The First Year // Lenses


If you are just coming across this HERE for links to other posts in the series! 

Soon after I started my study of all things photography, I discovered my kit lenses weren't going to cut it. Because most kit lenses are made of plastic and they cannot open up to very wide apertures, you are limited in the style of photography you can achieve. The sharpness of your photos is also affected.

After reading about it over and over again, I finally (and by finally, I mean like three weeks after I had the camera) bought a “nifty 50" (a 50mm 1.8 prime lens.) This lens, as many have said, really changed everything about what I was doing. Putting the 50 on my camera and then putting on my kit lens, I could physically SEE the difference in focal distance. You can read about that all day long, but I didn't get it until I experienced it myself. It also allowed me to open up much wider. The widest aperture on the 50 is 1.8 and on my kit lens it was 3.5. That is a HUGE difference and changed my ability to get better lit photos with much better bokeh.

After acquiring the 50, I continued to learn a LOT about lenses. I figured out the difference between prime and zoom and a fixed zoom and what all of the descriptions meant. I can tell you exactly what a 70-200mm f3.5-f5.6 description means and how a 70-200 fixed 2.8 is different. I learned that more expensive lenses are referred to as “glass” because…wait for it…their insides are made of glass and not plastic. Imagine that?!

My next lens purchase needed to replace my kit lens. A 50 is great but since it is a prime lens the only way to zoom is to move your feet and for what I wanted to do, that just wasn't going to cut it. I proceeded to do some massive research on the best lens to cover the 20-70 focal range for the best price and landed on the Tamron 28-75. This lens continues to be my workhorse. Because I shoot a lot of families with small children, I need something that will zoom as well as something that is wide enough to get a whole family in the frame. Although I would eventually love to have something wider than 28 for more artistic shots, this lens is on my camera 85% of the time during a family session and remains sharp and accurate. It is quick to focus and I do really love everything about it.

I went on a bit of a lens shopping spree at one point last summer and picked up three other lenses at the same time. I acquired a 50mm 1.4, an 85mm, and a wide angle lens.  Paul was starting to learn more about how to use the camera in manual and I wanted to put the 50mm f1.8 on the backup camera for him to use. This is the only reason I bought another 50mm.

Since that point, I have sold the 17-40 in order to purchase at 70-200. My reasoning behind this boils down to a few different things. I do love a really good wide angle shot with a lot of negative space, but I was finding that with the 17-40 I would use it maybe once during a shoot for only that shot. I was learning a lot more about focal length, compression and depth of field at that time and I knew that I wanted to add a 70-200 to my collection. Since my Tamron gave me a nice ability for negative space already with the 28 focal length, I decided it would be best to sell the 17-40 and pick up the 70-200 instead. I do not regret this decision. The 70-200 is a fantastic lens. The compression you can achieve at 200 is just so buttery and brilliant. I would and will use it way more for portrait work than with families, but I still am very glad it is in my repertoire.

I would at some point like to pick up a 100mm macro or 135mm as well as maybe a 10-20mm wide angle. Having the full spectrum of focal ranges covered is great but I feel like also it sometimes causes analysis paralysis by way of providing TOO many choices. I know what each lens is capable of doing, but they definitely aren't always necessary for general family photography. If someday I grow more into senior/engagement/wedding photography then maybe I will reconsider my lineup for lenses that suit those needs better. 

The First Year // Editing

While I was in the throws of learning how to use my camera and properly expose a photo, I quickly discovered that I couldn't do two really important things with the pictures I was taking.

1) I couldn't shoot in RAW* because I didn't have a program to open up those file types with and

2) I couldn't really edit a photo successfully with the meager programs I had on my computer. 

*I should mention that during this time, I also learned what it meant to shoot in RAW as opposed to JPEG. At first I was slightly intimidated because everything I read mentioned how the data for the picture was captured separately and not compressed into an actual image. I thought I would open up a RAW image and see a bunch of weird code that I wouldn’t know what to do with. I could not have been more wrong. Once I had a program that could open RAW files, all of my fears were put to ease and I realized why shooting in RAW was so important.

Enter Lightroom (LR). 

I knew LR was what a LOT of photographers used, but had heard some interesting things about PS Elements as well.  After trying out 30-day trials of both LR and PS Elements, I dove in and purchased LR.  LR was very intuitive and easy to use and I took quickly to it and began watching video after video of how to import, organize and edit my photos.

I also learned the difference in presets and actions. Presets are used in LR and actions are used in PS or versions of PS. They both do pretty much the same thing, just in different ways. They apply a set of changes to your photo based on what sort of look you want to achieve. All of the things can be done individually, but a preset or action is basically a saved set of steps so you don’t have to do everything individually to each photo each time. They can save you a ton of work.

I discovered early on that editing was really fun for me. It is where my artistic and creative side can really come out and flourish. I enjoy taking pictures immensely, but when you are taking photos of people, there is a whole other set of things you are focused on in addition to the actual picture taking, so editing gave me the opportunity to really sit and focus on being creative in the moment without having to think of a million other things at the same time.

I fell into the trap that a lot of newer photographers do as well and ended up purchasing a few different presets from some different companies. While they are generally fun to play around with, some are just not anything you would ever use for a client or not really your style. In the early days, I also think that since the preset made my photo look “different” that meant that it looked “good.” Since then I have really grown into my style and look back at what I thought looked great and shake my head and grin a little bit at my naiveté. 

I will say that using presets did teach me a lot about how to edit without them. With most presets once you click on it, you can see what it has done to your photo. You can see what happened to the contrast, vibrance etc…and by messing with the sliders back and forth you can see what aspect of the photo is changing.

In December of 2013 I signed up for Creative Cloud subscription, which gives me LR and PS for a set amount per month. All updates are available for download as well. There is a lot of controversy over this but I felt it was right for me at the time. Who knows what the future will bring. However, with the addition of PS, a whole world of editing was opening up to me by way of actions. Plus, you can do SO MANY things in PS that are more focused on design rather than photo editing that it really opens up the way to do some cool things for your business.

For the past 6 months I have learned a lot about PS. I still prefer to do most of my work in LR, mostly because it’s just so quick. You can make batch adjustments to photos in seconds. You can export quickly and with different settings that are easy to understand.

I mostly edit by hand. There are maybe three or four presets that I do apply here and there but most of my other adjustments are done by manual adjustment. The gradient tool is probably my favorite editing tool so far. I use it ALL THE TIME. Spot healing and some light skin softening brushes are also commonly used. When I do take a photo into PS its usually because there is a specific look I am wanting to achieve that cannot easily be done in LR.

During this past year I have learned a lot about myself and my art. I study intensely what others do as well and find it so interesting how others approach their art as well. It is a constant challenge to remind yourself that as an artist, you are not aiming to recreate someone else’s work, you are aiming to create your own unique vision. I feel my eye has become more fine-tuned to pick up on these nuances when looking at others work.