Here is another photography site I take a look at most every day: The Big Picture from the website of the Boston Globe. It shows some of the best of international photojournalism about a timely event or theme, and is a great way to both learn about what is going on in the world and study some of the best images taken by photojournalists in the field.
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.
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.”
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).
I’ve recently discovered the excellent book Blue Planet Run, which I came across after seeing photographer Rick Smolan’s TED lecture. He’s the guy behind the “Day in the Life” series of photo books that were so ubiquitous awhile ago. Anyway, Blue Planet Run is a book he created, full of amazing photos, statistics, and essays about the worldwide water crisis. It was originally offered as a free e-book, and after a little hunting around, I found a pdf copy of it to download on RapidShare. It seems to be virus free and is definitely worth having a look at, either in hard copy or e-version.
(For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category.)
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), “a professional society that promotes the highest standards in visual journalism,” has a code of ethics that all members are required to endorse. Whether or not you are a member, I think that they are excellent guidelines for any photographer working in the field, documenting people and humanitarian situations.
Campo Nuevo, Jalapa, Guatemala
While they appear to be common sense principles, they need to be listed and occasionally reviewed because they are sometimes challenging. For example, the first one is “Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.” As anyone using high-speed continuous shooting mode knows, a facial expression can change in a split second, and the difference in the resulting images can be dramatic. They may tell completely different stories or give opposing impressions of the subject. There are many other examples of how composition, point of view, and time can change the perceived reality of an image. Which representation is most accurate? The photographer must act as an editor and decide based on all they know about the subject and the situation.
San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala
The third one is equaling challenging. It reads, in part, “Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work.” Of course a humanitarian photographer in the field doesn’t want to turn the subject into a stereotype, but in many ways they are working against a lifetime of education and image viewing. As I discussed in my previous “Exotic vs. Real” post, those in the developed world grow up learning to see the developing world and its people as exotic and colorful, but this is often far from the reality. A photographer cannot simply decide to portray a subject without bias and preconceived ideas, but he or she must dedicate themself to learning as much as they can about the subject, their life, culture, and situation. Cultural biases are so deeply embedded one often does not even realize they are there and simply assumes all other humans think and feel the same way. For example, in a classroom when a student gives the wrong answer, a teacher often asks another student to correct them and give the right answer. In certain cultures this action is deeply offensive and insulting, and would never be done by a teacher. It is impossible to know and understand how those in another culture think – expats living a foreign country for years will verify this. But one must make the effort to learn as much as they can about the cultures they work in, and to recognize the multitude of biases they carry with them.
San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala
The third standard also says “Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects.” In addition to the numerous layers of meaning and importance this has as an ethical guideline, this is also an excellent compositional guideline. Show the context of the subject and the environment around them. This is why photojournalists often work with a wide angle lens such as a 16-35mm. By doing this, the photograph gives a more complete story of the subject, and it often makes for a more interesting composition.
San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala
The fourth guideline has been a subject of discussion in the media in response to the images being shown from the earthquake in Haiti. “Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.” Images of dead and unclothed bodies have been prominently shown in newspapers and websites, and have offended some viewers. The Public Editor of the New York Times gave an excellent response and defense to this controversy in this article. One of his responses, which I have often read from other photographers and have experienced myself, is that the subjects very often want the photos to be taken and to be seen. They want their story told, and they themselves have no method or channels for effectively telling their important story.
As far as treating subjects with respect and dignity, nearly all humanitarian photographers, including myself, speak these words in some form on their website. But what do they really mean, in the field? For me it means treating the subject with respect and dignity both in the interactions with them, and in the representations of them in the images. As I’ve written about before, it starts with not entering into a situation with the camera to your face, immediately snapping shots. The photographer should first introduce themself, talk with the subject, or communicate as best a possible. They should explain what they are doing and why. And even before that, as mentioned above, it means educating oneself in advance about the people and culture. It means trying to understand the situation from the subject’s point of view, and then striving to capture that visually. There are an infinite number of visual realities that can be taken of a subject and a situation, but it means capturing and presenting the one that both tells the story and celebrates the subject.
Campo Nuevo, Jalapa, Guatemala
The final NPPA ethical guideline that I will address here is the fifth one, “While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.” There is a difference between photojournalism for the media and humanitarian photography for a client. A humanitarian photographer may be posing a subject in order to get a portrait or to show a certain component of a project. But that does not mean the humanitarian photographer cannot follow this guideline as well. I believe that in many situations, an unaltered, uninfluenced shot will make a more natural, and thus much stronger image. In my work I have found that it is often easy to disappear into a situation, and become the fly on the wall. While subjects may initially strut and pose for the camera, or begin to act self-consciously, if you just stay in place, and let a minute or two pass, they will begin to ignore you and forget you are there taking photos.
Open Windows, San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala
I encourage you to have a look at the other guidelines I have not discussed here and think about how they apply to your work. Please leave a comment, ask a question. Let me know what has been helpful, and what you’d like to read more about.
For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category.
(For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category.)
In my previous post about starting out as a humanitarian photographer, I discussed how to go about creating, planning, and executing your own self-assignments, in order to gain experience in the field and begin to develop a portfolio of work. In this post I’d like to discuss some resources that can help you develop in a different way. An important part of being a humanitarian photographer is understanding what humanitarian aid organizations aim to do, the issues they address, and the people and populations they work with.
San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala photo by dojoklo
A great place to get a broad view of the important humanitarian issues in developing countries is the TED website, which presents a ongoing series of “riveting talks by remarkable people.” Each one I’ve watched has been interesting and enlightening, and they are worth searching through to find the topics that most interest you. Here are a few of my favorites that relate to humanitarian work:
Start with Hans Rosling’s “Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen.” Through his innovative, visual, and dramatic use of statistics, he begins to tear apart myths and preconceptions about the developing world. His other lectures on poverty, AIDS, and Asia are equally as interesting and worthwhile.
Bill Gate’s lecture on “Mosquitos, Malaria, and Education” gained notoriety in the media with his tactic of releasing of mosquitoes into the audience. Through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he is focusing his money, attention, and shrewd business sense to tackling some of the largest and most important humanitarian issues of today.
Paul Collier’s lecture on the “Bottom Billion” addresses the ways we can, and must, close the gap between the rich and poor.
Wade Davis is an anthropologist and ethnobiologist who has spent his career studying indigenous cultures. I highly recommend reading his books, including Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures. In it he celebrates and speaks to the importance of the fascinatingly diverse ways cultures have chosen to exist on this planet. In addition, the book contains stunning photos Davis has taken on his adventures around the globe. Some of these thoughts and photos are part of his lecture on “Endangered Cultures.”
There are many other lectures on these types of issues, so be sure to check out the links and suggested lectures after watching the ones I’ve listed. There are other lectures that aren’t directly related to humanitarian topics which are however very interesting and may help to expand your thinking.
Malcolm Gladwell is always helpful in shifting the way one thinks about things, and his talk on “Spaghetti Sauce” is very entertaining.
Robert Sapolsky, who spends a lot of time studying primates, has interesting and surprising insights into what does, and doesn’t make humans unique.
VS Ramachandran’s talks on the brain, including “The Neurons That Shaped Civilization” are also quite fascinating.
And finally, I can’t leave you without a photography related lecture. James Nachtwey’s “Searing Photos of War” will be an eye-opening and inspiring presentation for any aspiring photojournalist.
I have to warn you, watching one lecture typically leads to another, and they are quite addictive.
For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category.
Check out LensFlare35.com for a great interview and narrated slideshow with humanitarian photographer Karl Grobl. He discusses how he started out, his experiences traveling and working in developing countries, and the stories behind some of his favorite photos.
Sorry, the webpage with the interview seems to be gone. Here are some other interviews with Karl:
Solola Market, Guatemala photo by dojoklo
190mm, f/4, subject distance 10m (image cropped)
For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category.
OK, I admit, the title of this post is purposely overly dramatic. The truth is, I don’t know if you should buy a digital SLR with the kit lens or not. That was partially a cheap ploy for attention and Google searches. But the reality is, Canon and Nikon don’t know what you are taking photos of and how you work, so just because they pair a lens up with the body you want, don’t assume it is the right lens for you and your work. You may save some money at first, but if you soon upgrade and replace the kit lens, and then toss it aside and rarely use it again, you’re really not saving any money. (It should tell you something that when you read forum posts from people discussing kit lenses, you discover the most common phrase is “I bought the kit lens, but…” typically followed by the words “soon replaced.”) You don’t need a “starter lens,” whatever that means. You need a lens that does what you want.
For additional posts about lenses, see Best Lenses for Travel and Humanitarian Photography and Fixed vs. Variable Aperture Lenses.
So I’d like to raise some issues that can help you make a better, more informed decision if you should get the kit lens or if you should buy just the camera body, and purchase a different lens. (A “kit lens” is a lens that is sold together with a dSLR camera body, as a package – as opposed to buying the camera body only and selecting your own lens.)
San Francisco, Peru – Shipibo Village
1/640, f/5, ISO 200, 105mm
If some of the digital photography terms in this post are new to you, check out this great glossary for assistance.
There are several routes to follow regarding buying lenses. One common path seems to be to start out with a single, all purpose zoom lens, like the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, that takes you all the way from wide angle to telephoto. Then when your experience and needs change and develop, you might get higher quality zooms with more limited range, such as a wide angle zoom, a standard zoom, and/ or a telephoto zoom. Somewhere along the way you may throw in a couple prime lenses, and then maybe upgrade the zoom lenses to the professional series, or get a super expensive, giant telephoto if your work requires that. There are a million sites that address everything about lenses, so I don’t wish to repeat it all here. But one thing is for sure: they can’t tell you which lens you need. You have to figure that out yourself, and hopefully this post will help you do that.
One thing to keep in mind with lenses is that you almost always get what you pay for. With more expensive lenses you often get features including:
- better sharpness throughout its full range of focal lengths and apertures
- better sharpness, color, contrast, and image quality across the image frame, from the center to the corners
- higher quality construction
- higher quality glass and coatings to prevent flare and internal reflections
- larger maximum apertures
- fixed maximum apertures (read about what this means in this other post)
- better durability
- Increased dust, water, and weather resistance
- image stabilization (designated IS on Canon lenses; VR on Nikon/Nikkor lenses)
- higher quality auto focus mechanisms
- quieter and faster auto focus
- full time manual focus (ability to override auto-focus for manually tweeking focus while remaining in AF)
- internal zoom mechanisms – meaning the lens does not extend when you zoom – which also allows for better weather sealing
- metal lens mounts (the part that screws onto the camera) for better durability, sealing, and electrical connections (cheaper kit lenses often have plastic mounts that wear and then the lens wobbles and loses electrical connection)
One notable exception to this rule of price=quality seems to be Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 II for under $100. From what I’ve repeatedly read, the quality is exceptional, although the build quality seems to be what suffers. Also, since higher quality lenses typically contain more internal lens elements, they are often heavier than equivalent cheaper lenses.
If you are new to learning about lenses, you may wonder why you shouldn’t just buy a relatively inexpensive lens that takes you from 18mm or 55mm all the way to 200mm or 300mm and covers all your needs. The general answer is that lenses typically can’t maintain high quality throughout a huge range like that. If you have a high quality camera, you are better off sacrificing some of that zoom range for better quality through a more limited range. And any dSLR with 15, 18, or 21 megapixels will show the shortcomings of cheaper lenses due to the high resolution of the sensor.
Ucayali River, Peru
1/400, f/6.3, ISO 100, 105mm
So, to choose the lens that is right for you, first look at what you plan to or typically take photos off. What range of zoom or individual prime lenses best fit these needs? If you have lots of recent photos, look at the EXIF data to see what focal lengths got the most use. (Make sure you take into account sensor sizes and crop factors though. A photo taken at 55mm focal length on your digital compact may be the equivalent of 55mm on a camera with a full frame sensor, like the Canon 5D, but will likely not be the equivalent of 55mm focal length on a 1.6x crop factor size sensor of a Canon Rebel, 60D, or 7D. You may have to do some research and some math and figure out what the equivalent focal length is to make sure you are comparing apples to apples.)
When I was initially upgrading from an all purpose zoom to higher quality but more limited range zooms, I put all my favorite and most successful recent photos in a folder and then opened that folder in Adobe Bridge. In the “Filter” panel, I expanded the “Focal Length” list, and saw the number of photos taken at each focal length. It quickly became apparent that I was always working at the extremes of my lens, either at 28mm or at 105mm, and then the next highest concentration of images was around 50mm and 85mm. What this metadata told me was that I needed a wide angle lens for those times I was working at 28mm, and also a telephoto lens that started around 80mm and went up to 105mm or greater. Knowing from experience that I often wished I could get much wider than 28mm, and seeing in the EXIF data that when going wide I rarely went above 30mm or 35mm, I chose a 16-35mm wide angle zoom lens. Also knowing from experience that I often wished I could zoom in much closer than I was able to with 105mm, a 70-200mm lens was a great solution. With these two lenses, I have the wide and telephoto ranges covered. But the EXIF data also showed a concentration of images from 50-65mm, so this tells me perhaps I should consider a 50mm prime lens. I can make up the difference of 50-65mm by “zooming with my feet,” as they say.
Cusco, Peru – Inti Raymi 2007
1/500, f/4.6, ISO 100, 21mm (digital compact)
If you don’t yet have enough experience or past images to know which range of lenses will best fit your subject matter, look at photographers who do similar work. Professionals usually list what gear they use on their website – look for the “equipment” or “gear” link. If you are into travel, look at what Bob Krist and Nevada Wier use. If you are into landscapes or birds or sports, look at your favorite pros in these areas (sorry, I don’t know too much about these areas). If you favor international humanitarian photojournalism (as I do), look to Karl Grobl and Ami Vitale, or any number of other working pros. If you can’t afford or are not ready to invest in the professional series lenses that they use, determine the closest equivalent in a less expensive lens. Or another approach is to look at the types of images that draw your attention, the types of images you wish to emulate. See if the focal length is listed under the image (this is often done in photo magazines and books), or with images on Flickr view the EXIF data. If it is not listed, just determine the focal length more generally. Are the images you admire and are attracted to close-ups, details, or faces with blurry backgrounds? These are typically made with telephoto lenses – lenses that range from 70mm to 200mm, 250mm, or 300mm. Or are they all encompassing wide shots, landscapes, or environmental portraits? These are usually taken with wide angle lenses or lenses that range anywhere from 10mm or 18mm up to 70mm or 85mm.
There may be 2 or 3 lenses that fit in your desired range, so the next step is to head to the photo store. Have them pull out the camera body you have or want, and then 2 of the similar lenses. Try them both out, and you may quickly see which one you favor. One may be much heavier than the other, or just feel more comfortable in your hands. There may be a significant difference in size. When I went to look at the 70-200mm, there were 4 to choose from: it came with or without image stabilization and with f/2.8 or f/4 aperture. I knew I wanted the IS, and even though it was significantly more expensive, I knew I wanted the f/2.8 since it is generally considered better for a variety of reasons. However, the moment the guy placed them side by side on the counter, I was relieved I had not ordered it sight unseen. The f/2.8 is gigantic. It is a cannon, (not just a Canon) and it weighs a ton. I knew I would not want to haul that thing around, have it around my neck or in my hands all day, and that I would probably begin to dread its weight very quickly. So I went with the f/4 (Canon EF 70-200 f/4L IS), with its very similar optics and performance, and half the weight. I sacrificed a little “speed” and compositional possibilities (as well as bragging rights) with the f/4 aperture, but based on how I knew I would be using it, it was worth the trade off. However when comparing two similar wide angle zooms, side by side and in my hands, I chose the heavier one. Its shorter focal length at the wide end and its wider aperture, which would be beneficial in the low light situations I would be commonly using it, were more important to me that the weight.
Whichever lens you get, be sure to get the optional lens hood (they come with L-series lenses) and a high-quality coated or multi-coated UV filter (such a the B+W brand). The lens hood will help shade the lens to prevent unwanted lens flare (although lens flare can sometimes be used for a great effect when desired), help protect the lens from bumps and drops, and will make you look cooler and more professional! Have a look on my post about The Best Lenses for Travel Photography which specifies the applicable Canon lens hood and filter size for several lenses.
Lake Titicaca, Peru
1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 400, 105mm
If you still can’t decide, rent the camera and both lenses, or just the lens you are leaning towards, and try them out for a weekend. As far as all the other comparisons between lenses, do research on-line. Avoid forums that debate the pros and cons of various lenses but are subject to subjective judgments. Look for sites with actual side-by-side reviews and comparisons. I’ve listed a few links at the bottom.
Don’t rule out a prime lens as your first lens either. The 50mm used to be the “kit lens” back in the 35mm films days, and for a good reason. It is called a “normal” lens, meaning “the way it renders perspective closely matches that of the human eye.” (Gary Voth). Also, its large maximum aperture – often f/1.4 or f/1.8 – means it works great in low light situations, as well as creates dramatic background blurring. Gary Voth has written an excellent post about the 50mm, “The Forgotten Lens,” describing its numerous other benefits. He also addresses the issues of a 50mm with a full frame vs. cropped frame digital SLRs. The couple of photos on his post may be enough to convince you he is on to something.
On a final note, I’ve read of people being concerned about buying lenses that overlap, for example having a 24-105mm and a 70-200mm. These 2 would overlap, and thus potentially serve the same purpose, in the 70-105mm range. I don’t think this should be a concern at all, for a couple reasons. First, the lenses may not act exactly the same optically at the same focal length due to the lenses’ minimum apertures or their focusing “sweet spots.” More importantly, there are so many situations where you can’t or don’t want to change, or even carry around a variety of lenses, so consider each lens’ range independently of your other lenses. If you were walking about in a city taking photos, a 24-105mm would be great range, and more convenient than having to change lenses every time you wanted to zoom past 70mm. Of course if you have 2 bodies, you may have to reconsider this philosophy.
I go into further detail about the best lenses for travel and humanitarian photography in this post where I discuss specific lenses in the different zoom ranges of wide, standard, and telephoto, as well as choosing the best one lens for travel. That post will also benefit those looking for a general, all-around lens.
If you plan to purchase any equipment, I encourage you to do so through the referral links I’ve set up with Amazon. Use the product links throughout various posts, or just use this one and go directly to Amazon using this link to the Canon Lenses or this link to the Nikon lenses. Purchasing through my site or through that link will help support my blog – 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.
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.
Renting Lenses: If you wish to first try out a lens before buying it, click on this link to go to BorrowedLenses.com, 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).
Great sites for lens reviews:
Please leave a comment, ask a question. Let me know what has been helpful, and what you’d like to read more about.
(for a related post, see Depth of Field Simplified)
I recently came across an excellent website regarding depth of field (dof), including a handy online calculator for determining dof based on the focal length of the lens, the aperture, and distance from the subject. It even takes into account different sensor sizes, including the APS-C size sensor of the Canon 7D. You can also view and print dof tables as well as create, print, and assemble a field dof calculator based on focal lengths of your choosing. And if you have an iPhone, there is an app for that! Have a look at the DOFMaster depth of field app.
Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala – 200mm, f/4, subject distance 2.7m
One figurine in focus, surrounding figurines dramatically out of focus – achieved by standing close, zooming way in and choosing wide aperture
Why is this all important? Well first, if you aren’t familiar with what depth of field is, it is the range of distances in which the objects in the photograph will be acceptably sharp. For example, if I am using a 100mm lens, set my aperture at f/5.6, and focus on a subject 10 feet away, everything from 9.69′ to 10.3′ away from me will be acceptably sharp or in focus in the resulting image. If none of this is clear to you, or only partially understood, then go out and read Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure first, and then come back to rejoin us. It is a bit complicated and difficult at first, but if explained properly – as he will do better than I could – it will soon click. Also, I have posted a simplified explanation and quick and easy lesson for using dramatic depth of field here.
So, according to George Schaub in Using Your Digital Camera (I have no idea who this is, but borrowed the quote from the above website) “(Depth of field) is one of the most creative and profound effects available to photographers.” I absolutely agree with this. My photography improved 2000%, virtually overnight, when I understood and began to use the creative and visual power of dof. And this is why I shoot on Aperture Priority Mode (Av) 98.5% of the time.
I don’t want to go into the technical aspects of dof, and it can get extremely technical, but I will touch on some of the practical aspects of it. The ability to control dof is one of the many advantages of a digital SLR vs. a digital compact camera. Due to the small focal length, small sensor, and limited aperture sizes, a compact can typically not create the dramatic dof available to a dSLR user. And if one has a super-zoom type camera that will allow better use of dof, the controls to utilize it may be more cumbersome that with a dSLR.
Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala – 200mm, f/4, subject distance 7.4m (image cropped)
Man in focus, surrounding people slightly out of focus – achieved by being a few dozen feet away, zooming all the way in with 200mm, wide aperture
So why does one utilize dof? One reason is to better call attention to, or even isolate the intended subject of your photograph. When looking at an image, the eye tends to first go to what is sharply in focus as well as to what is lighter. If it is a busy scene with lots of possible subjects, the eye wanders aimlessly around all parts of the photo, and won’t necessarily focus on the subject you intended them to look at. By placing your intended subject in sharp focus, and the background and other elements out of focus to a lesser or greater degree, the viewer zeros in on what you intended them to. It can also be used to create various relationships between your subject and their environment or between your subject and other subjects in the frame. For example, a person who is your subject could be in sharp focus, while the background or elements around them are very much out of focus. This visually draws the subject out and leads the viewer to see this person as the sole subject of the photo. However, if the background or surrounding elements were just slightly out of focus, the viewer then sees the person as well as their surroundings, and starts to consider the relationships between them. By manipulating dof, you can work towards suggesting, defining and creating these types of relationships in your compositions.
San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala – 97mm, f/4, subject distance 3.3m
Girl in focus, boy and background environment (their home) slightly out of focus – achieved by standing a dozen feet away or so, zooming in to 97mm, wide aperture
And why does one need the dof calculators? Since dof varies so widely depending on the lens being used, the distance to the subject, and the aperture, it is difficult to know precisely what distance range is going to be in focus. One can use the dof preview button on the camera, but it is often difficult to determine through the viewfinder what the dof will be. So with the dof calculator, you can plug in various numbers and learn how a certain lens is going to act in a particular situation. Then, by using your lenses often, and experimenting with various apertures and various camera-to-subject distances, one can begin to get an intuitive feel for how each lens works, and how dramatically different a 16mm at f/4 aperture is from a 200mm at f/4 aperture. And when you are in a situation that allows it, you can pull out your iPhone or your field calculator, and determine a precise dof in advance.
Antigua, Guatemala – 127mm, f/5, subject distance 5.3m
Woman in focus, statue on distant church facade out of focus yet recognizable – achieved by standing a few dozen feet away, zooming in to 127mm, wide but not widest aperture
I like using a very wide aperture (like f/4 or f/5.6) to create very shallow, dramatic dof in many of my images. However, I typically don’t want it to be so shallow that a person’s nose is in focus and their ear is out of focus (though this is a dramatic and sometimes desired portrait “trick”). Also, when photographing action, such as dance, I want a little leeway so that if I focus on a hat instead of a face, or if the person moves forward a bit, there is a enough dof that their face will still be in focus. And this is why I originally began to search for depth of field tables, so I could better understand how my lenses were going to respond in certain situations.
Now, as a little, technical side note, I was always taught in school to be aware of the 1/3 – 2/3 rule which says that 1/3 of the in-focus area will be in front of the spot where you focus, and 2/3 will be behind it. So if you were standing at the front of a row of people, and turned back around to look down the line and take a photo, and focused on the 8th guy in line, this rule says that perhaps (due to your particular lens/ aperture/ distance choice) one person in front of him will be in focus too, and 2 people behind him will be. It turns out, this really isn’t accurate at all. Most often it is closer to 1/2 the distance in front of the focus spot and 1/2 behind it. I have no idea why they taught us 1/3 – 2/3.
I’ve run across a nice set of video tutorials (link below) for using the Canon 7D. You can watch them online, or even download them to your camera for viewing. The one on AF Custom Functions is especially helpful at clarifying those setting. Be sure to look around on the Canon Digital Learning Center to find all kinds of other cool stuff about using your camera plus useful tips and instructions from pros who use them. Also, be sure to have a look at my tutorial for the Canon 7D, Assignment Guatemala: Canon 7D, which discusses many of the custom functions and settings of the 7D, and how and when to use them in real world situations.
Also I’ve written an e-book user’s guide for the Canon 7D called Canon 7D Experience. It not only explains all the features, functions, and controls of this powerful, sophisticated, and highly customizable camera, but also when and why to use them in your photography. You can learn more about the guide, preview it, and purchase it here.
San Juan del Obisbo, Guatemala – photo by dojoklo
The distinctive voice you hear in the 7D tutorial videos is Canon guru Rudy Winston, and the photo samples are his images as well. If you are in NYC, you can often find him leading workshops and presentations at places like B+H and Adorama. I went to a wonderfully informative introduction to the 7D that he gave a B+H a month or 2 ago, and these videos are pretty much the same presentation.
I recently ran across this video made by the wonderfully talented photojournalist Ami Vitale. It was commissioned by Nikon to showcase the HD video capabilities of the D300s, a camera very similar to the Canon 7D:
Like this new class of cameras, the short video is itself a hybrid of photography and video – each scene is like a still photograph come to life with motion. With her background and extensive experience in photography, it is no surprise that Ami approached this video as a series of still, yet moving photographs. What I mean is that the language of videography – the pans, zooms, transitions, etc. – is not explored, but rather the camera is typically kept in place while the activity and motion occurs in front of it.
This seems to be an excellent example for photographers who are beginning to explore the video capabilities of their new cameras. Many have predicted that video is going to be the future of visual journalism and storytelling, and the fact that photographers now have HD video in their hands encourages this possibility. But video and film have a language all their own, much different than photography. If one is truly dedicated to video storytelling, they will need to invest much time and effort into learning this language. So while they are striving to see, film, and edit with new eyes and now ears, it will be helpful to begin with a language they are already familiar with – the language of composition, color, point of view, framing, contrast, etc., which they already know from photography.
With this approach, one can begin to capture the element of time (not to mention sound) that a still photograph can only allude to, just as Ami captured the dancing light on the women in the street, the sari fluttering in the wind, the motion of water and change of reflections, the movement of shadows across sand dunes, and the time-lapse effects of various modes of transportation.
According to a recent interview, Ami is now studying videography in a master’s program, so there is no doubt she will soon be telling more amazing and beautiful stories through video.
(For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category.)
As one grows up in the first world, they learn to see the developing world as exotic lands of vibrant color and fantastic ceremonies. I recall that for a grade school project I made a large cut-out of the African continent, and populated it with carefully detailed stand up paper people, all dressed in their traditional local costumes, as copied from the encyclopedia. I marveled at the variations in dress, and how each country had its own unique outfit.
This viewpoint continues on well into adulthood, encouraged by travel brochures showing smiling local people in their indigenous dress, and every traveler with a camera aims to capture those same shots on their journey (see previous post for a couple of my examples). But after spending just a little bit of time in a developing country, one learns that these types of images are far from the “truth.” The ones who still wear the colorful traditional outfits are almost always the poorest and most politically ignored segment of a country’s population. Though they often smile and laugh, their lives are far from exotic and joyful. They are often difficult, full of pain, and short. During my recent brief trip to Guatemala, I repeatedly came face to face with these realities of life in a developing country, even more so than I ever did during my many months in Peru. And in my photos I found I still battle with the contradictions of exotic vs. reality.
San Miguel Dueñas, Guatelmala
I was visiting a compound of several families’ concrete block houses surrounding a paved courtyard containing the shared sink and stoves. These girls returned home in the late afternoon, and I immediately got caught up in taking photos of them. Lost in my concentration, my traveling companion gently reprimanded me, “That’s enough, let them put it down. It’s heavy.” “Right, right, OK” I said and immediately stopped, embarrassed that I hadn’t realized this myself. Although one cannot deny the momentary smile on these girls’ faces is genuine, the reality is that they are child laborers. They had spent the day working in a coffee field, and then as they walked home they gathered and carried the wood, slung on their heads, as they do each day. I imagine that the attention being paid to them by Elizabeth and I is a big part of the smile you see on their faces and in their eyes.
Concepcion (second from left), Kevin (second from right) and family – 11/16/2009
On another day we visited two boys and their families in order to interview and photograph them to write an article about them that will hopefully find them sponsors. The two boys are about to enter high school, and each has lost one or both parents. Without the help of a sponsor to pay for school, books, and supplies, they will have to leave school and begin working. Elizabeth has written more about their stories here. One of the boys, Kevin, is losing his mother Concepcion to cancer of the uterus, and his father died just a month earlier. After interviewing Kevin, it occurred to us that his family probably doesn’t have a single photo of themselves or their mother, which would obviously be a nice memento now and after her passing. We returned the next day to take a portrait. They gently lifted their mother on her bed, where she has lied for endless weeks lacking the strength to get up, and supported her as I quickly took a couple shots, praying that they would be properly focused and exposed in the near complete darkness of the dusty, dirt-floored room.
Although she is dying of cancer, there is nothing she can do about it because the family lacks money for both doctors and trips to Guatemala City for the treatment. And at this point, it would be physically impossible for her to get on and ride a chicken bus the 1 hour into town. She does not have doctor’s visits, she does not even have appropriate medication for the pain. She is dying a slow and very painful death. Sadly, I later learned, many types of uterine cancer are preventable or successfully treatable if detected early with regular doctor visits. In fact, conditions leading to cervical cancer can often have a 10 year window for detection and treatment. But Concepcion has probably rarely seen a doctor in her life, and certainly did not have annual examinations. We had learned the previous day that the other boy, Luis, had also lost his mother to uterine cancer and a very similar death.
Immediately after we left, the head of the NGO I was working with (who had dropped off food and supplies to deal with the bleeding) called a contact and got hold of some appropriately strong pain medication that they, like many of us often do, had left over in their medicine cabinet. I went into Antigua and had an 8×10 print made, and found a simple but nice wood frame. We returned to Kevin’s house, and presented it to Concepcion. She sat up in bed and a huge smile washed across her face. The pain medication had already begun to work wonders, and for the first time in weeks, maybe months, she was not in constant, unbearable pain.
See more related posts in the Humanitarian Photography category.
(For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category which includes post such as choosing your camera and lenses, as well as the follow up to this post, After the Self-Assignment.)
How to Become a Humanitarian Photographer
As with many other photography specialties, there is no set course to becoming a humanitarian photographer. You must make your own path by determining your goals, piecing together the advice and experiences of others, and following your intuition. You can go to school and study photojournalism, you can create your own self-designed curriculum of classes, workshops, and experience, you can intern with an experienced photographer, or you can just strike out into the real world and learn it on your own. Starting out as a humanitarian photographer, or any type of photographer for that matter, involves learning about so many diverse areas beyond the art of making images and the skills of using a camera, a flash, and Photoshop (all of which are full time undertakings in themselves). There is also much to learn about business, copyright, marketing, branding, finances, insurance, client relations…the list goes on and on. But I’d like to go into detail about one important and practical aspect of starting out: the self-assignment.
San Francisco, Peru
In order to discover if travel or humanitarian photography is what you really want to dedicate yourself to, it is vital to get out there and really try it out. Travel to a foreign country, get out in the field, and spend days working at it, as if you were on a real assignment. One can think about it from the comfort of home, drooling over the beautiful photos of those you admire, and imagining the excitement of traveling in exotic places. But you may find that working in the field, spending weeks away from friends, family and soft toilet paper, and suffering days of intestinal distress is not all you hoped for. As any working photographer will tell you, it’s hard. Immensely gratifying and often fun, but none the less hard. I encourage anyone not to invest too much time, thought, and money into this dream until they have undertaken this important test.
Planning and executing a self assignment is challenging, but entirely do-able and realistic for anyone who is dedicated to the idea. Even if you have a full time job and aren’t making that much money, it can be done. Don’t quit your job yet to dive head first into self-employment, but use your vacation time to test the waters.
Money: The first challenge is always money. You have to save up money for the gear, for the time away from work, and for the trip. This is done the old-fashioned way – by scrimping and saving. You’ve read it many times before, and it sometimes seems unrealistic, but it works. Save money anywhere you can – stop eating out, bring your lunch to work, cancel cable, cancel Netflix, get your books and movies from the library, stop buying stuff, use the right ATM and stop paying fees, scour the Internet for the best price on the gear you need. It may take longer than you want, it may even take a year or two, but it works. Remember, each restaurant meal you skip here equals three equivalent restaurant meals in a developing country – or better yet, it equals a week’s worth of groceries when you travel. The recession has already given everyone a head-start into living and thinking more economically, you just have to be dedicated to it a bit more and a lot longer. Also, once you begin traveling to developing countries and seeing how people find great joy in life yet live with so few possessions, your new economic lifestyle will seem that much more appropriate. I’m not just saying all these things because I’ve read them or because they sound like they will work. I’ve done them, all. Also look to Ami Vitale for inspiration. She worked long and hard and saved, then headed off and launched her career exactly this way (see the How You Finance Your Stories video at the bottom of this page: http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0301/av_intro.html). Look into counties that aren’t very expensive to fly to. For someone in the USA, that means look to South and Central America. Depending on the time of year, there are incredibly cheap deals. For example, I recently saw $84 tickets to Guatemala on a major airline. Yes, $84 each way! That’s cheaper than flying home for Christmas. Granted, it is a redeye with a long layover, but it gets you there. Be flexible and use Kayak.com to find the best prices.
Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca, Peru
Gear: You might not yet be able to afford the latest and greatest professional gear. In fact, until you are sure you really want to do this, you probably don’t want to invest in a 5D Mark III and 2 or 3 L-series lenses. Every photo forum you follow, pixel peeper you talk to, and gear review you read is going to convince you that you need the most current, top of the line gear. But you don’t. I do recommend using a dSLR and not just a point and shoot, so something like a Canon Rebel T5i / 700D and a versatile zoom lens like the Canon 18-200mm (or the Nikon equivalent) offers more than enough quality and range to start off with if you can’t afford more. On my first self-assignment all I had was an outdated, 8 megapixel Rebel XT and a single, 28-105mm lens. It didn’t prevent me from getting the shots I wanted, they’ve been exhibited, won awards, been honored by the United Nations, been used on travel guide and textbook covers, and no one has ever told me that the quality of the photos is unacceptable. (And remember that no one, outside the photo world, will ever even think to ask you what camera you used or which lens you chose.) Sometimes, with that early gear, I wasn’t able to zoom as much as I wanted for travel shots, or get wide enough for the close-ups of humanitarian work, so that is why the 18-200mm or 18-135mm (which weren’t available until more recently) would be a pretty ideal single lens solution now. (The secret fact is, I even have a couple great photos in my portfolio, a photo on a travel guidebook cover, and won a dSLR camera using an Olympus SP-320, 7 megapixel point and shoot.) Don’t go overboard with bags and accessories. Get a simple holster bag, like an M-Rock Yellowstone or whichever one fits your body and lens, or a LowePro or Tamrac bag or backpack, a couple filters (UV and polarizing), a lens pen and cloth, a rocket blower, extra batteries and memory cards, and then stop looking. You don’t need anything else. I promise. (Well, also your laptop computer, external hard drive, and some type of insurance coverage for it all. And maybe a Pac Safe 55 to secure it. And perhaps an external flash if you will be working inside. Hey, no one said this was cheap!) For insurance, look into your home-owner’s or renter’s insurance to see if it will cover it, or look at NANPA’s coverage or the discussion here. (If you happen to join NANPA to get their insurance, be sure to mention my name as a referrer, and I get $20 NANPA Bucks and save on my next renewal!) To sum it up, as culture photographer Craig Ferguson stated in a recent interview, “You don’t need to have the most expensive gear or even the newest. A plane ticket and enough money for 3 months living coupled with an entry level body and a 50mm lens will get you further than the latest pro-level body and no time or money to use it.” I discuss additional photography gear and accessories that are useful for working in the field in this post.
Altos de los Mores, Peru
Researching the NGO: Figure out what type of NGO (non-governmental organization) or non-profit organization you’d like to photograph, and which countries interest you, and start doing research. Which subjects most inspire your passion for this work? Disabled children, gender equality, health, faith-based work, community development? In every developing country there are countless NGOs doing each of these types of work and more. As a professional, you might not be able to be this specific in your choices, so take advantage of your self-assignment. Do searches on the Internet, and look on idealist.org. It is hard to imagine that any small, typically struggling organization does not want free, semi-professional quality photos for their website and newsletters, so most all will be welcoming to your offer to volunteer. But it is very important that you are quite clear that your interest and intent is to photograph their work. If you sign up to be a general volunteer, you will be expected and obligated to be doing whatever work they ask of you. Do not think you can be a volunteer and also take photos on the side. You will not do a good job of either that way. Be perfectly clear with them that you are interested in primarily photographing the work they do. That doesn’t mean you can’t spend a few days as a volunteer, and by all means you should (see below), but they should not be expecting you to be a typical volunteer.
Altos de los Mores, Peru
Ask questions and find out as much as you can about the actual work they do. Don’t just trust what you read on their website, but find out exactly what they do and where they work. They may say they work in 4 different communities, but really they might only visit 3 of them once a year for a medical visit or to bring donations. They might say they have a number of different programs, but really they may only be currently focusing on one of them based on financial reasons or staff and volunteers skills. Make sure that your area of interest is really what they are doing now. Explain to them your interests, and see if meeting your goals will be possible with them. NGOs are often run by incredibly generous, helpful, kind, friendly, flexible people, and they will want to help you at your project. But they are also incredibly busy and strapped for resources, so learn to communicate and work with them on their terms. Many organizations require that you pay to be a volunteer. This may sound strange, but you have to understand that they need money in order to keep doing the work they do. Just the fact that you are working for free does not pay the salary for the NGO’s staff. But be wary, there are many placement services that make money by being a middle-man, so make arrangements directly with the NGO. If your volunteer fee includes lodging, or even food, it is often quite reasonable to pay them. However, there are also many excellent organizations which will not charge you anything. If this is the case, be sure and support them by bringing donations (books, toys, art supplies). See my Resources Page for more information on volunteering. Some organizations run restaurants and hostels, so support them by eating and staying with them. Also, if you are thinking of joining a mission type trip, like a medical mission, find one that is being organized from your area so that you can document the planning and the departure of the group at the airport.
**Update 2010-01-28** Here is a website I just discovered which attempts to link up volunteer photographers with humanitarian projects world-wide: http://photophilanthropy.org/
Working in the Field: It seems every photographer I admire always discusses the importance of talking to and getting to know the people you are photographing. Sometimes that means just chatting with them and buying some of their wares before you start to photograph them, other times that means living among them for several days, weeks, or months. As a photographer working with an NGO, this means you should consider being a volunteer for a day, without your camera, without photographing. Yes, that is a painful experience, to see potentially great shots slip by left and right. But this sacrifice will quickly pay off when you start to work. This gives you an opportunity to learn what the organization does and how they work. It also allows you to start to get to know the people they serve, and for them to become comfortable around you. It is obvious that this approach, rather than barging in with your face behind a camera, is going to result in much more genuine photos. Also, stay out of the way of the director and the staff when they are working. Make your arrangements and ask questions before or after the workday. Be flexible to ever-changing, never scheduled situations, but also, always remind the director of what you want to be doing. She might go running off to visit one of the client’s homes or villages, and you want her to know to always grab you and take you along on those types of trips. Take advantage of your time there to do, see, and photograph as many different types of places and situations as you can. Talk to everyone you meet – other volunteers, people at restaurants and hotels. Many other people are doing volunteer work, and they may point you in the direction of a great photographic situation.
Develop, learn, and practice a good workflow for saving and backing up your images every day. It is time consuming and easy to want to put off, but if you get behind there will be no catching up. I recommend using David duChemin’s global workflow as a starting point (alternate link here). Always have your camera with you, even if you think you are just being taken to the bakery for some bread and are told you’ll be back in 5 minutes. You will inevitably be taken on a two hour detour through a part of town off the beaten path, with amazing photo opportunities, during the magic hour (best evening light). Always carefully prepare and assemble your gear before you start each day, and have new batteries and memory cards accessible while you shoot. I highly recommend you always remember to “make haste slowly.” What this means is that you will often be in a hurry, but don’t rush and act in a panic during critical moments, in preparation or in shooting. Change lenses carefully and slowly, then rush back to the action. Clean the mysterious glob off your lens carefully and delicately, then get back to shooting. There are countless opportunities to damage your gear, and while it is durable, somewhat waterproof, and stray marks and dings on your tools are not something to fret over, a dropped or scratched lens is. After this, well, I don’t know what to tell you – you’re going to learn a lot. You are going to learn your camera and its settings inside and out, you are going to learn to work under pressure, always being ready, always trying to capture the fleeting shot and changing light. You are going to start to learn what works and what doesn’t as far as compositions, camera settings, perspectives, etc. You are going to begin to learn about life in a developing country. And you are going to very quickly learn if this work is truly your passion and your calling.
Please leave a comment, ask a question. Let me know what has been helpful, and what you’d like to read more about. Let me know if you have planned or undertaken a self-assignment on your way to becoming a humanitarian photographer, and how you are addressing the challenges of this endeavor.
See my follow-up post, Becoming a Humanitarian Photographer-After the Self-Assignment for the next stage of the process.
For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category.
My recent trip to Guatemala to photograph for an NGO gave me an opportunity to field test a bunch of new gear under real working conditions – jumping on and off chicken buses, crammed into the seat of a van for hours with all of it on my lap, roaming around the streets of Antigua trying to be discreet as possible carrying a 70-200mm lens and a backpack full of equipment, and photographing for long hours at a time. I had done a bunch of Internet research to choose the best and the most appropriate gear, made a couple trips to B+H to look at it all, and it all worked out as good, or often better than expected. I’m not sponsored or compensated by any of these companies (but wouldn’t be opposed to it if they happen to be reading…), but I do recommend all of this gear without reservation. (Update: I’ve now been using all of this equipment constantly for the past 11 months, and still recommend it all!) I discuss the camera I used on the trip, the Canon 7D, in this previous post.
Most all of this equipment will be equally essential for day-to-day photography, culture and travel photography, humanitarian photography, and photojournalism. And the equipment will be useful with any dSLR, Canon or Nikon.
If you plan to purchase any of this equipment, I encourage you to do so through the links I’ve created below which will take you directly to Amazon.com. Your price will be the same as always, and I will get a small referral fee. Or you can go directly to Amazon.com here. I appreciate your support! If you are in the UK, or wish to purchase from B+H Photo, see the end of this post for information on those links.
Camera Backpack: I use the Lowepro Compu Trekker AW as both my carry-on and my working bag during the day. The current version of this is the Lowepro Pro Runner 350 AW. 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 (a Rebel XT and a Canon 7D or 50D), a 70-200mm f/4L IS, a 16-35mm f/2.8L II wide angle zoom, a 28-105mm standard zoom (an older lens, here is a link to the better 24-105mm f/4L), all lenses stored with their hoods turned backwards, 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. Once I am in the field, I play around with the dividers until I have a set-up that best fits my flexible daily needs, and allows quick preparations or lens changes. 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. In fact, on my final night in Guatemala when I went out to dinner in Antigua without it on my back for the first time in 2 weeks, I commented that I felt a bit naked. The top handle is strong enough to grab and carry with, as is often necessary while jumping in and out of cars or putting it down and picking it up. There is also a waist belt that I use when I have it fully loaded, like going to the airport, to relieve my shoulders of some of the weight. And it comes with a built in rain cover that stows away at the base of the bag that has done its job on a couple occasions. The Compu Trekker Plus (now 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. The Compu Trekker has a tripod strap system that I don’t use, and another outside pocket that is, conveniently, exactly the size of a Lonely Planet guidebook. Here are some photos of the backpack in action at the Chichicastenango Market, taken by my travel companion Elizabeth Jimenez:
If you just need a holster style bag to carry one body and one lens, I highly recommend the M Rock Holster Bags. I used the Yellowstone model for months while traveling in South America, and I love its durability, pockets, and built-in rain cover, plus it comes with extra back-up straps. Make sure you get the right bag for your body/ lens combination – you will need a longer bag for a telephoto zoom lens. As far as a satchel bag to carry a body or two plus two or three lenses and/ or a flash as you set out for the day but don’t want a backpack type bag, have a look at the Think Tank Retrospective line (there are a few sizes, the 10, 20 and 30, etc.) or the Crumpler Million Dollar Homes. Again, there are several sizes to choose from, called the 5 Million, 6 Million, etc. The 7 Million Dollar Home is my satchel of choice for carrying my gear about town while working. It holds a large dSLR (5D line, 6D, 60D, etc.) with a mid-range telephoto attached (24-105mm), plus a 70-200mm, and another lens or a flash, all in the inside compartments. There is then some extra space and a couple front/ flap pockets to hold chargers, memory cards, batteries, etc. To keep moisture from accumulating in your equipment and bag, throw in a durable desiccant pack like this one. Just be sure that it isn’t loose in your bag and scratching against your equipment.
Security: A couple great additions to the bag are Eagle Creek combo locks and Eagle Creek Pack It Sacs in the small size to hold batteries, memory cards in cases, LensPen, camera and lens body caps, and various wires and cables. The medium size Pack It Sacs are great for medicines bottles and other loose stuff in your luggage. The backpack’s zippers are rugged enough to handle constant abuse from the combo locks, which although they are weighty, are far better than keyed locks in the field so that you don’t need to go digging for the key when you are in a hurry. You just have to be a little careful when opening and closing the bag – the locks dangle and flip around, and could easily bang into something fragile in the backpack. With the Pack It Sacs, I clipped some rubber bands to the key clip within the outside pocket of the backpack and then attached them to the clips on the Sacs, so that way the Sacs won’t accidentally fall out if I flip the bag open and close while the outer pocket is open. There’s enough play to access them and then shove them back into the bag.
Another great accessory for this backpack is the PacSafe 55 wire mesh security system. It fits perfectly around this size bag, and secures your bag and your gear in a hotel room or wherever. It has a long cable that you loop around something secure and lock in place. It also comes with a small, compact storage case for when not in use.
SanDisk Extreme 16GB CF Memory Cards – I talked about these in the previous post. Once again, no particular reason why I use these rather than Lexar or Delkin…maybe a sponsorship would help seal my loyalties… :). Be sure to get the Sandisk Extreme 16 GB SD version if you are using the 60D or Rebel T2i. I use a Sandisk card reader to upload the images to my laptop, 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.
Spare Batteries – I always have 3 batteries for each camera body. The Canon 60D, 7D and 5D use the Canon LP-E6 Battery. Stick with the Canon brand batteries rather than the unpredictable third-party brands.
BlackRapid RS-4 Camera Strap – The R-Strap is wonderful, and I highly recommend it. I was hesitant and suspicious at first, but I quickly adored it and will always use it. I had even emailed BlackRapid before purchasing to ask about shortcomings of earlier models, and they addressed my concerns thoroughly and completely. I was very impressed with the time and personal attention they paid to my questions. The strap is comfortable, easy to use, quick, strong, and rugged. I often use it in conjunction with wearing the backpack, and although the straps fight for space against each other on my shoulder, it still works fine. I’m a bit envious of the RS-7 that just came out, since it has a curved, ergonomic shoulder pad that will work better by itself on your shoulder and next to a backpack strap. There is also now a version designed for women, the RS-W1. Watch some of the videos out there as to how to use it, and be sure to moisten the rubber gasket before attaching it to your camera – this will make a firm seal that will never budge. The big pain is that the part attached to your camera body is best left in place, yet that makes it less easy to place the camera down on a table or in your bag, and will have to be removed to use a tripod. Also, the textured tightening screw part of the connector may rub up against your camera body in various situations, so I put some black duct tape on the bottom edges of the camera to protect it.
B+W brand UV Filters – clear, protective filters for the lenses, slim for the wide angle. The slim is probably not needed with a crop sensor camera, but is recommended for a full frame camera. The slim comes with a lens cap that does not stay on well after a little bit of use, as there are no front threads for the Canon cap to fit on. If I had to do it over, I would probably get the regular filter so that I could use the Canon lens cap.
B+W brand Circular Polarizer Filter – a polarizer serves to darken skies, boost contrast, cut through haze and reflections in water and glass, and block out a stop or two of light in bright situations. I keep it on my lens much of the time when doing outside work. Polarizing filters work to their maximum degree when the sun is to your right or left, but not when it is directly in front or behind you. Be sure to turn the moving part of the filter to dial in the degree of polarizing that you desire. They are typically not used on wide angle lenses because the darkening effect would vary across a wide swath of sky, and usually look strange.
Sto-Fen Omni Bounce Diffuser – works great on the Canon 580EX II flash, although very snug and is always difficult to get on and off in a hurry. Squeeze it and stretch it first to help it go on easier. Please don’t use the diffuser outside! Even if you see “pros” doing it. It doesn’t do anything outside but make your flash work harder. You can’t bounce light off the clouds.
Honl Color Correction Filters and Speed Strap – These are essential for using with flash to balance the white balance of the scene – to make the color of the flash the same as the color of the ambient light. This way when you correct the WB of your subject your backgrounds won’t be vivid orange (incandescent ambient lighting) or sickly green (fluorescent). You can’t use them in conjunction with the diffuser – the Omni-Bounce can’t fit over the Speed Strap, but that had not occurred to me when I bought them – so I’m going to have to figure out a solution to that. And I’m going to continue experimenting with the full or 1/2 CTO to add warmth to outside fill flash, as recommended by Nevada Wier (actually she uses a Kodak Wratten 81A gel, but I think they are similar). The kit is very slim and fits perfectly in one of the inside pockets of the backpack.
Giottos Medium Rocket Blower – I initially used the small size in order to save a bit of space, but it didn’t have the power I wanted, so I sprung for the medium. 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. The large size may be a good choice as well.
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.
32″ 5 in 1 Reflector – This size is perfect for travel and fits in the backpack, however I never actually used it during the trip so I don’t know if the size is useful in the field. It is best suited for set-up situations and portraits, which I didn’t have the opportunity to do on this assignment. I could have used it once to block some stray sunlight falling into a very dark room and potentially messing up the exposure, but I didn’t think about it until later. I did, however, carry it around a lot and never noticed because it is lightweight and very durable.
External Hard Drives – I use a Iomega Ego 500GB and a Lacie Rugged USB 500GB when traveling. I’ve used the Iomega on extended trips before, and love it. I’ve never had any problems with it, and it is solid and sturdy. I also decided to try out the Lacie Rugged USB for this trip. It is lighter than the Iomega, and doesn’t feel as solid and sturdy, but it worked just fine. They both fit perfectly in the Case Logic Portable Hard Drive Case made for these types of drives, which I recommend getting in different colors so you can quickly differentiate your different drives. I leave them in the cases at all times, but you have to pull the Ego slightly out to plug in the cord, and place the Lacie upside down in the case for the cord to fit without removing the drive each time. For storage at home, I use the Western Digital My Book 1TB External Hard Drives.
Hakuba Digital Media Storage Wallet – These are great, soft sided, thin memory card cases that hold 6 CF memory cards each. I picked up this recommendation from Karl Grobl’s website. There are a lot of bulky, hard-sided cases out there, which make you feel like your memory cards need excessive protection. I’m sure there has been a situation where an elephant stepped on a memory card case and all photos were miraculously saved by a hard sided case, but as far as my needs, the soft ones work just fine. Get into the habit of inserting blank cards face up and used cards face down into the cases’ pockets. Since this is the size for CF cards, have a look at this one if you use SD cards.
‘da Products Screen Protector – (product no longer available) – This is the second camera I have used this product with, and I am once again very happy with it. It is a very inexpensive yet high quality screen protector for your LCD, made with acrylic. Get ‘da40D Protector for the 7D – it is the perfect size. It is a slow, careful, time consuming process to attach the adhesive strips, get it clean, dust and fingerprint free, and perfectly centered, but once it’s on, its there to stay (unless you want to remove it – in that case, to remove the ‘da screen protector use dental floss to break the seal at the bottom corners, then slowly peel off.) I know that today’s LCD screens are durable, but I feel more comfortable and carefree about constantly wiping off my protector with my fingers or shirt than I would directly on the built in screen. This is also why I use B+W UV filters on the lenses. However, if you have a camera with a rotating screen such as a 60D, T3i, or D5100, this type of screen protector won’t work. You will need to use a thin adhesive film protector like this one.
Calumet micro fiber lens cloth – Stores perfectly in another slim inside pocket of the backpack, and always handy to have.
Insurance – Although I am a member of NPPA – National Press Photographers Association, I also joined NANPA – North American Nature Photography Association, in order to get their equipment insurance, which is much cheaper and has a much lower deductible than NPPA’s, even including the extra $100 to join NANPA. The insurance is primarily for the equipment only, so you are not paying for liability coverage geared toward a business as you are with every other photo equipment insurance plan I researched. Please note that the NANPA membership fee covers you from June to June or something like that – they don’t pro-rate, so you will not get a full year if you join at any other time. The insurance covers photo and computer equipment at home and while traveling. (If you happen to join NANPA to get their insurance, be sure to mention my name as a referrer, and I get $20 NANPA Bucks and save on my next renewal!)
Skooba Satchel 2.0 Laptop Bag – This is typically my second carry on, in which I carry my laptop, some books, misc. charging cords, some toiletries. This is a wonderful laptop bag, and you won’t believe how much will fit in it! As they say themselves, it is deceptively slim looking and incredibly light. It has these great little air squares for cushion everywhere – like bubble wrap made from durable rubber, and has an extremely comfortable and ergonomic strap.
Lowa Tempest Lo Hiking Shoes – I’ve worn these shoes, this same pair, nearly everyday, for almost 4 years straight now, and they still have a little life left in them. I wore them every single day for a total of 7 months in Peru, walking the cobbled streets of Cusco, and traveling the country. And I wore them nearly every day for 3 years walking the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan, and now Cambridge. (I don’t have a car, so I actually walk, a lot.) They are so comfortable I never notice them. They are light, durable, and somewhat waterproof if treated regularly. I recently bought a backup pair for the inevitable day that I have to give them up. After 3.5 years one one them developed a tear at the front-side where they crease when crouching to take photos, but they are still fine except in the rain.
Post-Production – Once you get back 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 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 while you still can!
Purchasing: If you plan to purchase any of this equipment, accessories, or anything else from Amazon.com I encourage you to do so through the links I set up throughout this post. Just click on the equipment above and you will be taken directly to that Amazon page. Your purchasing price will be the same, and they will give me a little something for referring you, which will help support my blog. Thanks! Or click on the Amazon.com logo below to enter Amazon and start shopping. I appreciate your support!
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I recently returned from a trip to Guatemala, where I was taking photos for an NGO that works with children, literacy, and education. It gave me the perfect opportunity to try out a bunch of new equipment and really put it to the test in the field.
San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 78mm, 1600 ISO, 1/100, f/5.6
First and foremost, it was the first time I really had the opportunity to use the Canon 7D body (I discuss the additional gear in this related post). The camera performed wonderfully in many ways, however, I did have autofocus related problems – namely a serious front focus issue. With both wide angle and telephoto L-series lenses, the camera was consistently focusing several inches or more in front of the subjects. I played around briefly with the AF Microadjustments, with the intention of taking a closer look at the situation when I returned home. (Body was later exchanged for another that focuses properly.)
I had another, odd and unexpected complaint in the field, and that is with the high speed shooting modes. One has the choice of 3fps or 8fps, yet I needed something more like 5fps! I’ve included some images throughout the post that are straight from the camera (I merely converted from RAW to JPEG). Anyway, on to the review and instructions for many of the camera’s settings, and how and when to use them in real world situations. And at the end there is some info about video tutorials available for downloading and watching.
If any of the digital photography terms you come across in this post are unfamiliar, be sure to refer to this great glossary for assistance.
Design – The camera is extremely comfortable to hold and use, especially due to the size, shape, and material of the grip, and it felt to be designed perfectly for my hands. It is nicely weighted with both a 16-35 f/2.8L II and a 70-200 f/4, and carries well with an R-Strap attached to the camera body (the 70-200 f/4 doesn’t come with a collar). Due to its similar design and button placement as previous Canon models, it was easy to get used to changing various settings on the fly – everything from ISO right up on top to Flash Control in the menus. There are a few settings that I quickly fell into, but that I would like to experiment with a little more with before I settle permanently into. Here are a few notes, in no particular order of importance:
Av Mode – I set the camera to Av mode for 99% of the time, as that is how I typically work (because I always want to control the depth of field). About the only time I took it out was when I was experimenting in an HDR type situation where I was in Manual and bracketing, trying to properly expose both a dark colonnade I was under and the cathedral in bright sunlight beyond. I haven’t yet worked on combining the exposures, but here is a nice shot that came from that situation:
Antigua, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 16-35 f/2.8L lens at 16mm, 1600 ISO, 1/500, f/16
(edit – I added the camera and lens information to these images. Please note that the camera settings used for these various images may not necessarily be the “best” or “ideal” settings to use in the specific situations, but camera settings are always the result of changing situations and lighting, coming from another scene, going back and forth between action and still subjects, adapting, experimenting, and sometime just plain not paying attention!)
ISO – I had high hopes for Auto ISO, thinking I would finally be given the freedom to stop worrying where I left it set, but I quickly found that in Av, I didn’t like the slow shutter speeds that were resulting when I selected the aperture and the camera selected the ISO. So I ended up never using it. I would like to experiment with it some more, and figure out if there is something I can do to keep the shutter speeds in a better range. It is wonderful to have the versatility to change ISO on the fly, but one often gets caught up in shooting, and forgets to change it to an appropriate setting, and thus sometimes the shutter speed isn’t the most ideal. So, I just have to stay in the habit of paying attention to where all three settings are as I go from indoor to out or change lenses, etc. This is aided by these settings being visible in the 7D viewfinder.
High Speed Continuous Shooting – many people marvel at the 7D’s ability to shoot 8fps in High Speed Continuous Mode. However, for my purposes on this trip, that proved far too excessive. I often shoot a burst of photos when someone or something is in motion and I want to capture the peak of action or a flattering pose, or when a gesture or facial expression might change rapidly. Unfortunately, 8fps results in a lot of unwanted files, and as I will soon address, these files are HUGE and rapidly fill up a hard drive. But sadly, the Low Speed Continuous drive setting is only 3fps, which is too slow to capture the rapid changes in a scene. The 3fps speed was one of the main drawbacks of my previous body, and a major reason for upgrading. What I need is something in between, maybe 5fps! Perhaps Canon or someone will tweek the firmware to allow this…
San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 16-35 f/2.8L lens at 35mm, 800 ISO, 1/500, f/3.5
Custom Functions – In order for you to get the most out of the 7D, and to set it to function best how you work, you need to dig into the Custom Functions. One of the settings I use is customizing My Menu, and then having My Menu always appear first when I hit the Menu button. (My Menu Settings / Display from My Menu=enable) I played around with different items on My Menu, but have settled for now on the ones that I use most often or that I may quickly need and want to access without digging into the menus. They are:
Flash Control – you can quickly adjust all the settings for the built in flash, external flash, wireless flash. You can even control all the setting of the 580EX II remotely – when it is not attached to your camera. Very cool.
Exposure Compensation/ AEB – exposure compensation is easy to change at any time with the big dial, so this shortcut is for using when I want to bracket (AEB).
Review Time – I found that I was often shooting away without chimping (looking at the LCD), so I often just turn off the LCD review altogether. Other times, however, I want to review.
ISO Expansion – I haven’t used this yet, but I wanted it handy in case I want to use the high ISO. I typically have this turned off because I didn’t want the camera to default to High ISO during any situations. But considering I wasn’t using Auto ISO, this all seems unnecessary, and now that I realize this, I will have to replace this with something else on the menu! I never went above 1600 ISO, which I did have to use sometimes in very dark classroom settings along with the flash. Upon quick review of those images, the lack of noise in these files is really good.
Format – this is to format the memory card in preparation for use the next day. Always reformat the card, never simply erase them or use the Erase All option if your camera had that (the 7D does not). However, after formatting, turn the dial to select another menu item so that next time you hit Menu, Format isn’t still selected and you quickly make a grave mistake of pressing it.
Highlight Tone Priority (II-3) – this is a great setting to use in a high key situation, or with a bright subject or scene. It helps to retain detail in the highlights so they don’t get blown out, such as a white wedding dress, or a snow or beach scene. I never did use it, but I keep it in this menu to remind me it is there for the day when I do need it!
Chichicastenango, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 155mm, 200 ISO, 1/80, f/4
(please note, this post was initially written to explain how I used these settings in a specific travel situation. I go into more detail about each of the Custom Function settings, with clear explanations of what they are and when and why to use them, in my e-book Canon 7D Experience, which is discussed below.)
Safety Shift (I-6) – I sometimes enable this setting. It allows the camera to shift the shutter speed or aperture automatically, without your expressed permission, in order to get the shot. This is great for situations where the light suddenly and dramatically changes, such as at a concert. However if you are carefully choosing your settings, or working with a flash, you will want to disable this so that the camera isn’t overriding your careful settings.
AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity (III-1) – This dictates how quickly focus tracking switches to another subject when it momentarily loses the initial subject, such as when another subject passes in front of it. You can choose to have it stay focused on the initial subject (Slow), or focus quickly on a new subject that moves in front of your initial subject (Fast). Typically I want to stay focused on my selected subject, and ignore someone or something that momentarily passes between us. If you want to quickly focus on different subjects at different distances, put it on fast.
AI Servo 1st/2nd (III-2) – Is your priority focusing on the subject, tracking the subject, firing off rapid shots? Look at the manual to see which situation works best for how you shoot.Personally I think 0 or 1, with the autofocus (AF) Priority, is best. (The camera makes sure it focuses first before taking the shot. It may cost you a microsecond of time however.) Regarding tracking vs. drive, I keep it at 0. Setting 0 continues to prioritize focusing possibly at the expense of speed, while setting 1 will prioritize the speed of subsequent shutter releases at the expense of focus.
AI Servo AF Tracking Method (III-3) – This works with autofocus modes where more than one AF point is active. The names of the choices are a little confusing but what they do is Setting 0 will focus on a closer subject that enters into your view, not necessarily in front of your subject. while setting 1 will remain focused on the initial subject. I keep mine on 1, since I want to stay focused on my initial subject.
San Juan del Obisbo, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 200mm, 100 ISO, 1/1000, f/4
AF Focus Mode (III-6) – I enabled all the AF modes in the Custom Functions – by default, several of them are not available to you unless you change that setting. I started out using Single Point, but sometimes changed to Spot for more precision. The cost of using Spot is that it may not focus as quickly or as well when hand held or with a moving subject, and is generally not necessary unless you are trying to focus on a very small, precise area, such as through a fence to a subject beyond. I occasionally used AF Point Expansion when photographing rapidly moving children. I don’t know how other photographers work (according to a Canon rep who gave a 7D presentation at B+H, there are big name professionals who still just focus with the center point and recompose), but I always choose the focus point I want manually, using the Multi-Controller button. This takes a little longer, now that I am dealing with 19 focus points, but that enables me to quickly get the composition I want, makes sure the camera focuses on what I want it to, and to get subsequent shots without too much reframing. There is an important menu setting so that you can use the Multi-Controller directly to change the AF point without having to press the AF thumb button first – I believe it is on the screen where you can customize all the camera’s buttons. Oh, and I changed the custom settings so that all the focus points always show, and that they light up upon achieving focus, even in bright sunlight (which they would not do if you had this setting on Auto or Disable). That way I always know when it has focused. And I set Custom Function III-7 to stop focus point selection when I reach the edge and not loop around to the other side. I’m also thrilled that the 7D has a grid display that you can turn on in the viewfinder, which helps me keep my horizons and compositions straight. The viewfinder looks pretty busy, filled up with AF points and the grid, but when you are shooting away and focusing on your subject, you don’t even notice they are there.
Single Point Focus vs. Spot Focus Size – This controls the size of the area being looked at for focusing purposes on the 7D. With Single Point AF Area Mode, the camera is actually looking at a cross shape area (all focus points are cross type, center point is dual diagonal as well at certain apertures) that extends about 2x as big as the actual square you see in the viewfinder. With Spot AF Area Mode, the size of the cross is about the size of the square you see, I think perhaps slightly larger. Now you might think that using Spot AF will be more accurate all the time and sounds like a great idea and will get you sharper pictures, but this is not necessarily the case. Since Spot AF is so precise, and since autofocus works by looking for an area of contrast, Spot AF may not focus as well or as quickly in many general situations (because it may be looking at such a precise area that is all one color or tone).
Spot AF is for when you need a really precise “focus beam” to pinpoint, for example a bird in a tree, and not the branches and leaves surrounding it and all around it, which may be closer to you and the camera. Or if, say, you are shooting through a chain link fence and you want the camera to focus on the animal beyond and not on the fence. If you were to use Spot AF all the time, you would have to continue to act in a slower and more precise manner, so that you ensure you are focusing on an area of contrast or a nice line. For example, if you capture a shot of a person, you want to focus on the eye typically. If you do this quickly with Single Point AF, you can aim at the general area of the eye and you will likely include it in the area being looked at by the camera. However if you grab a quick shot with Spot AF, you may be a little off and the camera is looking at an area of cheek to focus on, which will be difficult since there isn’t much contrast there.
Orientation Linked AF Point – This setting allows you to choose your favorite AF points, and when you are hold the camera horizontally or vertically, those points are automatically selected. However, it is very complicated to set, so much so that is would seem Canon doesn’t even understand it. The Canon rep did not fully explain it properly at the B+H presentation, the instructions in the manual do not work, and after 3 different instructions by email from Canon, I may finally have the correct way. I still have to try their latest directions. (note- nope, latest instructions still don’t work properly) **12/17/2009** AHA!! Here it is, finally explained in its entirety.
I also changed the button/ dial function settings so that in Manual mode, the big dial controls shutter speed and the top dial controls aperture. The default is the opposite. I changed this because I almost always shoot in Av mode, where the top dial controls aperture, so when I switch to Manual mode, I want that to remain the same.
Additional edit – August 2011:
I have written a popular e-book user’s guide for the Canon 7D called Canon 7D Experience. It not only explains all of the features, functions, and controls of this powerful, sophisticated, and highly customizable camera, but also when and why to use them in your photography – including EVERY Menu item and Custom Function setting, with explanations and recommended settings for real-life use. You can learn more about the guide, preview it, and purchase it here.
AF Microadjustments – This is a setting on the 7D which enables you to tweak the auto-focusing to your different lenses. A site about AF micro adjustments that look to be helpful is below:
Here is a micro-adjustment focus test chart you can use.
Viewfinder – The viewfinder on the 7D is big and bright and wonderful. It is nearly 100% view of the image you will capture. The aperture and shutter speed info is of course displayed below, along with the current ISO setting, which one should get in the habit of glancing at often. See the AF Focus Mode category above for more info on what you can view in the viewfinder to assist with focusing and composition.
Picture Style – I had this on Standard, since I shoot in RAW and intend to post-process, however, I would like to do a comparison of the styles to see which one best matches my visual preferences – although the Picture Styles will only affect JPEGs and, it is important to know, the image you see on your rear LCD screen when shooting RAW.
Jalapa, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 16-35 f/2.8L lens at 35mm, 800 ISO, 1/2000, f/8
File Size – I shot RAW for almost the entire trip, and quickly discovered that these files are HUGE. The files range from about 21MB to around 31MB each. I used SanDisk Extreme III 16GB cards, which worked great, and one card often lasted much of the day. I have no good reason for using SanDisk over Lexar, other than the fact that the Lexar people haven’t approached me about sponsorship… :) The Extreme III cards have been replaced by the new Extreme and Extreme Pro cards, and are thus the old ones are much cheaper at the moment, especially with current rebates. At 30MB/s, they were fast enough for the types of shooting and short bursts I was doing. However, downloading them to my computer and external HD were pretty slow using the SanDisk ImageMate CF card reader. Eventually I’m going to have to spring for a card reader that goes right into the PC slot. I used Adobe Bridge to simultaneously save the day’s files to 2 external hard drives. The 160GB Iomega Ego filled up before the trip was over, but fortunately I also had a Lacie 500GB. I am dreading the number of external hard drives I am going to have to buy for travel and for home storage, but once you go RAW, it’s hard to go back to shooting just JPEG. I’m going to have to look into the Drobo system that many rave about.
Battery Life – The battery life of the 7D is excellent. When you get new batteries, first charge them all the way. Do not recharge until they are completely drained. Do this one or two cycles. I know they say you no longer have to do this, but some claim that seasoning the batteries like this will maximize their charge life. Anyway, one battery lasted well into 2 days of shooting, maybe longer, I didn’t keep track. They just keep going, even with heavy use, chimping (LCD reviewing), frequent use of an external Speedlite flash, and use of image stabilization (IS) on the 70-200 lens. I carried 3 batteries, but probably could have gotten away with 2. The spring-loaded battery door that pops right open for quick battery changes is a nice touch.
Antigua, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 78mm, 100 ISO, 1/250, f/4
Automatic Sensor Cleaning – Like most good dSLRs these days, the 7D automatically cleans the sensor at start up and shut down. Since the dust that is shaken off is collected on a tiny sticky strip at the base of the sensor, it seems to me that you should hold the camera straight as this happens. I’m not sure if this is actually true, but I think I read in the manual that it even says to place the camera flat on a table as you use this, so I have gotten in the habit of holding it straight and still as I turn it off and on. Yeah! No more having to clean the sensor manually with a Rocket Blower!
Video – I did not have a chance to even experiment with the HD video on the 7D yet…so much to learn, so little time…
The next post will review all the other gear I used on the trip – the camera backpack, R-strap, accessories, etc. – and perhaps some of the other lessons learned. Read it here.
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Jalapa, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 200mm, 200 ISO, 1/1600, f/4
Again, be sure to check out my e-book user’s guide for the Canon 7D called Canon 7D Experience. It not only explains all the features, functions, and controls of this powerful, sophisticated, and highly customizable camera, but also when and why to use them in your photography. You can learn more about the guide, preview it, and purchase it here.
I’ve run across a nice set of video tutorials (link below) for using the Canon 7D. You can watch them online, or even download them to your camera for viewing. The one on AF Custom Fuctions is especially helpful at clarifying those setting. Be sure to look around on the Canon Digital Learning Center to find all kinds of other cool stuff about using your camera plus useful tips and instructions from pros who use them.
The distinctive voice you hear in the 7D tutorial videos is Canon guru Rudy Winston, and the photo samples are his images as well. If you are in NYC, you can often find him leading workshops and presentations at places like B+H and Adorama. I went to a wonderfully informative introduction to the 7D that he gave a B+H a month or 2 ago, and these videos are pretty much the same presentation.
Here is additional information from Canon Europe about custom functions of the 7D:
My photo Women in the Plaza – Combapata, Peru, was one of 50 selected – from thousands of photos from over 100 countries – to represent the United Nations Development Programme and their Humanizing Development campaign.
The photos will be published in a book sponsored by the Presidency of Brazil, and are currently on exhibit at the headquarters of the United Nation’s International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) in Brasilia, Brazil. The exhibit will tour major international cities throughout 2010, including NYC, Bangkok, London, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Bonn.
According to the IPC-IG, “The meaning of ‘Humanizing Development’ cannot be expressed in numbers. It shows examples of people winning the battle against poverty, social exclusion and marginalisation. It calls for the humane face of development. It spreads hope, initiative and determination. It transmits inspiration to each of us and feeds our dream of transforming the world we live in into a just place. A world that enables all of us, regardless of our birth place, social and economic status, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion and ideology, opportunities to fulfilling our potential as individuals, human beings and members of our society.”
As a photographer dedicated to documenting the work of humanitarian organizations throughout the world, I’m extremely thrilled and proud to have been selected for this honor, and can’t wait to see the exhibit in NYC.
The women in the photo are queued in the main plaza of Combapata, Peru to receive monthly Juntos program benefits. The Juntos (Together) program, a conditional cash transfer (CCT) government program, provides cash to the poorest families if they meet certain criteria. Recipients must have children under the age of 14, enroll their children in school and have them vaccinated. Pregnant mothers are required to utilize mandatory pre- and post-natal healthcare programs. Peru’s Juntos program, similar to CCT programs in other Latin American countries, was launched in 2005. I captured this image on my way to Huinchiri to see the annual reconstruction of the Keshwa Chaca, the last remaining traditional Inca straw bridge. That journey was detailed in this post.
At this point I find myself seeking out and viewing photo exhibits in terms of “what can I learn from this work to help improve my photography? What makes these images successful?” So instead of just contemplating these things in my head and torturing whichever friend happens to find themself across from me in a bar, I’ll start to put my thoughts down here. I think I’ll mainly focus on “lessons learned” – what I’ve picked up from looking at and thinking about the images.
I happened by the Leica Gallery last week, and had the chance to see its Pete Souza – Obama exhibit. The success of the images on display are a result of a few strong and consistent choices and techniques Souza applies in his photography, including his awareness of the moment, his framing and point of view, use of natural light when available, and his awareness of precedent.
All photos shown in today’s post are by Pete Souza.
Souza is the “Chief Official White House Photographer,” so he obviously has unparalleled access to President Obama’s daily activities. His ability to capture special moments was obvious from the start or the term, with his two elevator shots from the night of the Inaugural Ball: an intimate moment with the First Lady, and the final image of the night with the President heading to bed.
This first one of these, which can also be see on Souza’s home page as well as on the White House Flickr site, demonstrates two of his strengths: his ability to capture both the moment, and the intimacy of the environment it occurred in. The subject of a majority of the photos in the exhibit is a specific moment, but one that typically speaks to a wider subject or theme. This photo was just one brief encounter between the President and the First Lady, yet it clearly represents their relationship and personalities. The same is true for the other photos in the exhibit. While Souza has undoubtedly captured hundreds or thousands of singular moments between Obama and his staff, the ones he displays all demonstrate more than what was occurring that split second. They show the relationships, the personalities, the mood. They do this through the facial expressions, the body language, the framing of the space around them.
The second characteristic of many of these photos is that they capture the intimacy of the moment and of the spaces they occurred in. Souza often accomplishes this through use of a wide angle lens and by expanding the frame beyond the subject to the space around it to show that the interaction is taking place on a plane, or in a corridor. He also does this through creative framing, looking in through a doorway or window, or using a lower point of view.
Another tool he uses is making references to previous photos or works of art. By possessing knowledge of the work that has come before him, he has an eye for similar situations and compositions. There seems to be a few particular references to Kennedy era images. For example, this one of Sasha sneaking up on Obama brings to mind the photos of JFK Jr. playing under the his father’s desk – the father hard at work with the playful child on the floor (there are also a couple photos in the exhibit with Caroline Kennedy and Obama discussing that photo and looking at the desk for the hidden door).
And one can’t help but to recognize the tongue-in-cheek reference to DaVinci’s Last Supper here:
Other images make use of light and of details to tell the story of the situation. While Souza is probably often using flash to light his indoor subjects, he has a keen eye for natural light when the situation presents itself. There are a few shots of Obama at his desk, or a detail of his hand, that use dramatic natural light to set the mood. He also focuses in on very specific details as the subject of some of the photos, often times hands. For example, Obama’s hand on a phone, Michelle’s hands clasped behind her back, or a Ghanean’s hand, gold jewelry, and tribal outfit.
Finally, Souza sometimes turns the camera around, to capture the expressions and reactions of those viewing the President. Several times I have run across the tip to turn around 180 degrees and see if there is another image behind you that is worth capturing, and Souza clearly demonstrates it is worth looking:
Here’s a brief interview with the photographer:
So, I believe these are some of the elements that make these images successful. And what makes them powerful, important, and lasting is that in addition to capturing a instant in time, an expression or detail, or an interaction, they also speak to a greater moment, personality, or relationship. That’s about enough for this lesson. Look forward to retroactive reviews of Robert Frank’s The Americans, Phil Borges’ Tibetan Portrait, Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, and Cornell Capa’s Concerned Photographer. Vermeer? “What?”, you wonder? Well, stay tuned and see…
I’ve been selected as one of the Ten Finalists in the Conde Nast $25,000 Dream Trip Contest (out of over 70,000 entries!) with my photo Boys Emerging from Chuch – Pisac. This photo was captured on my visit to Pisac where I ran into some fellow Yanapay volunteers, and then we all got on the bus going the wrong way, as documented in this post.
I was requested to submit an essay detailing my dream trip, in which I described a trip to visit and photograph the indigenous cultures of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
In addition, I won a Sony a350 digital SLR with an 18-70mm lens, and my photo was published in the October 2009 Conde Nast Traveler magazine. If you are interested in purchasing this new, never used Sony camera,
head over to eBay here. too late!