Jonathan Fleming's Blog

A Photography Blog

Posts Tagged ‘wide angle

The Last Minute Group Shot

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This morning I attended a graduation ceremony for a group of students who successfully completed a rigorous training course in American Sign Language. It was an exciting event that drew a few hundred people, mostly friends and family of the students. Bridget and I were involved heavily in helping run the course, and I even brought my camera to every session to document the entire semester. This morning, I arrived about an hour early to help set up the A/V equipment needed to run the graduation, but soon after I arrived, I was asked to take a class photo. A group of 35, a relatively dimly lit hall crowded with people, and uh oh…I didn’t have my camera. On top of that, the shot needed to be done BEFORE the graduation started.  The wife ran home and grabbed whatever she could for me while I set up the A/V. By the time she got back with some camera gear, however, we only had about fifteen minutes or so to get the shot. A photographic nightmare! I was sweating bullets as I frantically set up a light stand camera right with an SB-900 through an umbrella, feathered high and left. Second light is hand held by my wife standing on a chair camera left, feathered high and right. Now I had about 8 minutes until the start of the graduation program. Gulp.

See how many people were there? This is the reason why I had to use my ultra wide lens for this group shot. There were a TON of people already on site, including a crowd of people with point and shoot cameras behind me. This meant I couldn’t back up very far. So I mounted my Tokina 11-16,  rushed like crazy to try to get all the students in some sort of order, fired off four or five frames, and that was it, time to start the ceremony. Whew….trust me, it was harder that in sounds!

View the “last minute” group shot larger here.


Camera Specs: Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

Written by Jonathan

July 10, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Don’t Start with a Plan

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When I first started Suki’s 52 week project this year, I tried my best to have a very specific concept in mind for each image, planning each shot as meticulously as I could before we even headed out the door. I’m nearly halfway through the project now, and I’ve learned that having a plan is not always the best way to get a great shot. Reminds me of what Jay Maisel, a highly regarded NY based photographer once said:

Not knowing what you’re going to shoot is the great adventure. If you go out knowing what you’re going to shoot, the great adventure is gone. Most people work to have a plan; I’ve worked to not have a plan for shooting when I go out.

I love this advice, and I’ve done my best to incorporate the principle behind it not only in my 52 week project, but in my photography in general.

Nowadays, the only planning I do when I go out to take a photo of Suki is deciding the location. Once we’ve settled into a spot, I then start scanning the area and coming up with ideas. It forces you to be observant, to look intently for interesting compositions, lines, and light. Instead of locking down on a specific plan, you find yourself exploring with a free and clear mind, and exploration and adventure is what makes photography great.

My best images of Suki this year are the ones where no planning was involved, where I’d just say “hey, let’s go to [insert location here] and try to get some sort of shot of Suki.” The images you see in this post, for example, are from a series I shot of her last Sunday during an early morning stroll. No plan involved. Just me, some camera gear, and a Shiba Inu. We walked and walked until I saw an element of the environment that struck me. It’s a great way to approach your photography. Just make sure you always have your camera with you!

My Favorite Lenses

So lately I’ve decided that my two absolute favorite lenses in my bag right now are…..[drum-roll]…. The Nikkor 70-300mm VR (used in the top image) and the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (used in the third photo from the top). Yup. My longest telephoto and my widest wide-angle. Both allow me to greatly exaggerate the perception of distance in an image. Want to really add some impact and dimension to your photos? Move further away from your subject and rack out your telephoto lens. Using an ultra-wide? Move in super close to your subject. Experiment and see what happens!


Camera Info:
Nikon D300s
1st image: Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, 260mm f/8, 1/400 second, ISO200
3rd image: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, 11mm, f/16, 1/320 second, ISO200
CLS triggered SB-800 + SB-900 used in both images

Kyoto Station

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Kyoto station is massive! One of Japan’s largest transportation hubs, Kyoto station seems like a city all its own, with places to eat, shop, stay, you name it.  There’s also terrace at the very top of the complex where you can relax and enjoy sweeping, panoramic views of the city. When we first arrived here from Tokyo, we must have spent at least a couple hours exploring the enormous station before heading to our hotel in Kyoto Gion. I was particularly impressed by the massive, open-air canopy shown above (see an alternate shot here). I wish I had a chance to come back to the station at dusk to get some night images of the structure, but we never had the opportunity.

First order of business after a long Shinkansen ride into Kyoto station? Eat! We found a great place for Okonomiyaki there, and chowed down. Took a while to decide where to eat, since Kyoto station has literally dozens of restaurants to choose from.

Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

Written by Jonathan

May 10, 2010 at 11:34 am

Faster Than Light

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Well, not really but I thought it was cool title. Took this shot last night on the way home from the East Bay. That’s the wife driving, by the way. This was taken in the tunnel going through Treasure Island that leads to the upper deck of the Bay Bridge’s main span.

I have a second shot taken on the actual main span that looks really cool too. Check it out on my flickr page!

Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 at 11mm f/2.8 ISO200, 4 Seconds

Back to Pier 14

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Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 @ 11mm f/11, ISO200 45.0 Seconds

Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 @ 11mm f/11, ISO200 45.0 Seconds

I took this photo this morning, after deciding to roll out of bed at 4:30am to catch the magic hour before dawn here in San Francisco. This is the black and white version of the same photo I’ll be posting on my flickr page. I set up out here at about 6:15am and waited for the sky to start changing color, which happened very suddenly at about 6:35am. I really wanted to stay longer, but I was parked at a metered parking spot that started at 7am. I also had to be at work by 8am, so I was long gone before the sun moved passed the eastern horizon. I really love shooting at dawn. It’s so peaceful and serene in the city before rush hour.

Portrait of a Friend, and Goodbye Summer Night Shooting

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Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 50mm f/5.6, ISO900 1/8 Second

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 50mm f/5.6, ISO900 1/8 Second

This is Snowflake Bear, and we take him everywhere! He’s even been to Japan and back with us last year (where our friends called him kuma-san, or Mr. Bear). I usually shoot in RAW, but this shot was processed by and imported directly from of the camera. The D300s produces some beautiful JPEGs I think. I took this photo to test out my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8’s VC effectiveness in an indoor, low-light setting. This scene was actually much darker than it looks here, with natural light hitting him softly from the edges of a dark curtain over a window to my right. The VC allowed a super-low 1/8 second shutter speed at a reasonable ISO setting and at the longest (75mm equivalent) focal length for this lens, hand-held. Of course, this wouldn’t have worked if he was moving around though. 😉

In other news, the shot I took below was a quick one I took on the way to go grocery shopping over the weekend. It’s getting harder and harder to take the cityscape shots at dusk that I’ve been enjoying taking over the summer. The sun is setting sooner and sooner as Autumn sets in, and there isn’t much time lately to run out after work and capture the wonderful, deep blue sky color that lasts only 20-30 minutes after the sun sets.

A street light to my left was causing major flare issues for me that ruined my first couple of shots at this spot (using my Tokina 11-16 ultra wide). Since my wife was along, I actually had her stand to the left of the camera to shade the lens. Not only is she blocking light with her body here, but her hand is actually held very close (in fact just barely out of the frame) to the left of the lens to further reduce the glare.

We were only there for a few minutes and the dusky blue sky was gone. I noticed though, during this very quick shooting session, that the shutter speeds I needed to expose the shot the way I wanted seemed too short. After getting home I realized why: I had the camera set to ISO800 from some hand-held test shots I was taking earlier. Doh! Fortunately, ISO800 is very clean on the D300s, but it just goes to show, always double check your settings!

To prevent this from happening later, I’ve set up two custom shooting banks in my D300s, one for the tripod mounted night shots I love taking, where I shoot RAW with D-Lighting off and ISO set to base with Auto ISO off (among other things), and one for hand-held shooting, activating D-Lighting and Auto ISO etc.

Anyways, back to being sad about the seasons changing. I know that soon, as winter comes, I’ll be getting off work with the sun already below or close to being below the horizon, giving me no time for the shots I’ve been taking lately. There is hope, however. I’ve noticed lately that on my drive to work in the morning, the dawn’s blue sky here in San Francisco is simply incredible. I’m gonna have to start waking up earlier!

Wow, this post is full of my rambling. Oh well!

Tamron SP 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II VC

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Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC Mounted on my Nikon D300s

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC Mounted on my Nikon D300s


I’m extremely excited to have received my brand new Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC. VC, or Vibration Control, is Tamron’s version of optical image stabilization, which compensates for camera shake while taking photos, allowing more flexibility in low light photography. I previously owned the non-stabilized version of the Tamron 17-50mm, which I sold my cousin in order to nab this one. So, as a former owner of the last lens, there are some differences other than the new VC feature that I can note between this updated version and the older Tamron 17-50.

First of all, this new VC version seems very slightly larger and heavier, but the difference is hard to really feel in practice. To me, the construction/build quality of the lens looks and feels superior to the older Tamron, though still not as rugged as my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. The VC lens also takes 72mm filters instead of the 67mm ring size of the older lens, which means I’m gonna have to go filter shopping now.

My new Tamron seems to make lots of interesting noises during shooting. First of all, while the zoom ring operated quietly on the older 17-50, the zoom ring on the VC version makes a strange sound that I can’t seem to describe any other way than as the sound of zipping up the zipper on a camping tent. Not sure if that description makes any sense, but the sound doesn’t really bother me and may fade in time. Focusing sounds are noisy like the older lens, and while this lens seems to focus very fast on my D300s (I never had a chance to mount the old one on my new camera), the noise that the non-silent wave motor makes during operation seems similar to the old one: noisy, but not objectionably so in my opinion. Then, of course, there is the noise coming from the VC system. You know the sound that a conch makes when you put your ear up to it? Yeah, kinda sounds like that.

About the VC system. I’m used to using optical stabilization on my longer Nikkor 70-300mm lens, where hand holding the lens racked out at 300mm and activating VR reduces the shake in the viewfinder significantly but not completely. When I look through the viewfinder with the Tamron mounted and VC active at these shorter focal lengths, the image in the viewfinder looks dead still….like scary still. It’s pretty awesome.

While out on the town this evening I decided to do a little practical test of the VC’s effectiveness. Here’s a shot I took on a tripod tonight with the new lens:

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 18mm f/18, 8 Seconds ISO200

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 18mm f/18, 8 Seconds ISO200

During the same shooting session, I took two shots from the same spot, but hand-held. One shot was taken with VC active and one without. Here’s a crop from each (cropped from the center window on the Castro Theater). Both these images were shot in RAW and converted to JPEG in Adobe Lightroom without any adjustments made. Note the camera settings in each shot:

Without VC:

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/ 2.8 VC at 20mm f/8.0, 1/8 Sec ISO 800 (VC OFF)

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/ 2.8 VC at 20mm f/8.0, 1/8 Sec ISO 800 (VC OFF)

With VC:

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 20mm f/8, 1/8 Sec ISO 500

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 20mm f/8, 1/8 Sec ISO 500

I made a little mistake in this test that actually made it turn out a little better in a way. Notice that the settings are identical in each shot except for the ISO settings. The non-VC shot is set at ISO800 while the VC shot is at ISO500. This is because when I took the camera off the tripod to start shooting hand-held, I instinctively set the camera to auto-ISO, so the camera started changing the ISO from one shot to the other (auto ISO effected not only by what the meter is seeing but also by whether or not VC is active). If I had manually kept the ISO the same in both shots, the blur in the non VC shot would have been more exaggerated.

But as you can see, even with a higher ISO sensitivity, the shot with VC off shows significant blur from camera motion compared to the shot with VC on at a lower sensitivity setting. These shots were taken at a pretty small aperture considering they were both taken at dusk, and the fact that the shot with VC was sharp down to 1/8 of a second combined with a pretty low ISO in this case is really promising. For static, low-light subjects (which make up a lot of the shots I take), the optical stabilization will allow me to take more usable photos when I don’t have a tripod. The VC will also give me more usable apertures in low-light, which is great if I decide I want more depth of field or sharpness in a hand-held low-light shot, rather than having to resort cranking up the ISO, shooting at f/2.8, and hoping the shutter speed is high enough to stop the shake.

Here’s the non-cropped version of the hand-held photo of the Castro Theater with VC active:

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 20mm f/8, 1/8 Second ISO 500

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 20mm f/8, 1/8 Second ISO 500

Overall I really look forward to using this Tamron. My favorite lens has still got to be my Tokina 11-16 f/2.8, but this one will probably come to be a very close second, and will probably be on my camera 90% of the time I shoot. Well, I don’t know about 90%…..we’ll just have to see!

Update 11/20/09:

Check out a few shots I took at a recent wedding with the Tamron 17-50 VC here.

Check out more hand held low light shots at a museum with the Tamron here.

Or, just click the 70-50 tag to see all the photos I’ve taken so far with the Tamron 17-50 VC.