Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Survey for Photographers: Social media and what we like about "Likes" and more

Photographers--ready to spill the beans anonymously about how social media influences you? 

 For example, how do you really feel about getting "Likes,"  "+'s," votes, comments, shares, re-tweets, and more?   What about giving them to others?  What motivates you to give a "nod" to someone else's work?

Ultimately, I'm diving deeper into the pulse of my fellow photographers to better understand what makes you tick in the world of Social Media.  For many photographers, social media is viewed as quintessential for marketing, name recognition, and above all, recognition for work well done.  But there is more than just business and marketing behind our interactions on social media.

This survey will be open through Sunday, August 11, 2013 (11:59pm Pacific Daylight Time).
(CLICK HERE to see the time in your part of the world)

How to participate?

  1. CHOOSE YOUR LEVEL OF SKILL and click the link!
    1. Highly Skilled Photographer 
      (Skilled in using light from various sources, fluent with manual settings, strong technical experience in photographing a variety of subjects under diverse conditions; strong understanding of composition, solid post-processing skills)
    2. Intermediate-Skilled Photographer 
      (Skilled in using natural light and/or basics of supplemental light, mostly comfortable with manual settings, moderate experience shooting a variety of subjects under diverse conditions, understand fundamentals of composition, understand a few basic post-processing skills)
    3. Novice/Casual Photographer
      (Basic experience with camera.  Use mostly auto settings, may know a few basics about composition, exposure, and focus, and may exercise a few basic post-processing skills)
    Upon completion of the survey, you will receive a link to a free tutorial on designing photographs using natural lighting techniques!  Additionally, you will have the option to enter a drawing for a free seat at an upcoming live, web-based workshop provided by Langell Photography, LLC.  Details provided at the conclusion of the survey.  All results remain anonymous.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Photography: Image Critiques and Toilet Paper?

Remember a time when you were in public but had food in your teeth,  toilet tissue on your shoe, or your zipper undone, but no one had the courage to tell you?  Embarrassing, right?  

Didn't you wonder why no one "told you?"  Didn't you hate knowing that you'd been walking about, oblivious to the faux paux?  
Photographer, Lisa Langell offers a video-based critique for a
photographer entering her first photography contest.

 Join Lisa's mailing list for announcements on critiques, workshops, and
other learning opportunities!
What if the same were true of your photography?  You go about, proudly sharing your work with friends, fans, and fellow photographers--not realizing that there are compositional, technical or other issues with the images.  Not wanting to offend you, others comment politely on the strongest points of the image, but avoid mentioning the hot-spots in the image, the blurry eyes, or the branches coming out of the top of the subject's head! 
To me, a good photo portfolio critique session with a quality reviewer should be a positive growth experience where you learn techniques to avoid (or try) so that you avoid embarrassment and both you and your audience have increasingly positive experiences through your work.   Simple as that.  When I submit my work for critique, I look at it as an opportunity to learn about things I never realized I was doing incorrectly, or things I could improve upon,  so as not to make that embarrassing mistake again! 

Quality image critiques are critical stepping stones on our journeys as photographers.
Critiques can be frightening to many photographers.  Understood!  Your work is your art, your expression, and mark milestones of growth along your journey as photographers.  You had a vision for your images when you photographed them, and it can be difficult to put yourself and your work in front of others and ask for critique.  Photography is personal, thus it's difficult for us as photographers, when submitting an image for critique, to separate "photo critique" from "photographer critique."
Adding to our reservations about photo critiques, are experiences where our work has been "compared to" the work of a renown photographer--and then judged accordingly.  Additionally, there can sometimes be a strong element of ego apparent in experts who critique others work (photography or otherwise), which can lead to a tendency to provide more negative commentary than supportive, helpful commentary.

My approach to photo critiques is different. I take a very supportive, respectful approach to your work.  I do not compare your body of work to that of others to pass judgment.  Rather, I look at your portfolio and give you helpful and supportive thoughts, based on your style and how your work comes across to me.  I love to also share ideas for things you could do in your future work that can enhance its quality.  I also readily point out the wonderful strengths in your work.

Photographer, Lisa Langell offers a video-based critique for a
fellow nature photographer 

Knowing what you're already doing well is just as important as knowing what the "next steps" could be for you in advancing your techniques and skills.

The more feedback you can get about an image, the more well-rounded your perspectives will be about it--and future images!  Here are a few tips:

  • Be able to identify the purpose of your work.  
    A reviewer will better be able to provide feedback if they know your intent.  (For example, do you wish to use the work for publication in a magazine or newsletter, versus images for artistic purposes, documentary-type photography, business cards, marketing collateral, etc.)
  • Avoid just getting one critique on your images.  Get 3-6 different perspectives from knowledgeable photographers and art-lovers alike.   Listen to trends in their responses, more than one single comment.   If you are doing a 1:1 private critique, time-permitting, have them review a body of 20-30 images, not just one or two.  This will help you understand your style, strengths, and areas for growth better than via an isolated image or two which can misrepresent your overall quality and style of work.
  • Take notes during your critique---often we are so worried about the critique and how to manage nervousness or emotional responses that we forget to truly listen to the critique itself.  Taking a few brief notes puts you in an active listening stage and puts that nervousness to work!
  • Consider bringing images from which you want to learn---not just your "best work."  Tell the reviewer that you know the image isn't "perfect," but that you want to learn how you can make it better.  Perhaps you wanted a blurred background but did not know how to accomplish that technique--a reviewer can assist!
  • Do not take it personally.  As difficult as it may be to hear the shortcomings (according to a reviewer) of an image you love, simply listen.  Most reviewers do not get pleasure out of finding "mistakes,"  rather, they simply want to help you grow and improve your body of work.  They are not judging you.  They are evaluating your work.  In fact, many reviewers  have more respect for photographers who have the courage to submit for a review than those who do not.  It shows that the artist has an openness to learning and a respect for the medium of photography.  The fact that you are open to a critique means you want to know if you have "toilet paper on your shoe" so that you don't have to walk around, oblivious to it!  This is a good thing!
  • Ask questions!  If you want to learn, ask questions!  Ask about your depth of field, focus, shutter speed, ISO, whether or not their are leading lines, composition strengths or areas for improvement, post processing suggestions, and more. 
  • If you truly don't agree with a critique, well--ok!  A critique is based on the prior experience, knowledge-base, and personal preferences of the reviewer.  It is OK to disagree with their feedback.  This is again why I suggest having critiques from more than one reviewer, and on a portfolio of your work, rather than on a single image (if possible.)  Trends in feedback are what you want to listen for--and what will be most valuable for you on your journey as photographers.  It's OK to disagree with certain feedback--but try not to discount everything or you will miss helpful nuggets.  
Photographer, Lisa Langell offers a video-based critique for a
photographer entering her first photography contest.    

 I hope this information helps you during your journey as photographers!
Stay tuned--Lisa Langell will be offering photography critique sessions via the web soon!  
Join my mailing list for announcements on critiques, workshops, and other learning opportunities!

--Lisa Langell

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Langell Photography earns top honors in North American Nature Photography Association's annual Photography Contest

Two photographs earn Top 100 and Top 250 placement among thousands of images in juried competition.

VERY EXCITING NEWS!  Two of my photographs have been awarded top honors in one of the continent's most prestigious and competitive, juried nature photography competitions--the North American Nature Photography Association's (NANPA) Annual Showcase competition!

Those entering the competition are frequently competing with images from legendary nature photographers and NANPA members like Moose Peterson, Peter Lik, and more.   There were more than 2400 images submitted this year by talented amateur and professional photographers alike.  Any one particular image only had a 4% chance of being chosen for the Showcase.  I am honored to have my images selected as some of the best of this year's submissions and to have received these prestigious awards!

NANPA juries the contest and awards as follows:
  • Tier 1:  Top 10
  • Tier 2:  Top 100
  • Tier 3:  Top 250

"Simple Gifts," (two Red-Necked Grebes courting via "gift-giving" behavior in Alaska) has been selected for Top 100 images of the 2013 submissions.

"Twists and Terns," an image of two Arctic Terns battling for supremacy, also photographed in Alaska, was placed in the Top 250 for 2013!

Last year, my image of twin moose calves, "Here's Lookin' at You, Kid" made it into the top 250 in the 2012 Showcase Competition and was published in the NANPA 2012 Expressions journal (page 53). To have earned such recognition two consecutive years is an honor and thrill.

These images will receive the following recognition:
  • Selected for the NANPA Showcase and will be featured at the 2013 Nature Photography Summit in Jacksonville, Florida in February 2013
  • They will appear on the NANPA website
  • They will appear in the 2013 NANPA print journal, "Expressions" (to be published).
Thanks to NANPA for these awards!  NANPA is a wonderful organization that promotes both the appreciation and protection of nature--and nature photographers!

--Lisa Langell

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Photographing Wildlife:  Taking your Vision to Fruition!

Do you crave more “Wows,” “Ooohs,” and “Aaahs” from your wildlife photography?

Do you envision taking images with more impact, emotion, and beauty—but just don’t know how to make that happen consistently?

No matter what equipment you use, there are
many ways to enhance your techniques in order to create the photographs of wildlife that truly touch the hearts of you and your audience.

This workshop will help you take your vision to fruition!


When: Tuesday, Oct 23, 2012 6:30-8:30pm
Where: Firehouse Community Room
360 E. 1st Street, Mesa, AZ (Click for map)
Cost:   FREE (limit 45 seats)
Pizza and refreshments served.  Fun prizes up for grabs!

Download Brochure

A huge thanks to the following generous sponsors for providing this event at no cost to YOU!
Phoenix East SMUGs and Photographers Adventure Club

If  you're a photographer in Arizona, consider joining these wonderful groups!

Thank you!

Lisa Langell
Langell Photography, LLC


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Easy Steps to Add a Watermark and Copyright Symbol to your Images

As originally published in Wildlife Photography & News

Did you know that that in the United States, image theft of more than 10 copies of copyrighted material with a value of at least $2500 is deemed a felony?  Even so, image theft is one that is difficult to fight once it’s already happened, it can be difficult to prove monetary loss (a large reason for lawsuits), and unless the stakes are high, lawsuits are often avoided (even when justified), due to the expense in all but the cases with the highest stakes.

Thanks to the Berne Convention, most original literary and artistic works created privately after April 1, 1989 are technically copyrighted and protected.  This includes works that are not registered under the US Copyright Office.   Thus, watermarking your images, publishing small file sizes to the web, and registering your works with the US Copyright Office are three ways in which you can reduce your risk of image theft.

Here is a brief tutorial I’ve created that explains the easiest methods of watermarking your images and reducing your risk of image theft: 

Notice I said reduce. Not eliminate risk.  With digital technologies advancing, tools like Photoshop CS5’s Content Aware Fill and savvy editors can still remove logos, watermarks, etc., sometimes with breathtaking ease.  This is why it is important to at least take several precautions to protect your images.
  1. Always post your image with, at minimum, the © symbol, your name (or business name), and a year visible on the image itself.  This accomplishes two things:
    1. Gives notice to the viewer that this image is copyrighted.
    2. Notifies the viewer of the identity of the copyright holder. (Ideally he/she will contact you for permission to license the photo.)  In reality, they still may not do so and/or still use your image without your permission; but, at least you have given notice first, which can be helpful if a legal battle ensues.  It is even better if your watermark and copyright information include contact information, such as a website or email, to make it easy for them to contact you to use the image.
  2. Whenever possible, post low resolution, small files to the internet.  By doing so, it is more difficult for someone to steal your image and enlarge it for prints or other personal and commercial purposes.
  3. Populate the metadata for your image.   This adds a digital record to your file that can be reviewed by other and/or used to clarify the copyright holder of the image.
  4. Do not delete the other similar images in the series.  For example, if you captured an award-winning shot of a wild polar bear with a toucan perched on its nose while cuddling with a giraffe in a field of daisies and a rainbow… well, you deserve the award!  But…don’t delete the other similar (but perhaps less-perfect) images in the series that you captured of that subject.  In certain cases (e.g., copyright infringement cases, contest awards, etc.), you may need to show proof you were the photographer/copyright holder.  Those who can produce files containing a series of similar images may be in better legal standing than someone who can only produce the single file of the award-winning shot.
  5. Right-click proofing is not enough.  Even if you publish your photographs to sites that offer the ability to disable “right-clicking” or downloading the file from the website, don’t be fooled.  This is a preventative measure; however, it is not perfect.  Nearly any time you view an image online, it gets stored in your cache as a real, useable file.  Anyone can explore their cache and retrieve the image, use it as needed, and bypass your “security” measure.  “Right-click-proofing” your site keeps the honest…honest…but that’s about all it does. 
  6. Any image you create yourself has inherent copyright attached to it.  For even more protection, consider registering your most prized images with the US Copyright Office.  It may be time-consuming, but for a relatively low cost, it will afford you added protection should an infringement situation arise.
  7. Resources:
    1. For more information about copyrighting and protecting your images, the Professional Photographers Association provides these tips and resources:
    2. 10 Myths about Copyright:  A great resource to clarify misconceptions about copyright:
    3. United States Copyright Office: Offers details on registering your copyrighted material within the US.  For countries outside the US, check your local government websites for details.
    4. Software that tracks the appearance and use of your images on the web:
Alan, I hope this advice and brief video tutorial are helpful!  Thanks for asking me to assist!  Happy Clicking!

Lisa Langell

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Five Critical Techniques for Photographing Birds in Flight

Five Critical Techniques for Beginners Photographing Birds in Flight

Lisa Langell, Photographer

"Sailing Above the Surface"
©2012 Langell Photography, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Want to increase the “wow” factor of your wildlife photography portfolio?  Consider branching out by photographing birds in flight (BIF)!  Flight shots can add drama, impact, and emotion to your portfolio. 

There are five essential techniques needed to get started with photographing birds in flight.  Though there are more advanced and refined techniques that will augment your skills, the following basics should get you nicely started without over complicating things.

"Stilted Viewpoint"
©2012 Langell Photography, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.
First, do you have the proper equipment?

  • DSLRs: Though you may have limited success with point-and-shoot camera models, you will likely increase your “hit rate” if you choose a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera that can shoot at least 3 frames per second.
  • Lenses & Magnification: You will need a lens capable of magnifying the image of the bird to an acceptable level.  In most cases, minimally 250mm is needed to magnify a BIF bird meaningfully.  The smaller the bird, typically the more magnification is needed unless you are able to consistently get close to the birds safely and ethically.  For tips:  "The F-Words of Bird Photography:  Buying the Right Lens for your Budget"
  • Auto-focus lenses.  Though possible to shoot BIF with manual focus gear, auto-focus will increase your hit rate.  The faster the focusing ability of the lens, the better--with prime lenses typically focusing more quickly than zooms.
  • Camera body: Mid-range bodies or better tend to be able to pick up focus on the BIF you intend to shoot more quickly and accurately than inexpensive models.
  • Acratech Ball Head
  • Gimbal head  (my preferred),  or ball-head for your tripod.  A tripod isn’t necessary for all lenses, but if you cannot hold the lens and pan smoothly, or for longer periods of time due to your gear’s weight, use a tripod. 
    Wimberley Gimbal Head
    Version II

Top 5 Techniques for Shooting Birds in Flight: 

  1. Finding the bird through the lens:  The more magnification your lens has, the harder it will be to put your camera to your eye and locate a bird in flight.  The narrow field will make it feel like you are searching for it through a drinking straw.  It takes practice to put your camera to your eye, locate, and track a BIF. 

    When starting out, try to find birds that fly perpendicular to you (i.e., across your scene, not toward or away from you).  You will have an easier time focusing.  Additionally, observe the birds you wish to photograph.  Get to know their behaviors, perches or roosts they return to, etc.  Often birds return to the same perch.  Learn to anticipate their moves. This will help you know where to expect them to alight, and thus prepare for your next shot!

    To build skill, go to a marsh, field, feeder, or other area where birds congregate.  Starting with larger or slower-moving birds, practice spotting a bird with your eye, then putting your camera up to your eye, spot it through the lens, then focus.  Building your skill in this very basic aspect of BIF photography will be one of the single greatest techniques you can add to your repertoire.  If you cannot locate the BIF through the lens quickly and focus, little else matters.  This is also true for small perching birds that flit incessantly through trees.

    Lastly, if you lock onto a bird that is traveling back and forth across your scene, follow it through your lens for a few minutes.  See how long you can track it before it flies out of your view.  Not only is this good practice, but birds such as terns, swallows, hummingbirds and more often “hang out” in one area and move back and forth while feeding.  Sometimes they interact unexpectedly with other birds—and if it happens while you are focused on them, you will be sweetly rewarded:

    "Fancy Footwork"
    ©2012 Langell Photography, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.
    "Twists and Terns"
    ©2011 Langell Photography, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.

  2. Light:  Low (e.g., morning or evening) side light (see my tutorial on Designing Your Images with Light) works beautifully for many BIF images.  Watch for harsh light, especially on light or white areas of the bird, to avoid overblown images.  
  3. File Types  & Memory Cards:
    1. Raw:  If possible, shoot in RAW to preserve as much data as possible, enabling you maximal flexibility during processing. Shooting in JPEG will compress the file and prevent you from getting the most out of the image.  Yes, it will allow you more space on your memory card, but that is a poor reason to choose RAW over JPEG.  That’s like buying a bicycle instead of a car because it will leave more room in your garage.
    2. Memory Cards & Burst Rate: Note that you will need memory cards capable of writing quickly (i.e., 60mb/sec or faster) if you do not want to pause during shooting while the camera writes the data to the card.  Your burst rate capabilities of your camera will also dictate the number of shots you can take before the data needs to be written to the card. 
  4. Focus on the Eye:  In virtually all cases of BIF photography, if the eye is not in focus, little else matters.  Even with motion-blurred or panned shots (intentional or otherwise), the wings, tail, background, etc. can be blurred, but the eye must be clear and sharp.  Be careful so that your camera does not focus on the body or outer wings, leaving the eye out of focus.  Changing your aperture to f/8, when possible, will help add clarity because you have increased your Depth of Field.
  5. Camera Settings: 
    1. Al Servo (Canon) / AF-C (Nikon):  This “artificial intelligence” engages the camera’s predictive focus settings.  Once in view and in focus, the camera will be able to predict where the bird will be as you pan across the sky with the bird in view.  It tracks and continually auto-focuses to help ensure a clear shot.  For BIF photography, Al Servo / AF-C  is recommended in most cases.
    2. ISO:  For beginners, Auto ISO gives you the most flexibility.  Though ISO introduces noise at higher levels, and ISOs above 800 may not be desirable, a blurred photo is not a better alternative in most cases.  In poor light, the image may not turn out anyway, but at least you have a fighting chance by leaving ISO on Auto, as opposed to underexposing or not getting the shot at all.
    3. Manual (M), Shutter Priority (Tv) or Aperture Priority (Av)?  All are excellent, but for different reasons.  Some say Aperture Priority can overexpose BIF images.  Others say Manual takes too much time when you only have split seconds to capture BIF images.  My first choice is to use Av either when I need to blur a cluttered background or have low light conditions (e.g., f/4) to maximize possible shutter speed with correct exposure, or when I want the BIF to be sharp from wingtip to wingtip (e.g., f/8, which is my recommended aperture for birds against skies or uncluttered backgrounds).   If you are using Av and not getting the shutter speeds you need to stop the action, consider widening the aperture, increasing ISO, or moving toward settings with better direct or reflected light.

      In cases where light is excellent and I want to ensure I’ve fully stopped action, Shutter Priority (Tv) may also work well.  You will need at least 1/500sec. when shooting slower moving birds and up to 1/1200+ for hummingbirds and quickly moving birds to stop action at the wingtips.
    4. Continuous shooting mode:  Enable the continuous shooting mode on your camera to ensure you have the potential to capture multiple images within a sequence.  Once you have found the bird and focused, you do not want to be limited to one frame at a time via single shooting mode.  You will inevitably miss “the shot” more times than not.
    5. Metering:  For beginners, Evaluative metering will give you the best results in most (not all) situations.  In situations where you have high contrast (e.g., a white egret against a dark background, or a crow against a white sky), spot metering may work better.  Just remember to change your settings back to your preferred mode when you have finished, otherwise future shots may be poorly exposed.  (This rule applies to all shooting situations!)
"Dragging Your Feet"
©2010 Langell Photography, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.
In all cases, experiment in the field.  Try different settings with different light, subjects, and backgrounds.  See what works best for you.  There is no single “correct” way to approach BIF photography.  Practice repeatedly on easy-to-locate subjects so that when you find yourself in a situation where a stunning bird is suddenly zooming past you, you’ll be ready to locate, focus, and click like a pro!

-Lisa Langell

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The F-Words of Bird Photography & Lens Purchase

The F-Words of Bird Photography & Buying the Right Lens for your Budget

Lisa Langell

Birds move.  Often fast.  They Fly, Fight, Float, Flit, Forage, and Flee!

With all of these “F-words” one needs to think carefully about quality, magnification, and budget when selecting the right lens for your Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera.  I will help save you money as well as help you make informed decisions about the lenses you buy

FIRST: Ask yourself the right questions:

Equipment and technology constantly evolve. Recommendations for specific equipment are obsolete in months.  Your best bet is to always ask yourself the right questions to guide your purchase. I’ll bend my response toward lenses for bird and wildlife photography; however, the logic behind your purchase will generalize to other categories of lenses and photography as well.

(Note:  All prices are in US Dollars and estimated as of June 3, 2012)

  1. What is your short and long-term budget:  What is your budget today?  What if you saved for 6 months? 12?  Saving to dedicate even $300 more can improve the quality of lens you buy-- especially for lenses under $1000.
  2. Rent or Own?  Could you save money and increase image quality by renting the lens locally or through a mail-order rental company?  Especially if you only will use it a handful of times a year or for a special trip?
  3. New Body vs. New Lens? Does your body have a sensor less than 8-10 megapixels? An upgrade to a newer body with a higher quality sensor or more megapixels (for better cropped results), better autofocus, higher ISO, etc., could compensate in ways that would allow you to attach a less powerful telephoto or zoom lens and still retain good image quality. 
  4. New Lens vs. Used Lens?  Check out the Used Departments of your camera store. Most evaluate and assign resale gear a rating based on its condition, and sell it typically for 10-50% off the “new” price—sometimes even with an optional warranty.  You could get a 400mm lens for the 300mm price!

    Local photography clubs and classifieds also often have a “for sale/trade” section on their websites or forums.  Be cautious if purchasing from unknown private sellers.  Test the equipment in advance (bring your camera to test lenses).  Take safety precautions when meeting a seller (or buyer, if you’re selling), and if a deal is too good to be true, there’s a good chance the item you’re buying is either stolen or the seller has ulterior motives.

  5. Double or nothing?  Teleconverters further enhance magnification of a lens and, if the quality of both the teleconverter and the original lens to which it is coupled is high, can produce beautiful, sharp images with minimal lens distortion effects.  Teleconverters are relatively inexpensive ($100-$500).  Though they are not compatible with all lenses—especially if you want to use autofocus—they do work well for certain lenses and bodies.

    1. Extends the utility of your current zoom or telephoto lens
    2. Increases magnification with relatively little additional cost
    3. Inexpensive (compared to cost of lens)

a.       Not compatible with all lenses (investigate compatibility before you purchase.)
b.      Certain teleconverters add/magnify lens distortion effects that impact your image.  Do your research.
c.       Most teleconverters result in a loss of light equal to 1-2 stops, depending on the magnification you choose.

Informing your Decision---What do you need to do the job:

  1. Remember:  Birds move.  Often fast.  They fly, fight, float, flit, forage, and flee.  The more “f-words,” the more one needs to remember how critical shutter speed and aperture (f-stop) are for bird photography in order to stop action and expose properly.

    Shutter Speed & Aperture (f-stop): To allow for useful shutter speeds of 1/500sec up to 1/1200sec (minimum for most birds in flight) the lens needs to let in enough light to expose the shot properly while freezing that action within the tiniest fraction of a second.
    Aperture (F-stops) adjust the size of the opening within the lens’ blades that permit light to reach the film or sensor, while shutter speed controls the duration in which the sensor or film is exposed to that level of light.

    Thus, being able to shoot at dawn or dusk (when birds are often most active) using maximum (lowest) aperture, (i.e “wide open”), will allow for maximal light on your sensor and thus permit you to shoot with higher shutter speeds to stop action and properly expose the image.  For example, a lens with a maximum aperture of f/4 will enable you to shoot and properly expose and stop action at dawn/dusk much longer than a lens with a maximum aperture of f/8. 

    Not all lenses offer the same maximum aperture, so this will be a factor in your final lens selection.  For a more detailed understanding of the relationship between light and f-stop (aperture), click here

  2. Birds are often “far away” and you want tight shots!  This does not mean you cannot achieve success in photographing birds with a 50mm or 100mm lens.  In fact, birds photographed when the photographer includes the environment can be very beautiful. The added context makes for compelling photographs that tell stories.  Take, for example, this Great White Egret peeking out from behind cypress trees in a Louisiana bayou (below):


In contrast, however, many bird and wildlife photographers want (and need) to get frame-filling shots of their subjects in order to have images valued by wildlife photography consumers (left):


Images ©2009 Lisa Langell

Unless you choose to regularly photograph birds in close proximity to you (difficult), your “hit rate” for capturing frame-filling shots will be relatively low in the wild without the benefit of a substantial telephoto or zoom lens.  Without one, you are at risk of spooking the bird and/or getting too close for the safety and comfort of both you and the animal.

Magnification:  Is more always better?
Not always.

Certainly, the close-up (tight) shots often draw the most “oooh’s” and “aaah’s!”  It was the renown photojournalist and war photographer, Robert Capa, who became famous for saying, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”  (Sadly, Robert lost his life while photographing the first Indochina war at close range.) 

To get closer, lens “length” (i.e. magnification) definitely plays a role; however, there are many more factors to quality “tight” shots than simply the number of millimeters a lens purports to magnify.  Speed of autofocus, maximum aperture, image stabilization/vibration reduction, and engineering/glass quality all play a role. 

    1. The cheapest way to fill the frame:  Typically, the cheapest means of getting those elusive “tight shots” is accomplished by simply putting one foot in front of the other.  At an average of about $16 to $21 per millimeter for a professional grade Nikon or Canon 500mm F/4 lens, respectively, one can save thousands of dollars by taking a few steps forward!   This rule is essential and yet often forgotten!
    2. All “mm’s” are not created equal.  
                                                               i.      Least expensive ($100-$300 US):  Mirror and refractor-style T-mount lenses.  These lenses start with a maximum aperture of f/8.0 and go up to f/32.   The average cost is around $150 (US).  You get high magnification (from 300mm, 500mm and up to 1000mm or more) for a low investment.  This type of lens is marketed under various brand names (e.g., Rokinon, Phoenix, Opteka, Bower, Minolta, etc.), but appears to be virtually the identical lens across brands. 
1.       Pros: 
a.       Inexpensive; Powerful magnification
b.      Light-weight; portable
c.       There are many reviews on these types of lenses available on the internet.  Read them before you buy.

2.       Cons
a.       Fixed aperture at f/8 (thus limits: depth of field, ability to shoot in lower light, ability to shoot at higher shutter speeds due to loss of light, ability to shoot moving subjects)
b.      Virtually always requires use of tripod. Users report difficulty hand-holding lens (lacks image stabilization/vibration reduction technology)
c.       All Manual:  Focus, aperture settings (may result in missed moments)
d.      Poor contrast; Images tend to be soft
e.       May result in unusual light patterns in out-of-focus backgrounds (bokeh)

                                                  ii.  Inexpensive Options ($300-$1000)  “Zoom” lenses with apertures ranging from about 4.5-6.3 and range between about 50-300mm focal length.  Examples include (but are not limited to):
1.       Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
2.       Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG APO OS
3.       Tamron SP AF70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC
4.       Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5 - 5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR
5.       Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR II

1.       Pros: 
a.       Inexpensive; relatively lightweight; portable
b.      Allow flexibility across a range of magnification, resulting in needed fewer lenses to frame the subject properly, plus fewer lost moments while you switch lenses during the action.
c.       Many offer Image Stabilization /Vibration Reduction technology

2.       Cons
d.      Maximum aperture may diminish as you zoom toward the lens’ maximal magnification.  Many zoom lenses have a “sweet spot” of aperture and magnification where optimal results are produced.  Commonly, users report that images taken with “zooms” in the “end” ranges of apertures or magnification often result in decreased sharpness, increased lens distortion, etc., than when compared to the middle ranges.  Do your research.
e.       With Canon, some are designed to work with the full frame sensors, while others only work with crop-frame sensors.  If you have both types of cameras, one lens may not work with both bodies.

                                                            iii.      Moderately Expensive Options ($1000-2000)  Available in both “zoom” and fixed focal lengths, with most of the highest powered lens options available only at a fixed focal length. Options in this include (though not limited to):
1.       Canon:
a.       300mm prime f/4 L
b.      400mm prime f/5.6 L
c.       100-400mm zoom f/4.5-5.6 L
d.      70-200mm f/2.8 L
e.       70-300mm f/4-5.6 L
2.       Sigma: (Available in Canon, Nikon, and other brand mounts)
a.       70-200 f/2.8
b.      50-500mm f/4.5-6.3
3.       Nikon:
a.       Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR AF
b.      Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D ED AF Zoom
I suggest reading online reviews and specs on each lens carefully before making your final selection.

1.       Pros:
a.       Fairly portable; Medium weight
b.      Improved quality optics (glass)
c.       Aperture ranges from 2.8 to 6.3, allowing more light and control of depth-of-field.
2.       Cons:
a.       Cost
b.      More difficult to hand-hold successfully; may require monopod or tripod for best results

                                                           iv.      Serious Professional-Grade Options ($2000-20,000+)  These powerful lenses are all fixed focus (prime) lenses.  They often are nicknamed “fast glass” lenses because of their wider aperture, allowing in maximal light.  Options in this range begin to narrow, yet include (though not limited to):

1.       Canon:
a.       Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM
b.      Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II
c.       Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
d.      Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM
e.       Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM
f.        Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM
2.       Sigma:
a.       Sigma 300mm f/2.8 APO EX DG
b.      Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM
c.       Sigma 800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO HSM
3.       Nikon:
a.       Nikon 300mm f/2.8G ED-IF II AF-S VR-II
b.      Nikon 400mm f/4G ED AF-S Vibration Reduction (VR II)
c.       Nikon 500mm f/4G ED AF-S Vibration Reduction (VR II)
d.      Nikon 600mm f/4G ED AF-S Vibration Reduction (VR II)

a.       High magnification
b.      Reduced little lens distortion (high quality glass);
c.       Quality build
d.      Wider apertures allow in greater amounts of light

a.       Cost; Portability—they are heavy and large
b.      Typically requires a heavy-duty tripod or monopod (hand-holding is possible for some, but for very short periods of time)
c.       Typically requires a Gimbal style tripod head and/or a tripod head capable of supporting at least 10-20 pounds.
d.      Homeowners insurance may not cover the cost of these lenses.  Consider special policies.

--Lisa Langell
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