From November 2011

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Selecting the Right Lens for the Job

 

When I was an adjunct instructor at Texas Tech University a dilemma that always seemed to arise was the students lack of knowledge in the selection of certain lenses to achieve images with a stronger presence. Of course I easily recalled my own years as a college student and the ever present lack of funds to get what I needed so I was understanding when the ownership of multiple lenses was not possible, but continued to stress the positive aspects of having this luxury if at all possible.

 

Three major category of lenses are basically what I am talking about here and they include the wide angle, normal  and the telephoto lenses. Of course there are lots of in betweens but for simplicity sake lets address them under these three headings and what each one of them brings to the table.

 

Most neophyte photographers visualize that being a pro means a constant diet of standing around the side lines of a football game or in a national park with bazooka sized lenses attached to the camera throughout the day. For some people this can be a major segment of their shooting porfolio as their subjects require the use of great magnification and thus the scenario described above. But for many of us a days shoot might require a much more varied selection of glass hanging at our side and it is important that we be fluent in the application of these lenses to create an image with significant monetary and visual value. Lets take a look at some of this glass and see how they might influence the power of our photos.

 

Perhaps the most difficult lens to use properly is the wide angle. They don’t look too impressive hanging there on the camera body as most are only a few inches long and for the most part quite diminutive. However, I can assure you that this little fella can be a lens that can make or break a shoot, depending on the photographers knowledge of when to apply its use and the proper use of such.

In this image taken with a Canon 24-105 f4.0L lens and Canon 5D Mark II, the proper use of essential elements and the placement thereof can be seen in the yucca plants actually creating a pathway through the frame. Depth of field is achieved by a high f stop selection such as f16 or f22. By this method all essential elements in the frame from the yucca to the mountain top are in focus.

 

Lenses of this genre are generally in the 17mm to 35mm range and very useful in my line of work. I use them for landscape, sky scape, ranch work and architecture to name a few and would not dare venture out without a couple of them in my equipment bag. As their name indicates, they are lenses that allow a wide area to be seen in the viewfinder  thus enabling the shooter to stand closer to the subject(s) to gain the desired perspective.

 

Wide angle lenses also require some thought regarding composition as not to create an excess of void within the photo. This is an area that I call “the twilight zone” and effectively reduces the overall impact of the image. Placement of subject elements within the frame is very important when using this genre of lenses. Another feature of wide angle lenses is that some distortion is realized when using these lenses in the extreme. Although sometimes not a negative feature, I for one try to avoid extreme distortion as I prefer to show lines as they are in reality.

To avoid the open foreground look and the subsequent “twilight zone” effect that is so easily done with a wide angle lens I used the cracks in the mud to create an interesting pattern to carry the viewers eye to the machine that is digging mud from the dried stock tank. The raccoon tracks are an added interest point in the dried mud and actually carries the viewers eye to the action included in the image. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 17mm f4.0L Tilt Shift Lens. ISO 100 and handheld.

 

Normal lenses are those such as the 45mm to about 60mm and show approximately the angle of view that the naked eye can see. I believe it is established that the 45mm is the one that fits this description the closest. The only time that I use these lens extensively is when I am shooting panoramas and stitching a number of photos to create the old time wide look. Unlike wide angle glass, f stop selection must be controlled carefully as to determine those elements to be properly in focus.

An excellent example of using the normal focal length in producing a panorama image by stitching about 7 images together in photoshop. Images shot vertical for correct perspective and exposed with a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 45mm f4.0L Tilt Shift lens at ISO 100 on a Manfrotto tripod and pano head.

 

I categorize telephoto lenses into a couple of basic types which are medium and super telephoto. Medium are those in the 100 to 300mm length, super telephoto are 400mm and up. I have had extensive experience in using all lengths up to 1000mm and find a use for all sizes although 99% of my work can be achieved with the 400 or 500mm.

 

Effective wildlife or sports photography requires the use of these longer lenses although the glass of choice is often dependent on the mobility required by the photographer. As the focal lengths become longer so does the lens length and weight thus minimizing the photographers ability to move effectively for good angles. In sports work where the basketball or football arena provides a confined area in which the photographer will work, mobility is not as important. However, in regard to wildlife work, when going after truly wild animals outside of a controlled environment, mobility is one of the most important factors to consider. Because of this I have found that the Canon 400mm f5.6L lens fits the bill perfectly for me due to its extremely light weight and overall small configuration.

 

Some neophyte shooters do not realize the importance of long lenses in landscape and sky photography. Although I mostly use the wide angle glass for my sky and landscape work I like long lenses for its characteristic compression effect that causes hills to look larger and closer together. Basically they offer a dramatizing effect on the scene that is often quite powerful. In sky work I often see wonderful skyscapes that offer the best effect through the isolation of only a part of the overall scene. Thus I can slap on a long lens and effectively isolate that portion of the sky for maximum impact.

In this image only one portion of the sky presented a rich and saturated color that I desired. I used a Canon EOS 1N and Canon 400mm f5.6L lens to isolate this portion of the sky for impact.

 

As I have mentioned earlier in the post, many beginning shooters cannot justify the purchase of multiple lenses but luckily, camera manufacturers today offer a selection of zoom focal lengths that are not targeted at the pro market and can be purchased for a minimal amount. Focal length of 28-300mm and others similar are quite popular and make the choice easy for those shooters working on a smaller budget.

In this image I used a 400mm telephoto lens to enhance the height of the background landscape and make it appear to be closer than it really was. In this way the bison were isolated and forces the viewer to focus immediate attention on the animals. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400 f5.6L lens at ISO 100 and handheld.
By laying at eye level with the bull frog and using a 400mm lens with 1.4 extender I was able to totally diminish any identifiable subjects in the background and actually enhance the impact of this mere frog which is covered in mud. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400mm f5.6L with Canon 1.4 tele extender. ISO 100 and rested on a sandbag.
This was an unusual case where a short telephoto became an effective wildlife lens. I was caught without a super telephoto lens when the three bucks came over the horizon at sunset. Had I used any other lens but the 24-105mm at hand I could not have created this image. It was a perfect setup. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 25-105mm f4.0L at 100 ISO and handheld.

Shooting the Big Ranch Experience

 

Living in the big ranch country of the Texas plains region was a wonderful time for my brother and me during the 1950’s and into our early adulthood. Our dad, Pate Meinzer, was the foreman on a moderate sized ranch, 27,000 acres, along the Brazos river in Knox County so from early childhood and until I drove away to attend college at Texas Tech University life was an emersion of cowboying, hunting and being privy to working around some of the great cowboys that defined our region of Texas. Without doubt this rural upbringing played a huge roll in my own view of the land, the people as well as a decent work ethic in general.

A big branding on the 6666 ranch in early spring. Dust, smoke and fast work define a mornings work on big outfits in Texas. Canon 1D Mark II N and Canon 16-35mm f2.8L at 100 ISO.

 

Although I did not pursue the cowboy life as my livelihood, I never lost my love and appreciation for this genre of upbringing that set the stage for the life that I enjoy at the latter age of 61 years. I can never give enough credit to my parents and those old time Texans whose bent and bowed legs told a story of a lifetime in the saddle and on the big cattle ranges of our great state.

On big outfits like the Waggoner, 6666 and Pitchfork, the branding requires two draggers and two sets of flankers. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200 f2.8L lens at 100 ISO and handheld.

 

While studying Wildlife Management at Texas Tech, working as a professional predator hunter and finally becoming a photographer/author, I have never lost the appreciation for  the smell of sweating horseflesh and the clatter of cattle hooves on the rough badlands that described so much of my home country along the Brazos and Wichita. Thus when I had the opportunity to document the workings on some of our historical ranches of these plains I felt excitement in knowing that I was finally heading back home for a revisit to a life and memories of long ago. With camera in hand and an understanding of what I really wanted to communicate through my photographic images, I embarked in this endeavor to communicate a realistic view of ranch life today and not some reenactment of ones imagination of what it should have been.

Herefords are becoming a breed of the past in favor of the angus crosses. The former exhibits a tendency for pink eye and cancer eye which reduces the worth of sold beef. But I will have to say that there is something special about having hundreds of head of cattle in the herd sporting a set of horns. Canon F1N and Canon 80-200mm F4.0 lens and ISO 50 Velvia film handheld.

 

Take a moment to study these images and know that they are moments in a days work of men who represent a lifeway that is dying just a little with each passing year. It is the Big Ranch Experience of our Texas in real time!

The “hood” or wagon cooks helper washes dishes and gathers firewood for the cooking chores. Here we see a pail of dishwater being dispensed just as the sun breaks over the horizon in early morning. Nikon FN and Leitz Telyt 400mm f6.8 lens. Velvia 50 ISO film and handheld.
In early morning after breakfast is fed the cooks on a wagon are busy readying for the noon meal. Here I caught the goings and  comings of these two men at a Waggoner Ranch camp site as they busy themselves for the big noon meal. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24mm f3.5L Tilt Shift lens. 100 ISO and handheld.
Cowboying is a labor of love and here on the Waggoner, Jimbo Glover, the wagon boss, cuts cattle before the branding begins. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L at 100 ISO and handheld.
Here a herd of cattle on the 100,000 acre 6666 ranch at Borger, Texas walk the fence line during a windy period of the day. Canon 5D and Canon 400mm f5.6L lens at 100 ISO and hand held.
Shipping time on the big outfits is a period of intense work. Here on the massive Waggoner ranch these cattle trucks line up to be loaded for transportation of the yearlings. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L lens at 100 ISO and handheld. Shot from a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter.
Before the rise of a mornings sun the wagon boss tosses his loop many times to catch the mounts for all cowboys and the mornings work. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm lens at 100 ISO and handheld.

 

Hunting Experience And Photography Combines For Success In The Field

 

46 years ago I sat on a hilltop in Knox County and called up my first coyote. On October 17 of 1965 at 2:15 pm that epiphany occurred and my life was never the same, in a very good way.

For over four decades the very basis for my life revolved around hunting and experiencing the positive influence of connecting with a life way that has defined our lives as Americans since the earliest times. Hunting, exploring and just possessing an inquisitive personality has been the main ingredients that formed my entire personality since childhood.

It is amazing how, at times, our activities in youth are exercises in preparation for the careers that we eventually choose in adulthood. My life is no exception in this respect and I have enjoyed an unparalleled richness in experiences because of it.

Hunting has been a rich and long lived heritage that defines the American way. Some of the most successful wildlife photographers have been or are hunters. Adeptness in the handling of a rifle, shotgun or pistol often makes for a steady hand when using super telephoto lenses while understanding the way of a hunter is a plus when seeking out truly wild creatures for photo subjects.

This past weekend we hosted a photo workshop that revolved around predator photography and the art of calling. Of course this was an extension of my hunting years only this time a camera was in hand instead of a rifle. Throughout the weekend my participants were amazed at seeing coyotes by the dozens trot to our position, presenting themselves for the camera ready and camo clad “shooters”. Although I have taken almost 3,000 coyotes in my lifetime as a rifleman, I was overjoyed to see the coyotes answer the call and then trot away unscathed and alive. It is a good way to view and appreciate our wild fauna in a non-consumptive way.

There was a time when the crosshairs of a rifle scope would have settled on this coyote. This weekend the concentration was on focus and correct exposure as we celebrated the wonderful heritage that is our wild Texas fauna.

We called in 36 coyotes in some 11 hours of work and hundreds of images were taken home. All critters lived to hunt another day and the participants were elated. When night settled over the land, cameras were stashed safely away and the wine flowed freely, I mentioned to the group that this was a weekend of a lifetime. Thanks to our luck with having great weather combined with some 46 years of hardcore experience as a predator hunter, we all could toast to one of the most successful workshops I have ever had. Its nice being a little good but I will take a dose of luck to help me out any day!! Enjoy!!

Hunting experience is essential in being successful with wild predator photography. Concealment and stealth is necessary in attaining high quality images.
In place of a highly accurate rifle is a fine camera lens. An optimum focal length is this Canon 400mm f4.0L DO lens.
Knowing when to move and when not to move is a function of being an effective  hunter. This is an essential trait for good wildlife photographers.
Follow focus or “panning” is a practice more easily learned when the photographer has had experience with shooting a rifle or shotgun.
Effective use of a camera lens under low light levels comes easier to those who have shot extensively with pistols or rifles.