period of nearly 8 minutes, with 48 of the images being the straight-on images in a period of just 2 minutes.  I used a horizontal composition since that worked best with the blur of motion of the traffic.  I typically just held down the shutter button as the traffic started to go by, just after the stoplight changed.  By doing that I captured a variety of interesting images, with the moto-taxis blurring by in all types of configurations.  In a situation like this, luck and chance play a big part.  The photographer must control all the elements they can through composition, framing, and camera settings, and then allow the scene to play out in front of them.  So I would actually call this controlled chance.  There were a few very nice results, and I settled on an frame from the middle of the series, IMG_3306, as my chosen image.  In addition to showing the blur of the moto-taxi, it also captured some pedestrians across the street and fully showed the one-way sign, which I thought were nice additions to the image.  With these added elements, it becomes more of an overall “portrait” of the city streets of Pucallpa rather than just an image about motion.

The Post Process: To create the final image, I adjusted the color and contrast in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and in Photoshop (PS).  As you can see by the unprocessed images, the color and contrast is quite dull and lifeless straight out of the camera.  The original file was a JPEG file, and the Picture Style was Standard (I hadn’t started using RAW yet).  In ACR, the Blacks were increased to 10 to give it the nice deep blacks, which helps to make the bright colors pop even more.  A Fill setting of 10 was used to lighten up the foreground moto-taxi a bit, and Clarity +15 and Vibrance +10 were used to give it some, well, clarity and vibrance.  In Photoshop, the contrast was increased with Curves using a setting probably close to Medium Contrast.  I typically don’t make the blacks so black and purposefully lose detail in the shadows, but I was experimenting with this look and it seemed to work well here.  The image was sharpened using Unsharpen Mask, probably at Amount: 85 or 100, Radius: 1, and Threshold: 4.  Now I would try being more aggressive with the Amount and Radius, but I am not sure the 8MP JPEG file from the Rebel XT would withstand much more without starting to degrade.  Somewhere along the way, either in ACR or PS, the color temperature was also changed to warm it up a little, which is more in keeping with the afternoon sun of the Amazon region.  I didn’t crop the image at all, as you can see.  It is best to try to get the framing you want when you capture the photo, but I am somewhat surprised myself that I did it so well.  I once had a photo teacher in college who complimented me on my ability to capture the frame and not need to crop.  I just thought that was the way one was supposed to take a photo!  Thankfully I still sometimes demonstrate that ability.

The Final Image:

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Canon Rebel XT, 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II at 50mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/20s

The Lesson: We should always learn from our photos, so that next time we are in a similar situation, we can create an even better image.  Some improvements I could have made to this image include using a neutral density (ND) filter or a polarizing filter.  This would have given me more control over the range of aperture settings that the camera selected and allowed for a wider-open aperture so that the far distance became more of a blur.  A polarizing filter would have also helped to darken the bits of sky that appear.  And as I mentioned above, a shutter speed of 1/30 would have still created the blur, but would have been slightly easier to hand-hold without creating unwanted blur in the background due to camera shake.

This image was chosen to be used on the cover of the programs for the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Nuevo Latino Festival in 2009.  Incredibly, the near square crop of the image works really well too:

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography

So hopefully you can see from this explanation and from my previous posts that photographs don’t necessarily just happen.  They are created through a combination of thought processes, a series of decisions, and the application of camera settings based on these decisions and on the situation at hand – plus some controlled chance!

See the Related Posts section just below for links to parts 1 and 3 in this series.  And learn more about how to take control of your camera and the images you create with my Full Stop e-book camera and photography guides.

Full Stop photography e book camera user guide Nikon Canon dSLR

This post is the first in an occasional series in which I will describe the making of a photograph, from both a technical and artistic standpoint. I’ll go through the camera settings and why they were chosen, as well as the thought processes going through my head regarding composition and the creation of the image. These types of posts will be concrete examples of a previous post of mine called How Pros Photograph, which describes the various decisions that may be going through a photographer’s head as they work a scene and make photos.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Ventanas Abiertas – San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 16-35mm f.2.8L II at 35mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/100s

The Photo: As the first example photo, I’ve chosen the full, original version of the current header image of this blog (also seen just above), a line of kids reading in the courtyard of Ventanas Abiertas, an after-school learning center in San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala. I traveled to this NGO near Antigua in November of 2009 to photograph the center, its founder, teachers and students, and its work in the community. I created this strip of images showing select photos from the series as I worked towards finding and making this image:

The Process: As I roamed the center taking photos, I spotted the kids all lined up on a curb in the courtyard, reading. The linear composition and the striking yellow wall made for a pretty obvious opportunity. I had a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens on a Canon 7D, with a protective UV filter on the lens. I first took a shot from a standing position, composing the image with the kids across the center of the frame. The focal length of the lens was at 23mm, a wide shot to capture the whole scene. That shot has a bit of a snapshot look, and didn’t take full advantage of the yellow wall, had far too much of the grey concrete patio, and created too static of a composition which did not make use of the opportunity to apply the rule of thirds for a more dynamic composition. I re-framed to move the line of kids to the bottom third of the frame, and still had the lens wide and was standing. To better fill the frame with just the kids and to create a better point of view, more on the level of the kids, I crouched down and zoomed in to 35mm. Although the 35mm focal length is a wide angle and thus prone to distortion, due to my camera to subject distance there is only a slight amount of distortion in the image. If I had moved closer to the subjects, more distortion would have been obvious. At this point I checked my settings and saw I was at ISO 400 from the previous shots in the shade, so I lowered it to ISO 200 since the late afternoon light was still pretty bright. The lowest ISO possible for the given situation will typically create a higher quality image file. For all the shots I was using Aperture Priority mode. I almost always use Av mode unless i am dealing with motion or blur that needs to be controlled (then I use Tv mode), or am using the flash in a controlled situation (and then I often use Manual, M mode). The aperture was set at f/5.0 to give me a relatively shallow depth of field, but enough so that the kids and the wall behind them were all in focus, but anything inside the doorway and window would be a bit blurry and thus less distracting. Unlike most of my images, the aperture setting wasn’t critical here, as the depth of the entire image is mostly all within a couple feet, from the kids’ toes to the wall behind them. So f/4.0 or f/8 would have given me virtually the same image. At ISO 200, the shutter speed was at 1/80 or 1/100, which was fast enough for handholding. A little faster would have been better to ensure there was no blurring if a child moved their head or hands during a shot, so leaving the camera set on ISO 400 would not have been a mistake.

As you can see in the first several photos, many of the kids were aware of me taking their photo, and were posing, goofing, or self conscious. I continued to take a few shots and waited for them to begin to ignore me. I liked the composition, and the window and the doorway to anchor the sides of the frame, so I continued to take the same shot, attempting to get the best moment of poses and facial expressions. I attempted to keep the image straight, aided by the lines visible in the viewfinder of the 7D. For all of the shots, I manually selected an auto-focus point, using a point below the central focus point which would line up on or near the face of one of the central kids. This would take advantage of the nice contrast between the dark hair and the lighter face to ensure proper auto-focus. By selecting an AF point exactly where I wanted to focus, I didn’t have to worry about focusing or have to re-frame each subsequent shot. The exposure metering was set on evaluative. The bright yellow wall could have easily messed with the metering, and I’m sure another camera like my 50D would have miscalculated the exposure based on the wall, but the 7D performed nicely on this mode. I checked my histogram a couple times to make sure I wasn’t blowing out any highlights and thus needing to use exposure compensation to adjust for that.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
The Final Image: Canon 7D, 16-35mm f.2.8L II at 35mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/100s

I took a series of 19 images of this same scene, over 1 minute and 12 seconds. As you can see, it didn’t take long for the kids to begin to ignore my presence. My chosen shot was from the middle of this series, IMG_3068. It stood out among all the others in the poses, positions, groupings, and facial expressions of all the kids. Throughout the time of the series, a head appeared in the window, and people moved around inside the doorway. Luckily with my chosen shot, the head was in the window, as I like this subtle, almost hidden detail. I liked the bit of green from the plant on the left, but my chosen shot unfortunately doesn’t show much of it.

The Post-Process: To create the final image, I adjusted the color and contrast in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). I had shot the image in RAW for maximum quality and processing latitude. Due to the available light of the scene and the proper exposure, it required little processing. I set the Temperature at 4600 and the Tint to 8. I adjusted Recovery to 5 to bring back some of the detail of the yellow wall which was very slightly blown out, Fill to 15 to lighten up the children’s clothes, Brightness stayed at the standard 50, I set Contrast to 20 with plans to increase it a bit more in Photoshop. Clarity 20, Vibrance 15, and Saturation 0. I like a bit of color saturation, vibrance, and contrast in my images, but I prefer not to overprocess or to make the adjustments obvious. While the yellow of these images is definitely vibrant, especially compared to the dull, neutral RAW images, it is a realistic representation of the actual color. Typically I straighten and maybe crop a bit in ACR, but miraculously this shot was very level, and also left no room for cropping. In Photoshop I used Curves to adjust the contrast somewhere between the Linear and Medium presets, and used Unsharpen Mask to sharpen. I don’t know what my exact settings were, but I had to use aggressive sharpening because the Canon 7D I used had a severe front-focusing problem. The settings were probably Amount: 175 or 200, Radius: 1.8, and Threshold: 4.

The Lesson: We should always learn from our photos, so that next time we are in a similar situation, we can create an even better image. Some improvements I could have made to this image include possibly crouching or sitting even lower to be more on level with the kids faces (although this would have caused keystoning of the vertical lines), eliminating the doorway at right by either re-framing or moving slightly to the left (which would cut out a child or two on the right) or moving to my right and shooting back towards them at a slight angle, but this would have affected the straight-on view which I feel is important to this composition. I would not have minded a little more of the green plant on the left in the frame. The image demonstrates the importance of keeping the camera level and the sensor parallel to the subject to avoid unwanted distortion. The best way to keep the horizontal and verticals straight while taking the photo is to make sure the camera is not tilted up or down and that the sensor is parallel to the wall. This involves moving yourself and the camera up or down to get the framing you desire. Also, in post-processing, I could have used the lens correction menus in ACR or Photoshop to perfectly straighten all the verticals and horizontals. Finally, although the color looks good, now I would have paid more attention to adjusting the Temperture and Tint, or adjusting the white balance using Curves in Photoshop because I have experimented and learned a bit more about these settings since then. Also, now that I see IMG_3074 again, (the last one in the strip above) I like it a lot, and should probably process that one and add it to my collection of final images.

So hopefully you can see from this explanation and from my previous post that photographs don’t necessarily just happen. They are created through a combination of thought processes, a series of decisions, and the application of camera settings based on these decisions and on the situation at hand.

See the Related Posts section just below for links to parts 2 and 3 in this series.

And learn more about how to take control of your camera and the images you create with my Full Stop e-book camera and photography guides.

Full Stop photography e book camera user guide Nikon Canon dSLR

Digital SLR Camera Lessons

I am offering one-on-one, individual instruction (or small group workshops) in all aspects of digital photography in the Boston and Cambridge, MA area. I will create a unique lesson with you that can include topics such as choosing a new digital SLR or advanced compact camera and related equipment, learning how to use the various settings and features of your digital camera, photographic composition and taking stronger images, processing and editing your images in Photoshop, and preparing for photographing while traveling.  The lesson plan is up to you and is customized to your interests, needs, level of experience, and specific equipment.  Subjects will be explained, demonstrated, and practiced in ways you will understand, remember, and use.

Please view the Lessons page here, or under Lessons in the blog menu above, to learn more details.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography Cambridge, MA
Central Square – Cambridge, MA – “Crosswinds” mural by Daniel Galvez

Learn to use your camera with confidence, get the most out of your digital SLR photography equipment, and learn to take better images. Get in touch with me at doug (at) dojoklo (dot) com or at 347-272-Seven Thousand.

Woman on bridge

Library and bikes

sidewalk and people near Coop

tobacco shop

brick sidewalk and legs

or What Pros are Doing When it Looks Like
They are Just Pointing and Clicking

You’ve probably had the experience where you locate the right spot and attempt to take the same photo as one you admire, yet the outcome is never quite the same. Or maybe you’ve stood next to a photo tour leader, and think you are taking the same photos, yet your images don’t seem to look like theirs do. Why is this? What is an experienced or professional photographer doing differently? What’s the big secret, the trick to getting those images?

It’s not impossible, it’s not luck, and it is not dependent on tricks. It’s not necessarily equipment or Photoshop skill. But rather it is a number of decisions and accumulated experience, all happening in those brief moments when a photographer sees a scene, raises their camera to their eye, frames the shot, adjusts the settings, and clicks the shutter. Here’s what the pros are doing in those moments when all you think you see them doing is pointing and clicking:

Festival de Tinajani - Smiling Woman Dancer
Festival de Tinajani – Ayaviri, Peru

The Right Light: A photographer is always chasing the best light. Their eye is always looking for good lighting, interesting lighting, the interplay of light and shadows, silhouettes. They are always aware of the quality of light – the color, the warmth or coolness of the light. Ideally they shoot only at the best times: in the morning and evening. But that isn’t always possible, so they must seek out interesting lighting, make the best of the available light, use a flash or off-camera lighting, or work in shaded areas. If the great light is there, but the subject isn’t, they wait for a subject to come into the scene. They consider not only the lighting on the main subject but also the lighting on the background and how it might enhance or distract from the subject. They place themselves in the best position in relation to the light and the subject to ensure their subject is illuminated as they desire, they remain aware of the light/ subject relationship, and move around as necessary as it changes.

Pre-Visualizing: The photographer begins to see the composition of the image before they raise their camera to their eye. They look at the elements and decide how they want them to relate to each other in the final image. They consider how near and distant elements will relate when compressed into two dimensions. As with the lighting, they look at not only their main subject but also the background that will appear behind it. They look for strong lines, color, weight and balance of elements, symmetry or asymmetry of the elements. They consider their main subject and the environment around it and determine how much they want to include – if they want a wide shot or wish to zoom in or move in for a closer shot. They consider which point of view will best express their subject – high, low, eye-level? They determine if the image and relationships will work best in landscape or portrait orientation, and hold the camera accordingly. They scroll through their mental file of similar images they’ve taken, and consider what was and wasn’t successful and how to improve this shot.

Festival de Tinajani - Woman Dancers Practicing
Festival de Tinajani – Ayaviri, Peru

Metering: When they see that interesting or challenging light they know how to meter for it. They don’t count on their camera to know how they want the scene exposed and they don’t want to blow out their highlights, so they may use partial metering or spot metering directed at the right part of the scene to determine their exposure settings. They do this quickly and instinctively because they’ve practiced and experimented with numerous types of difficult lighting scenes, and…

Camera Settings: …they know their camera inside and out. They know which settings to change and how to change those settings. They’ve customized their buttons and menus to quickly get to the settings they use most frequently. Their eye is on the aperture, shutter speed and ISO numbers in the viewfinder, and their fingers know which dials to move to adjust them without taking the camera from their eye. They know how their camera tends to under-expose or over-expose in certain situations, and they change the exposure compensation accordingly. And they (hopefully) remember to reset these settings when they move into a different lighting or subject situation.

Aperture Priority Mode: The pros often work in aperture priority mode so that they can control their aperture and depth of field and thus establish relationships of near and distant elements, foreground and background. They blur the background to call more attention to the subject, or dramatically place just a narrow plane of the subject in focus. Or perhaps they bring everything from near to far into sharp focus. They select their depth of field based on the relationships they desire to create. They know how the lens they are using renders images at its various apertures, and perhaps use the depth of field preview button to verify.

Festival de Tinajani - Twirling Skirt
Festival de Tinajani – Ayaviri, Peru

Shutter Priority Mode: They turn their mode dial to shutter priority mode when freezing or blurring motion is key to the image. They use a high shutter speed to freeze action, or a slow one to blur or pan. They know the proper shutter speed is critical to this type of shot, and don’t let the camera choose it for them.

ISO: They check the setting that they are not controlling (the shutter speed in Aperture priority mode/ the aperture in Shutter priority mode) and adjust their ISO to bring that setting into the range they want or need. They know from experience which ISO range is appropriate for the amount of lighting they are shooting in, and change it in advance as they move between situations.

Manual Mode: They turn the mode dial to M when they have consistent lighting and a setting that they know is not going to change, or in challenging situations where both aperture and shutter speed are critical. They’ve determined their exposure by metering, and set the camera accordingly.

Auto or Program Modes: They never use these, as their lack of control scares them as much as Aperture Priority mode scares the new dSLR user.

Festival de Tinajani - Flag Dancers Posing
Festival de Tinajani – Ayaviri, Peru

Framing: As they look through the viewfinder, they frame the image based on their pre-visualization and composition decisions. They scan all parts of the frame and not just the subject, from edge to edge and each corner, from near to far, to determine if there are any unwanted elements, elements not essential to their image, or undesired relationships (i.e. the tree growing out of someone’s head.) They move slightly to the left or right, or slightly up or down to bring all the elements in the frame into the desired or most dramatic relationship.

Focusing: They manually choose their auto-focus point to ensure that the camera focuses on what they want it to focus on, not on what the camera chooses to focus on. They lock the focus setting if they need to slightly reframe or wish to hold that focus for a sequence of images. If there is going to be a dramatic shift between the framing seen while focusing and the final framing of the image, they lock the exposure setting on the final intended framing before or after locking in the focusing. They use the other auto-focus modes to capture action that moves across the scene or which is too fast for manually choosing a single point.

Waiting: They wait for the right facial expression and pose, or for the subject to relax, or the moving elements to fall into place, or the peak of action and then…

Clicking the Shutter: Finally! They press the shutter, slowly and smoothly. They have their camera set for single exposure or multiple exposure based on the situation. They fire off several quick shots, or slowly take a couple to ensure they got the shot or to take variations of the image.

Festival de Tinajani - Dancer with Rope
Festival de Tinajani – Ayaviri, Peru

Reviewing: “Chimping” is the somewhat derogatory term for looking at the rear LCD screen right after taking a photo to check out the image. When pros do it, they are not looking at the picture to see what they got. They know what they got. They know what the image looks like because they studied it when they framed and took the photo. They are looking at the histogram and looking for blinking highlights to ensure they did not blow out the highlights or in any way over- or under-expose the shot. If they did, they adjust the exposure compensation, or the aperture and shutter settings, and take it again.

Working the Scene: A pro continues to work the scene, looking for different perspectives, compositions, and points of view.  They look at how relationships of subjects and objects in the scene change, even with just a slight adjustment of the camera’s position or angle.  Even if they think they may have nailed the shot, they know from experience that there may be an even better image to be found or made if they continue to study and photograph the scene.  And they don’t accept “good enough” and continue on to the next scene or shot.  They strive to capture the best image they know they are capable of, sometimes even if it involves returning to the location at a different time of day or even a different season when the light might be better.

These are some of the things an experienced photographer is thinking and doing in those brief moments between the time they pause from scanning the scene around them, raise the camera to their eye, and take the shot. It’s not because they have a pro camera with pro lenses that they got a great image. It’s not some pro secret that was passed onto them when they read the right book and gained entry the right forum. It is the sum of an alert eye, numerous conscious decisions while visualizing and framing, knowing how to adjust their equipment and use its controls, as well as sub-conscious decisions based on taking countless images, experimenting, and learning from the results both good and bad.

To read about an actual example of this process in action in the creation of a photograph, see my post Deconstructing the Shot.

NOTE: Some of the information in this post has been updated to include the current Canon dSLR models, the 60D and the Rebel T3i / 600D. Please check out my blog post at the following link to read the most current information:

Original Post: I’ve had a lot of visits to my previous post comparing these cameras – the Canon 7D, Canon 5D Mark II, and the Canon 50D – and since that really wasn’t much of a comparison post, but rather just a link to an impartial, technically based testing site, I’ll try to give a little more insight into helping you make this decision. Please note, this is aimed towards still photographers and not videographers. I know that videographers have different priorities when making this selection, and I am not knowledgeable enough to address them. I have written some updated comparison posts which also address the Canon 60D here and here.

I’ve used the 50D and the 7D pretty extensively, so I can speak with a bit of confidence about them. I’m very familiar with the features of the 5D Mk II and how they compare to the other cameras, so I will discuss them too. I’ll address the 550D (Rebel T2i) at the end of this post. Also, all the precise specifications of these cameras can be researched online and compared, so I will discuss them on a user-experience level, but I encourage you to decide which factors are most important to you for further research. I know it is a long post with a lot to read, but if you are investing several hundred or thousands of dollars in a dSLR and lenses, you should be thorough! On a final note before I begin, you may have been convinced by forums, reviews, or online comments to question and compare image quality, auto-focus speed, ISO and noise, etc., but those factors are all nearly completely irrelevant. Each of these cameras has more than enough quality in all of those areas. Your choice should instead be based on your level and needs as a photographer, and on which camera best serves the way you work. If you wish to see this complicated choice summarized in an easy to read format, view this post (it is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but mostly accurate). And when you are done selecting a camera body, you can learn more about lenses here.

While I have your attention, I want to mention that I have written eBook tutorials for the Canon 60D and for the Canon T2i, which cover ALL the Menu settings and Custom Function settings, with recommended settings, plus in-depth descriptions of how and and why to use the cameras’ settings and features in everyday use – Your World 60D and T2i Experience. Learn more about the eBooks by clicking on their titles.

Also, please let me know about broken links in my posts, as they seem to mysteriously happen from time to time.

Hudson River – Cold Spring, NY (this image is entirely in color – look at the plants!)

Sensor Size: If you are, or plan to be a professional photographer, and you’ve limited your selection down to two or three of these cameras, you are going to want to seriously consider the 5D MkII. This is due primarily to the fact that it has a full frame sensor (a sensor approximately the size of a frame of 35mm film), which is pretty much expected for you to have as a professional. (Note that whenever I say 5D in this post, I am referring to the 5D Mark II).  The 7D and the 50D have smaller sensors, with a 1.6 crop factor. This means that their sensors are a bit smaller than a frame of traditional 35mm film. A wide angle lens will not produce as wide of a field of view on a cropped sensor as on the 5D: a 16mm will give the field of view of a 16 x 1.6 = 25mm lens, but a telephoto on a cropped sensor will appear to zoom closer, thus making a 200mm lens appear to be a 200 x 1.6 = 320mm lens. You can begin down the professional path with a 50D or 7D, but you are eventually going to experience the limitations of the smaller sensors and start to understand the need for full frame. BUT…there are a few problems with this choice…

Price and Obsolescence: First, you probably haven’t run out to get a 5D MkII because of its cost. As of 5/2010, the price is $2,500. AND, the 5D MkII dates from 9/2008, and is due for an upgrade, likely in 2012, maybe as soon as later in 2011. In some respects, the 7D – being newer – has better features than the 5D, such as the advanced auto focus and metering systems and faster frame rate. Not to mention the fact that if you wait around long enough, a 7D type camera WITH a full frame sensor but a lower price than the 5D is bound to come out! But you need a camera now, so let’s continue. The 7D is $1,600 or $1,700 depending on current promotions, and the 50D is about $1,000. The 50D however, is also the closest one to being replaced (by the 60D or whatever it may be called). This doesn’t mean that it isn’t still a very capable and feasible camera – people are still happily using 20D and 30D cameras, just that it is reaching the end of its production life. So as far as the newest model, that is the 7D (and the 550d/ T2i).

Megapixels / Image Quality: Regarding megapixels, it really isn’t much of an issue unless you plan on printing out billboard size prints. All of these cameras have more than enough megapixels and image quality for most photographers’ needs. The 7D is at 18mp, the 5D Mk II at 21mp, and the 50D at 15mp. I have found that more megapixels give you more lee-way to push and pull the image around in Photoshop before it starts to fall apart and look over manipulated. In this respect there is a significant difference between 8 megapixels of a Rebel XT and 15 or 18 mp. The 8mp barely allow you to do a regular amount of exposure, contrast, and color correction before it starts to really show, but there is little to be concerned about between the 15mp of the 50D and 18mp of the 7D (unless you are a hard-core pixel peeper, in which case you will be deeply offended by these kinds of statements). Be aware that sensors with more megapixels more readily show the shortcomings of cheaper lenses, and thus demand higher quality lenses, like the Canon L series, for the sharpest, most detailed image across the entire frame. From experience, I can tell you there is a huge improvement in clarity, color, and overall image quality when using an L lens with a 50D or 7D.

Marquee – Tarrytown, NY

HD Video: If you are concerned about HD video, then you choice is narrowed down to the 7D and the 5D Mk II. With firmware updates and 3rd party Magic Lantern firmware, they are about on par as far as frame rates etc., so cost and sensor size is again the differing factor here. If you are not going to need or use video, it is definitely worth considering the 50D, which will give you 85-90% of the still photography features and performance of the 7D at a much lower price.

ISO, Frame Rate, File Size: For ISO performance, you can look at the testing site mentioned above to see that they are incredibly similar. Being a professional camera, the 5D has a broader ISO range on both ends, lower noise at higher ISOs, and a better dynamic/ tonal range. This is a large factor in why you pay $2400 for this camera. But for the non-pro, in general you hardly ever want to go above ISO 1,600, so unless you have a specific reason for needing really high ISO and photos with the lowest possible noise at high ISOs (for example shooting lots of indoor or dark events like concerts, weddings and receptions), then this isn’t much of a deciding factor. And if you are concerned about dynamic range, well, don’t be. Anyone who actually needs to be concerned about dynamic range is a commercial photographer who is not reading this post because they are busy choosing between a $7,000 camera and a $10,000 camera. The frame rate performance, however, may be an important factor depending on how you work and what you take photos of. The 7D has a continuous rate of 3fps and a high speed continuous rate of 8fps. Personally, I’m unhappy with this choice of rates. The 3fps is too slow for action situation, and the 8fps is ridiculously high, giving me far too many unwanted photos that quickly fill up the memory card. I wish for a rate closer to 5 or 6 fps. The 5D has one rate of 3.9fps, which again seems a bit too slow for action situations, and limits its use for capturing sports action. The 50D offers 3fps and 6.3fps, which I find ideal. Oh, also, the file size of the 7D images are much larger than the files of the 50D and somewhat larger than the files of the 5D. While this indicates that the files contain more information and detail, this affects size and number of memory cards you will need, plus size and expense of storage on your hard drive and external hard drives, PLUS the time it takes to download, transfer, copy, open, save, and upload files. It is a significant hidden cost in storage dollars and time of the 7D that should not be ignored. (Is this apparent difference of the 7D and 50D images visible to the naked eye of anyone other than pixel peepers and people making jumbo prints? Not necessarily. The image quality you need is available from any of these cameras, so it is more productive as a photographer to focus on image content!)

St. Patrick’s Day Parade – Brooklyn, NY

Features, Customization: Being the newest camera, the 7D has the most advanced features. As I mentioned above, it has an advanced auto focus system, providing more focus points, more focus modes (single point, spot, zone, expansion, etc.) and numerous options for how the focus points perform and select and track a subject. I’ve written a bit more about these features here, along with links to additional resources. There are advanced custom functions for auto focusing and tracking, flash control (the 7D is the only one which offers remote flash capabilities, which will save you a couple hundred dollars on Pocket Wizards if you are going to use this), and customization of buttons and displays. Again, I’ve explained a lot of these features in this post. Read through them. Do you understand them? Are you going to learn them? Are you going to need and use them? Probably not. They are nice to have, make you feel like you have a really powerful camera you are in control of if you learn how to choose, set and use them, but in everyday shooting I rarely, if ever, make use of them. The live view (which the 50D has as well) and the built in level are cool, but will you ever use them? I don’t. (The built in level will be most useful to landscape photographers). Of all the features and customizations of the 7D that are not on the older 50D, the only ones I miss are the remote flash capability, the grid overlay in the viewfinder, the larger more inclusive viewfinder, the spring loaded doors of the 7D, and the ability to switch functions of the top dial and back dial in Manual mode. (It is such a nice feature on the 7D – since I use Av mode most of the time, the top dial controls aperture. But when I switch to M mode, the top dial now controls shutter speed. So with the 50D I have to overcome muscle memory and use the back dial for aperture. But with the 7D, one can switch the dials’ functions.) Unless you are an intense sports or animal shooter who needs to customize how the camera selects and auto focuses on a moving object, how it addresses an object that moves in front of your subject, and how fast it responds to this new object before it addresses or ignores it, then you don’t need these features. And when you compare the features of the 7D to the 5D or 50D, you find that the older cameras are not outdated dinosaurs as forums will lead you to believe – but rather they also have many of these features and customizations as well. As far as all the new auto focus features of the 7D, it turns out they barely mattered to me because I manually select my auto focus point 99% of the time. I don’t want the camera necessarily focusing on the closest object, and it certainly does not know what I wish to focus on, so I don’t leave it up to chance, and I select the point myself. Therefore I rarely use any of these advanced auto-focus modes. In addition, it is much easier and quicker to manually select an auto focus point on the 5D and the 50D when you are selecting from 9 focus points rather than the 19 focus points of the 7D! However, if you photograph fast moving objects that you would prefer the camera to locate, track, and properly focus on, most of the time, all by itself, then the 7D is the camera for you. Also, note that due to the fact that the 5D is a professional body and not a consumer level camera, it does not have a built in pop-up flash. If you plan to use a flash with it, you will need to buy the Canon 580EX II flash (which you should do with any of these camera anyway).

San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala

It is expected that the 5D Mk III and possibly the 60D (or whatever it may be called) will also incorporate this new 7D type focusing system when they come out. The 5D, 7D, and 50D all have AF microadjustment capability, which means that you can adjust the auto-focusing of each lens individually, in the camera, if they happen to front- or back-focus a little bit. The problem is that it is a maddening procedure, and you can never get it quite right because the focusing typically varies slightly for each focus point, as well as for different distances and apertures. (You may get it exactly sharp for the center focus point at 15 feet at f/4, yet find that it is still off for the upper left focus point when you shoot under real life conditions that vary from those settings.) I feel that if you need an excessive amount of AF microadjustment, you should probably send the camera or lens back for repair, calibration, or replacement. Personally, if I were using a non-L-series lens, I wouldn’t worry about a few mm of front- or back-focusing. And if I were using an L-series lens that didn’t focus dead on, I would send it back to Canon for recalibration – which in fact is something I have done. (I don’t understand people’s celebration of AF microadjustment – isn’t it a built in admission of poor manufacturing quality control, especially when pairing a Canon lens with a Canon body?) Finally, be aware that the mode dials of the 7D and 5D do not have most of the “basic zone” mode settings such as sports, portrait, and landscape. As the user of such an advanced camera, you are expected to know how to change the camera’s settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.) yourself for these types of situations. If you don’t, and/ or if you plan on keeping your camera set on Auto (so called “green box mode”) or Program (P) mode, you probably shouldn’t be considering a 5D, 7D or 50D anyway, because you’ll be paying for far more camera than you will be using! Start with the 550D or one of the other Rebels for now and upgrade later if you feel you have outgrown its capabilities. If you are concerned about the best image quality, your image quality difference between a 7D on Auto and a 550D on Auto will be negligible. (Note that these cameras also have a Creative Auto mode, which is a weird “transitional” mode between Auto and actually learning how to make use of aperture settings and exposure compensation in Av, Tv or M mode. Since using aperture settings to dictate desired depth of field is essential to photographic composition, it is best you actually learn it directly.)

Metering: The 7D has an advanced metering system compared to the 5D Mk II and the 50D, and this is actually one very important advantage. The 7D has a more precise 63 zone metering system vs. the 35 zone system of the 5D and 50D. With the 7D, I can confidently leave it on evaluative metering 97% of the time, and it meters the subject exceptionally well 98% of those times. Canon claims that it will meter properly for a wide variety of subjects, including back lit and extreme contrast subjects. I have found this to be true. Compared to the 50D, this is significant. I have found that the 50D regularly overexposes by about 1/3 or 1/2 a stop, and I have exposure compensation on -1/3 all the time to avoid blown out highlights (except in dark situations, where it tends to under-expose). Also, the 50D just does not always correctly expose in unusual or difficult lighting situations. And for dramatic and powerful photos, you want unusual or difficult lighting situations, so I have found that I am using exposure compensation, or having to change to center weighted, partial, or spot metering often. While this is sharpening my metering eye and skills, it is a pain and it leads to the risk of lost shots. I would prefer that it just got the exposure right the majority of the time, as the 7D does. (I have subsequently found that using center-weighted averaging mode on the 50D all the time results in more consistent exposures than evaluative metering mode). You can learn more about the various metering modes, and when to use them, in this post.

Vinnie – Brooklyn, NY

550D / Rebel T2i: The Canon 550D or Rebel T2i has some impressive specs, and shares many features of the 50D and the 7D, and it is actually the newest model of all of them. It has 18mp and HD video like the 7D, but only 3.7fps continuous shooting mode frame rate. And it has 9 AF points and less complex auto focus options, like the 50D. It is fully capable of taking photos that are virtually the same quality as the 7D and the 50D, and if you don’t have intensive shooting and ego demands (ie, wanting the biggest, most expensive body whether or not you actually understand, need, or use its advanced features), it is worth seriously considering. But the 550D can’t have every feature and custom function of the higher level cameras, otherwise it would just be a 7D! If you are concerned about comparing image quality, ISO performance, auto-focusing speed, etc, all of these cameras have more than enough of what you need. You should instead be comparing the features and advanced options of the cameras which are most important to how you work. The top of the line camera won’t help you take better photos. But mastery of the tool that best fits your need just might (when combined with good knowledge of composition and lighting). I encourage you look at Flickr users’ photos taken with an “old,” 8MP Rebel XT to confirm this. Also, don’t rule out the Canon Rebel XSi if you are just starting out with digital SLRs.

If you are comparing a 5D Mk II vs. 550D (5D vs. T2i) you are looking at a professional full frame camera vs. a consumer, entry level dSLR, and skipping 2 pro-sumer cameras in between. So while the features of the 550D are nearly on par with the 7D in many ways, the 550D vs. 5D MkII is an odd comparison that quite frankly confuses me. Are you new to digital SLRs? Get a 550D (or a 50D/ 60D if you wish to spend more money or need the higher frame rate for sports or photojournalism). Have you outgrown all the features, capabilities, or limitations after extensive use of a 20D, 40D or 50D? Get a 5D MkII.  (Note that whenever I say 5D, I am referring to the 5D Mark II, the current model at this time).  Are the images you’ve been taking with your Rebel or 40D no longer living up to your professional level needs in terms of dynamic range and noise at high ISOs? Get a 5D. Want to spend $2,400 on a camera body? Get a 5D. Want to spend $800 and still have a tool that is fully capable of taking professional quality images? Get the 550D.

There are a few reasons why you would need a 7D or a 50D over a 550D / T2i. A major one is the advanced controls over camera settings. The more expensive models have additional buttons, controls, and displays on the exterior of the camera to enable quicker changes of important settings and easier viewing of what the current settings are. The 550D is capable of changing all these settings too, it is just done in a different way. For example, the 7D and 50D have the big dial on the back for quickly scrolling through menus, images, and for quick exposure compensation changes and changes of other settings. They also have the little toggle joystick on the back, primarily for quickly changing focus points. These 2 cameras also have the additional display screen and buttons on the top to easily view and change a number of settings such as ISO, drive mode, white balance, and metering mode – among others. These cameras are designed for a professional or advanced user who makes use of all these settings and needs to quickly change them while working. However, with a little practice, these settings can also be quickly changed using the buttons and big screen on the back of the 550D. The 7D and 50D also have advanced menus which give the user more customization options, like those discussed above (27 custom functions on the 7D vs. 12 on the 550D), and additional features desired by advanced users or pros, such as 1/3 ISO increments where the 550D has full increments (100-200-400 etc.).

What you are also paying for with the 7D and the 50D are stronger, better constructed metal bodies to handle daily use and abuse as well as some weatherproofing of the buttons and doors. (However, Canon cameras have fallen from elephants and airplanes and have survived, so they are all generally pretty rugged. At pitcher of water was thrown on the back of my Rebel XT and it was fine.) All these features give the 7D and 50D a bigger and heavier body than the smaller, lighter 550D, which may be an important consideration for some users. Also, the 7D, and 50D have AF microadjustment capability, but the 550D does not. AF Microadjustment means that you can adjust the auto-focusing for each lens, in the camera menu, if they happen to front- or back-focus a little bit. I don’t think this is a very important feature, as I discuss above in Features. (The problem is that it is a maddening procedure, and you may get the focus exactly sharp for the center focus point at 15 feet at f/4, yet find that it is still off for the upper left focus point when you shoot under real life conditions that vary from those settings.) As I said above, if you need an excessive amount of AF microadjustment, you should probably send the camera or lens back for repair, calibration, or replacement. Or if you are that obsessed about pixels, you should be looking at a pro-sumer or pro camera and L series lenses. Finally, the 550D also uses SD type memory cards, while the other cameras all use CF, and the smaller battery of the 550D will not last for as many shots as the other cameras.

Also, as I discussed above, be aware that the mode dials of the 7D and 5D MkII do not have most of the “basic zone” mode settings such as sports, portrait, and landscape. If you are starting to learn dSLR photography, these modes are helpful for seeing the results from different camera settings, and are good shortcuts until you have learned more about apertures and shutter speeds. Or if you never intend to use or learn more about the advance settings, the basic modes are good for helping you get better looking results than Auto or Program modes. So if you plan on keeping your camera set on Auto, Program, or the basic modes (sports, landscape, etc.), start with the 550D or one of the other Rebels for now and upgrade later if you feel you have outgrown its capabilities. Your image quality difference between a 7D on Auto and a 550D on Auto will be negligible.

So there you have it. You can read great, in depth reviews of each of these cameras on There are probably numerous features and points that I forgot to mention, but hopefully this will give you a starting point in determining which features are important to you, and what warrants further research to help you in making your decision. The important thing is to choose one that fits your needs and budget, then stop comparing and get out and shoot! As I said above, your camera choice should be based on your level and needs as a photographer, and on which camera best serves the way you work. Whichever one you choose, I highly encourage you to get the the applicable Canon Guide to Digital SLR Photography from David Busch, or a similar book like the Magic Lantern Guides. They are much more user friendly versions of the camera’s manual, and will get you up and running quickly and assist you in fully understanding the settings, controls, and functions of your dSLR.

Need a lens to go with your new camera? Read about choosing a lens other than the kit lens in this post Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens, and learn about the Best Lenses for Travel Photography here.

Please leave a comment, ask a question. Let me know what has been helpful, and what you’d like to read more about.

If you plan to purchase any of this equipment or books, I encourage you to do so through the site I’ve set up with Amazon, Doug’s Picturing Change Digital Photography Equipment and Books. Purchasing through this site or one of the links below will help support my blog and my work. Thanks! And for those of you across the pond, click here for my referral link to Amazon UK. If you are in another country, click on one of my Amazon links, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on your country for your local Amazon.
See the T2i on Amazon.
See the 60D on Amazon.
See the 7D on Amazon.
See the Canon 5D MkII on Amazon.

When I began my work in travel, culture, and humanitarian photography I spent a great deal of time scouring websites, reading forums, checking reviews, making lists, and agonizing before I finally settled on which lenses were best for my needs and my work. So hopefully all my effort can help you save some time and assist you in your research in selecting which lenses are best for you. In addition to travel, humanitarian, and photojournalism work, much of this advice will apply to general photography as well. After you’ve learned all about lenses here, you can have a look at this other post to see what other camera gear and accessories you might want.

Open Windows, San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala

The easy answer to the question of which lens is best for travel photography, right up front, is: an all purpose zoom that goes all the way from wide to telephoto, like an 18-200mm, or a standard zoom like a 24-105mm. See the Standard Zoom section and the One Lens For Travel sections of this post for more information about these. The more difficult answer to that question is addressed in detail by this post. The most difficult answer to this question is: it depends. It depends on you. It depends on your level, interests, and goals as a photographer. It depends on what you most enjoy taking photos of and what type of images you aim to capture. Hopefully this post will help you figure that out, and I’ll address this most complicated answer more at the end of the post.

The primary sources for me in determining which lenses to choose were looking at the websites and blogs of other photographers who do similar work, since they often list and discuss the equipment they use. The initial and most helpful source for me was Karl Grobl, since his work as a humanitarian photojournalist is closest to what I do and what I aspire to do. But some of the other ones I can recall looking at include David duChemin – (who is a travel, art, and humanitarian photographer – he seems to have moved or deleted his “Gear” page), plus Nevada Wier and Bob Krist – both dedicated travel and cultural photographers. Oh, and the books and advice of the ever-enthusiastic Rick Sammon helped out along the way. I then applied what I learned from them to my specific photographic interests, preferences, and tendencies (which can be summed up with the fact that I typically like to zoom in close). In other words, if one of them favors a 50mm prime lens but you know you prefer the versatility of zooms, then adapt what they say to your needs.

For me and many others the ideal combination is a wide angle zoom, a standard (or middle range) zoom, and a telephoto zoom. (If you are interested in just one lens for travel, have a look at the Standard Zoom section, and then also jump down to the bottom of this article for the One Lens for Travel section.) I’m going to stick to the professional level lenses and compare the Canon L lenses first, and discuss other Canon lenses in the One Lens for Travel section below. I’ll try to keep it short and simple, and let you conduct further research on the countless sites dedicated to equipment and reviews.

Click on each lens below to link to its page on If you plan to purchase any of this equipment from Amazon (or other equipment, accessories, or anything else), I encourage you go to by clicking on the links found throughout this post, and then Amazon will give me a little something for the referral, which will help support my blog. Thanks!

If you wish to first try out a lens before buying it, click on this link to go to, where you can get great prices on short-term rentals of any lens as well as the latest Canon and Nikon dSLR bodies (as well as video, audio, and lighting equipment).

If you are in the UK or wish to purchase from B&H, Adorama, or direct from Canon see the information at the end of this post for those links. The lenses I chose, which work best for my needs, are indicated by (Y). I apologize to the Nikonistas out there, since all of these lenses are the Canon variety. However, Nikon typically has an equivalent lens for each of these. Just search for the same focal length and have a look at the aperture and price to determine the comparable Nikon (Nikkor) lens. For example here are some equivalents:
Canon 16-35 f/2.8L to Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8
Canon 24-70 f/2.8L to Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8
Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS to Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR

Check out this post to better Understand Canon Lens Notations – the significance of all the various numbers and letters in a lens name.

Wide Angle Zoom
As humanitarian photojournalist Karl Grobl says, this is the “bread and butter lens” of the photojournalist. This is used for up-close-and-personal shots, for environmental portraits or photos, and for “story-telling” images which include multiple subjects or a larger context.

Open Windows, San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala

EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM (Y)
pros: slightly wider on the wide end which is good for cropped sensors (7D, 60D, Rebels), larger maximum aperture (“faster”) for use in low light situations or for more dramatic depth of field
cons: high price, heavier in weight
notes: get the slim UV filter to avoid vignetting, especially if using a full frame camera like the 5D
filter: 82mm slim filter fits this lens.
notes: The above two images of this post were with this lens. This is the wide angle zoom I chose because I wanted the “faster” f/2.8 aperture to be able to use it effectively in low light situations.

EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
pros: more zoom on the far end, lighter in weight, much lower price
cons: f/4 maximum aperture not as “fast” and slightly less dramatic for shallow depth of field, not quite as wide on the wide end
filter: 77mm slim filter fits this lens.

Standard Zoom
This is a great “walk-around” all purpose lens, especially for travel or everyday photography. If you want to head out on the streets with just one lens, this is the one to take which will serve you well in most situations you encounter.

Panajachel, Guatemala

EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM (Y)
pros: larger maximum aperture (“faster”) for use in low light situations and more dramatic depth of field
cons: heavier in weight, higher price, less zoom range, no image stabilization
filter: 77mm multi-coated filter or 77mm coated filter fits this lens.
notes: a great all-purpose walk-around lens, though relatively big and heavy. I discuss using this lens, with several photo examples, in this post here.

There is a new EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM lens plus the new EF 24-70 f/4L IS USM lens, both with the same focal length as above.  The first one just listed is an improved, lighter version of the 24-70 f/2.8L, and the second one listed adds Image Stabilization but has an f/4 maximum aperture rather than the f/2.8 maximum aperture of the other 24-70mm lenses. Adding these two new lenses into the mix makes this an even more challenging decision in the Standard Zoom category!

EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM
pros: lighter in weight, image stabilization which will help you gain 2 or 3 stops in speed vs. hand-held non IS (*see below), more zoom range, lower price
cons: f/4 maximum aperture not as “fast” and slightly less dramatic for shallow depth of field
filter: 77mm multi-coated filter or 77mm coated filter fits this lens.

* this means for example, if the proper exposure of a scene is 1/60 at f/5.6, and you want to hold on to that f/5.6 aperture for compositional reasons and not have to sacrifice your chosen depth of field for a faster shutter speed, you could capture it without blur, whereas without the image stabilization (IS) the hand held image may have been blurry.

Telephoto Zoom
This is a great lens for portraits, close ups, details, ability to zoom in and capture something far away, sports and action shots, and ability to create dramatic depth of field or blurry backgrounds. There are four versions of the Canon 70-200mm lens – either f/2.8 or f/4, each with or without image stabilization (IS). Oh wait, there are now five versions, with the recent Mark II version of the f/2.8 IS. I think with a lens this long and heavy, you need image stabilization if you are going to be hand holding it, so I will ignore the non-IS versions.

Solola Market, Guatemala

EF 70-200, f/2.8L IS USM
pros: larger maximum aperture (“faster”) for use in low light situations and more dramatic depth of field. The Mark II version of this has a closer minimum focus distance and improved optics
cons: very heavy, very large, higher price, especially the new Mark II version
filter: 77mm multi-coated filter or 77mm coated filter fits this lens.

EF 70-200, f/4L IS USM (Y)
pros: lighter weight, smaller, lower price
cons: f/4 maximum aperture not as “fast” and less dramatic for shallow depth of field
filter: 67mm multi-coated filter or 67mm coated filter fits this lens.
notes: This is the telephoto zoom I chose. I sacrificed the one-stop of aperture for the much more manageable size and weight of the f/4. And since I primarily use it outdoors, and because it has image stabilization, the f/4 aperture only really affects the extent of background blurring. There are several example photos of this lens in action in this post here and also more nice example photos in this post here.

I haven’t used each of these lenses in the field, though I have briefly tested most of them, so my decisions and my pros and cons are sometimes based on my research and from what I’ve learned from others who use them. Consider them starting points for issues you want to consider in your selections. And while there are endless discussions and comparisons regarding image quality, sharpness, sweet spots, etc. for each pair above, I will stay out of that discussion and tell you there are highly regarded professionals who use each of these, that any Canon L series lens is professional quality, that price and/ or largest maximum aperture will often indicate the one that is generally considered “better,” and that you will never regret your choice based on these concerns. Note that many L-series lenses are sealed against and dust, water and weather. Sometimes a front filter is required to complete the weather sealing, such as with the wide angle lenses. I suggest always using a clear, protective UV filter with any lens, preferably a high quality, multi-coated B+W brand filter. If you don’t want to spend that much, at least get a high quality single-coated B+W filter rather than a cheaper Tiffen filter.

When making your choices, I highly recommend going to a store with your camera and actively testing and comparing each pair. The difference in size and weight, and even feel of the lens in your hands, is often dramatic and may help you make your decision. If you are still undecided, rent one for the weekend and work with it. And don’t think that you have to immediately get three lenses in order to do your work. Karl Grobl uses just two of them in his work, and that hasn’t limited him in either humanitarian or travel work. Consider your primary needs, and buy one or two based on that, and combine them with less expensive non-L lenses for now.

If your budget or needs don’t call for L-series lenses, see the One Lens for Travel section below, or look for the closest equivalents of the above lenses in other Canon or Sigma or Tamron, etc. lenses (or in the Nikon lenses if you are over in that camp).

Prime Lenses
Many photographers rave about prime lenses (lenses of a single focal length, that don’t zoom) for many reasons, including image quality, the purity and simplicity of working with them, and their large maximum apertures (as wide as f/1.2) for very dramatic compositions through use of shallow depth of field. The focal lengths I see used most often are (these are obviously Canon examples):

Canon 35mm f/2
Canon 50mm f/1.8 II (high image quality for about $100!)
Canon 50mm f/1.4 (Y) (a little more costly, but higher quality 50mm)
Canon 85mm f/1.8

Take into consideration if you have a full frame or a cropped sensor, since with a cropped sensor 7D , 60D, or 550D the field of view of the 50mm lens will be closer to an 80mm lens on a full frame 5D camera (or a 35mm film camera), so the field of view of a 35mm will be closer to a 50mm on a full frame or 35mm film camera.

San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala

One Lens for Travel
I know a lot of people are interested in finding just one lens that is good for travel photography. As I mentioned above the best option is typically the standard, mid-range zoom. Look above for info on the Canon L-series lenses. My choice would be the EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM. For something less expensive Canon offers a couple other great options. For each of these lenses, I would highly recommend getting the optional lens hood (the hood comes with L-series lenses). It helps shade the lens to prevent unwanted lens flare (although lens flare can sometimes be used for a great effect when desired), helps protect the lens from bumps and drops, and makes you look cooler and more professional! And of course always get a good quality, coated B+W brand UV filter for protection – or at least a cheaper Tiffen filter. However, there is a significant difference in the clarity and lack of reflectiveness of a coated B+W filter vs. a standard Tiffen filter, which you can see if you look through them side by side, so those who are concerned about image quality should go with a coated, or better yet multi-coated B+W filter (designated MRC). Also, note that non-L-series lenses are not nearly as well sealed against dust, water and weather as most all of the L-series lenses are.

EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
pros: less expensive, lighter weight, image stabilization
cons: less zoom range on the telephoto end than the 18-200mm, not a constant minimum aperture like the L-series lenses (the f/3.5-5.6 means your largest aperture at the 18mm wide end will be f/3.5, while the largest aperture at the 135mm telephoto end will be a less dramatic f/5.6), not higher quality USM focusing motor, EF-S means this lens can only be used on cameras with the APS-C sensor, or non-full-frame sensors, so it can be used on all Digital Rebels, 20D-50D, and 7D, but cannot be used on a Canon 5D. However, that means it is optimized for those cameras, especially for the wide end.
Lens hood EW-73B fits this lens, and a 67mm coated filter or 67mm filter.
This is currently one option for the kit lens for the Canon EOS 60D, and is a good choice if you are debating between the kit lens or not.

EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
pros: more zoom range on the telephoto end, image stabilization, better image quality than the 18-135mm lens.
cons: more expensive, heavier weight, not a constant minimum aperture like the L-series lenses (see above lens), not higher quality USM focusing motor, EF-S for APS-C sensor cameras only (see above lens).
Lens hood EW-78D fits this lens and a 72mm coated filter or 72mm filter.
This is currently another option for the kit lens for the Canon EOS 60D, and is an excellent choice if you are debating between the kit lens or not.

EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
This is an older lens that seems to have been replaced for the most part by the two lenses above.
pros: less expensive, image stabilization, USM means a faster, quieter auto-focusing motor and full time manual focus (which means you can override the auto-focus by turning the focus ring without having to switch the lens to MF manual focus), EF so can be used with both APS-C and full frame cameras too if you have or wish to upgrade to a 5D.
cons: not a constant minimum aperture like the L-series lenses (see above), less range on both the wide and telephoto ends.
Lens hood EW-78BII fits this lens and a 72mm coated filter or 72mm filter.

It Depends
The actual answer to the question of which lens is best for travel photography is: it depends. As I said above, it depends on you – on your level, interests, and goals as a photographer. It depends on what you most enjoy taking photos of and what type of images you aim to capture. If you are a photography novice, or just want to be able to capture all or most situations, the all purpose zoom or standard zoom might serve you best. But if you wish to capture more of a certain type of photo that you like, photos that match your specific visual ideas and preferences, you need to reconsider. Do you like sweeping vistas and all encompassing environmental portraits? Do you typically want to capture the entire scene in your shots? Then perhaps a wide angle zoom will work better for you than a standard zoom. Certainly, you will be limited and not able to frame certain shots the way you might want, but you will capture more of the types of images you like, and might simply have to move in closer than usual to get some the other images. Do you like extreme close-ups of people’s faces with dramatically blurry backgrounds, architectural details on buildings, the look of compressed perspective? Then a telephoto zoom rather than a standard zoom will help you capture more of those images you like. Sure, you will not be able to get the wide angle view of spaces, but you might succeed in capturing many more of the dramatic photos you like. Or perhaps you best work like a classic photojournalist and want to capture scenes and portraits more closely to how you see them. Then a single prime lens like a 50mm or 85mm might be the one lens that is perfect for you.

The Best Lens for the Canon 60D
A lot of people ask, “Which is the best lens for the Canon 60D, (or the 7D, or the 550D/T2i or the 5D)?” There isn’t a specific lens that is best for a specific camera. I hope you’ve already learned that from reading this post! A lens will perform exactly the same on each of those cameras or any other camera with an APS-C size sensor. The effective focal lengths will be different with a full frame sensor dSLR, such as the Canon 5D, but they will still be wide angle zooms, medium zooms, etc. The best lens for your camera is the one that is best for you, your work, and the types of photos you take. That being said, the kit lens that Canon has paired up with the 60D, the EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is an excellent choice for an all-purpose everyday and travel lens. See the EOS 60D with the kit lens on Amazon here.

For related posts, check out other entries in the Lenses Category, the Humanitarian Photography category, and my posts about Fixed vs. Variable Aperture Lenses and Choosing a Lens beyond the Kit Lens, as well as my discussion and recommendations for gear for travel photography.

Purchasing: As I mentioned above, if you plan to purchase any of this equipment, I encourage you to do so by clicking on the links of each of the lenses listed above, which will take you to that page on Or go directly to Amazon using this link or click on the Amazon logo below. If you purchase through these links, Amazon will give me a little something for the referral, which will help support my blog. Thanks, I appreciate your support!

If you are in the UK, you can click here for the UK Amazon referral link. If you are in another country, click on one of my Amazon links, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on your country for your local Amazon.

For those interested in purchasing from B&H Photo, Adorama, or direct from Canon, please click on their logos on the Gear page. Thanks!

Renting Lenses: If you wish to first try out a lens before buying it, click on this link to go to, where you can get great prices on short-term rentals of any lens as well as the latest Canon and Nikon dSLR bodies (as well as video, audio, and lighting equipment).

Was this post helpful?  Please let others know about it by clicking the Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons below, linking to it from your blog or website, or mentioning it on a forum.  Thanks!

The Digital Photography Review is an excellent site for news, reviews, and forums relating to digital photography equipment.  They address cameras and lenses from all manufacturers, and their in depth reviews of new cameras thoroughly cover every aspect, and usually go on for over a dozen pages.  Their forums are also an great place to find answers to your questions or concerns about specific pieces of equipment.  I typically check the first page each day to keep up with the latest news and see what has been recently announced or released.

In 2007, legendary war photographer James Nachtwey won the TED prize in honor of his life’s work documenting conflicts and social issues around the globe. In addition to awarding him $100,000, the prize also allowed him to make a wish that the TED fellows would assist him in fulfilling. His wish was to photograph an issue that had been under-documented and under-reported in the media: tuberculosis – a preventable, treatable, and curable disease that millions worldwide continue to suffer from. He is particularly concerned about mutations of the disease, MDR-TB (multi drug resistant) and XDR-TB (extremely drug resistant) which are considerably more difficult and more expensive to treat.

Last week I viewed the results of this project – an exhibit of his photos at 401 Projects gallery in New York City (open until March 25, 2010).  The large black and white prints tell a powerful and dramatic story, and it was incredible to see how Nachtwey uses every photographic tool at his disposal to make such compelling images.  The photos can be viewed on the website, which also contains more information about the issue and the ongoing campaign against the disease.  After you look through the photos and just try to digest the story, I encourage you to go back and study why they are so powerful beyond simply the subject matter.  They are often photos of patients in bed or in treatment, but he has made them so much more.

Look at how he:

-uses composition, point of view, and light and shadow to strengthen and accentuate the essential subject.

-draws your attention to the subject he wishes to focus on, yet provides layers of information in the image that encourage further viewing and closer inspection.

-makes use of the element of time and captures a very specific moment, gesture, or emotion.

-uses basic compositional techniques of balance, scale, and line to create cohesive images.

I could go on, but as you can see, this is a wonderful opportunity to study how Nachtwey is using the most basic elements of photographic composition and design – ones that we have all learned about in photography books and classes and which we all have at our disposal to make our images stronger and more successful.

On the flip side, I ran across this blog post which challenges his use of traditional photo-journalistic conventions and visual language.  It is interesting to read and consider as well as you look at the photos.

Canon has just announced a new model in their Rebel lineup of digital SLRs, the T2i or 550D.  I encourage anyone who is just entering into digital SLR photography to have a look at my previous post Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens before you simply buy the T2i kit without considering another lens that may be a better choice for you and your photography.  Also, have a look at my post comparing several of the Canon dSLR cameras, including information about the 550D / T2i.

Antigua, Guatemala                             photo by dojoklo

There are many grim, depressing, disturbing, and disheartening photos of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, such as this series on The Big Picture.  But today I came across a series of photos that show a different side of the conditions in Haiti.  Photographer Alice Smeets had taken revealing photos of the lives of people and children in Haiti before the earthquake (see the “Documentary” section), and she recently returned to document the aftermath in this series of amazing photos.  Although it is a relatively long slideshow, I encourage you to look at the entire series.  The “life goes on” section in the middle is particularly wonderful.  From a photographic standpoint, I was often struck by her amazing use of light – using the low, warm sun of morning or late afternoon, and often shooting into the sun to accentuate it.

photo by Alice Smeets

Documentary photographer Robert Coles wrote “Who we are, to some variable extent, determines what we notice and…what we regard as worthy of notice, what we find significant.”  It is obvious from Smeets’ series of Haiti photos that what she regards as worthy of notice differs greatly from many of the photographers working in Haiti and/ or their photo editors at home.  She communicates a much more human and hopeful perspective of the situation.  All the photos from Haiti show a view of the reality there, but which one is more worth focusing on?

I just learned that I’ve accomplished one of my photography goals:  to have my photo on the cover of a travel guide book!  My photo of the Inca King at Inti Raymi was selected to be on the cover of the Viva Travel Guide Cusco and Machu Picchu guide book.  As their website explains,

V!VA Travel Guides is a web-based community intent on collecting and sharing the most up-to-date travel info available. Essays, reviews and ratings submitted by travelers are available both online and in published travel guidebooks.”

viva cover amazon

Inca King at Inti Raymi – Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru 2007
f/5 – 1/800 – 18mm

The guidebooks, if I recall correctly, were originally only available as downloads due to them being updated so regularly.  They are now offered as printed guides in paperback as well as some e-books, but are still updated frequently.  They cover numerous South American countries including Peru, Columbia, and Ecuador, and they are soon branching out into Central America.  You can buy the guides on their website, on Amazon, or in bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble.  The Cusco and Machu Picchu guide with my cover photo will be released in October 2010.

If you ever attend Inti Raymi, (in the paid bleacher seats) be prepared at the end of the ceremony to go onto the field and get some quick close-up photos of the participants (and I mean close – note the 18mm focal length!) as they parade out of Sacsayhuaman.  At least we were able to do that a couple years ago, when I was lucky enough to capture this dramatic shot.  This was the guy who, through sheer force of will, invoked the clouds to part and the sun to shine down on us, stunning the entire crowd (which included Bill Gates that year).

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