Monday, December 13, 2010


Hello and welcome to photosbyiki.  Over the years I have been asked by people what is the best camera for their budget and how they can get better at photography.  So I created this blog to help all you novices.  I will put up my thoughts on anything and everything about the subject.  I will also add tutorials on here on how to take good photographs.

I should also point out that, unless asked, I am going to explain to you how to take photographs using the camera on Manual.  This means that the camera is not assisting you in any way and that you will be setting everything yourself.  As much as this sounds daunting, it really isn't that difficult.   In fact you will only gain more knowledge so that when you do use your camera on Auto, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority, you'll be able to deal with any issues that may arise (because a camera is just a machine and can't read your thoughts on how you would like your photos to turn out!)

I will keep it as simple as I can so if you have any questions then please feel free to message me or make a comment.

The Basics

So I've decided to start from the beginning.  I’m only writing this to help either, complete beginners or people who would just like to understand better, the principles of photography. That’s why I'm going to be very layman and not go into too much detail.  So let's jump straight in.

There are 3 functions you need to know on your camera and understand what they do.  It's using these 3 functions in combination that will help you to take better photographs.  They are the most important things on your camera whether it's digital or film, although who uses film anymore, right?! (Er-hm, I do!)  Point is, the rules are the same.  So what are these 3 things? Well, in no specific order since they all work in combination to give you the final result, are:-

1) F Stop
2) Shutter Speed
3) ISO

“Wait! you said that you would use layman terms, what's with this ISO and F Stop? “
Don't worry, you don’t need to know what they stand for, only what they do.  See how simple we’re keeping this!

1)    F Stop:  This function also known as the Aperture relates to the lens only.  Inside the lens there is an iris, just like your eye.  The lower the F Stop number the wider the iris and as you would expect, the higher the number the smaller the iris.  So if the iris is wide open then more light travels through the lens.  If the iris is tight then less light gets through.  Just like your eyes, if you are in a dark room the iris opens up wide to allow you to see better.  It’s the same principle with lenses.

2)    Shutter Speed:  This function specifies how slow or fast the shutter (doorway to the film/sensor) opens and closes.  The lower the number, the slower the shutter speed and, off course, the higher the number, the faster the shutter speed.  Once again, think of this logically, if the shutter is opening and closing slowly then more light is getting through and if the shutter is opening and closing quickly then less light is getting through.

Generally speaking:
Fast shutter speeds are used to let less light into the camera on bright days and for any fast moving objects such as sports photography but not exclusively.
Slow shutter speeds are used for low light photography such as night time shoots.  These may require the use of a tripod as the camera needs to be motionless.

3)    ISO:  This is a little more complicated so I’ll give you a little history.  Since I am explaining from the point of view of digital cameras, this one has its history with film.  So back in the old days, in the time of film cameras, the ISO number on a film would represent the sensitivity of that film to light.  The higher the ISO the more sensitive to light that film is.  The downside to this is a grainier picture.  So, to cut a long story short, DSLR’s follow the same rules.  Even though there’s no film, the ISO behaves in exactly the same way.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s the combination of these 3 functions that help create the final result.  If you want to dig deeper about these 3 functions then I highly recommend you look on wikipedia for a more in depth description.

No matter how good a photographer you are, in the end it will come down to the combination of these 3 functions for everything you do.
In the following posts to come, I will go into the different ways you can use these 3 functions to achieve very different results in your photographs.  Stand by!

Taking Photos with Depth of Field

The heading to this should actually read, ‘Taking Photos with a Shallow Depth of Field’.  As you can imagine I didn’t write that because it’s just too confusing, since we haven’t even discussed Depth of Field (DOF).

So as to keep this simple in the true spirit of this blog, the only thing you need to know is that DOF refers to how Blurry or how Sharp your images will be.  A Shallow DOF means that there will be a lot of blur.  A Large DOF means that there will be very little blur.  I guess the best way to demonstrate this to you is to show you two images showing off the two scenarios.

A: The first image shows off a Shallow DOF.  I took this picture with my F Stop set to f/1.4 (your lens may not have f/1.4 so just set it to the lowest number, however, you may not get the same amount of blur). Notice how only a certain point on the picture is in focus and the rest is pretty much blurred.  This technique is best used to focus on a particular area on the subject.  Another way to understand it would be: “Technically/Artistically it is a way to make the viewer ‘focus’ on what you want them to see in your shot.”

B: The following image shows off a very large DOF.  Notice how most of the image is in focus.  This is best placed in situations where there are large crowds and you wish to keep all the detail in the image, Landscapes, Architecture and is very popular with holiday snaps too! ;o)

We’ll deal with the Large DOF in the next post.  So let’s take a look at how we can achieve a Shallow DOF in our shots.  One thing you need to remember is that the larger the iris (lowest F Stop number, eg. 1.4) the shallower the DOF you will get in your images.  However, this is not the only consideration for shallow DOF.  Distance is also a large factor in this.  The closer you are to the subject will also create a shallower DOF. 

Here is another example of DOF, two images side by side.  You can see that shot A has a very shallow DOF.  Notice how the blur starts very close to the sharpest point.  
Now take a look at image B and you can see that the headphones are completely in focus, however, look at the table.  As it disappears into the distance, it goes out of focus.  This is the 'distance' affecting the DOF.  We'll take a look at that more closely in the next post.

Now that we have touched on the subject of DOF, the following question maybe spinning around in your head:-

When is it best to use this?

Well there is no short or solid answer and I am loathed to give actual specific directions on where to use it.  The reason for this is that it’s your photo and it really is up to you.  Who’s to say it’s right or wrong.  That’s the beauty of it.  Take a photo and see how you feel about it.  If it feels good to you then it’s probably a good photo.  The best way to improve is to just get out there and take lots and lots of photos!

Distance and DOF

In the previous post we discussed DOF and I mentioned that the F Stop is only one reason for the blur effect in your photos.  Distance also plays a major part.  So looking at the photo of the headphones again, you can see that in image 2 we have the headphones nice and sharp but the table blurs as it goes into the distance. 

There is nothing wrong with this, in fact it places more emphasis on the headphones, where I want you to look anyway.  More to the point, it’s aesthetically more pleasing to look at

Ok so getting back onto the subject.  Take a look at the diagram I have drawn up, look very carefully at it and try to understand what’s going on.  Don’t worry, I’m going to explain it anyway below!

Looking at the image you can see the camera and, represented with grey lines, the viewing angle you would see if you were looking through the camera.  The camera is pointed at an object (in this case a sculpture).  The camera is simulating a similar angle I used to take the photo of the headphones.
The blue dotted line represents the Focal Plane.  This is the point on the subject that we are focused on.  The sharpest point of focus on the resulting image.  Remember the focal plane is always parallel to the image plane (the recording plane, film or ccd chip).
The two purple lines represent the F Stop we have chosen, in this instance it’s f/8.

The measurements are not accurate nor are they important for what I am trying to explain to you.  F Stops and distance charts can be found all over the internet if you are interested further

When we focus on an image, the F Stop represent the sharpest point on the image and depending on what F Stop number we have chosen, the image will be sharp an equal distance behind and in front of that point of focus.  If you were to stop down to f/4 then the lines would come closer together reducing the amount that is in focus.

Take a look at the image below.  This should help you understand F Stops and Distances.  Once again I should remind you that the amount the lines are apart is purely arbitrary.  I’m just explaining to you what, in theory, is happening when you use the different F Stops.

It’s much easier to understand what’s going on now that the camera is level with the ground.
Once again the camera is pointed at a subject, a stylish man about town.  The blue dotted line represents the point of focus. 
As you can see there are groups of lines spaced equally apart from the point of focus.  (Equally in front and behind the subject)

You can see that I’ve clearly coloured and marked the lines as:-

Yellow       f/1.4       very close together
Green       f/2.8
Orange     f/5.6
Purple       f/8          far apart

To reiterate what we learned in an earlier post, the higher the F Stop the greater the amount of focus (sharpness) in your image.  When I say ‘greater’ I’m speaking of the distance in space between you and the subject you are photographing.  Look at the above diagram again, if it didn’t make much sense before, it might do now.

What is that funny looking symbol that looks like a number 8 on it’s side?  Well that symbol represents infinite space.  On my diagram I have shown the F Stops up to f/8.  Lenses normally go up to f/16 and some go even higher.  So why did I stop at f/8?  Well first of all, I’m not being very technically accurate, I’m just trying to explain the fundamental principles.  Secondly, if you stop down to f/8 you’re image is going to be pretty sharp, beyond that your image will be infinitely sharp.  The sharpness of the final result really depends on the quality of the lens you have.

If you have any questions about this post then please leave a comment and I can help you further.

What Camera Should I Buy?

I get this question a lot and I feel your pain.  There are so many cameras on the market now that it's almost impossible to know which one is right for you. In this post I'm not going to compare cameras, I'm just going to recommend what I think are the best on the market right now.  I would recommend that if you have a camera in mind for yourself, then you can easily compare the models on a shopping website and see which is right for you.

Please bear in mind the following:-
-       These recommendations are based on my opinions but they are educated opinions which I have researched on your behalf. 
-       I don’t have any affiliation with any organization or company so you can rest assured that this is completely independent advice. 
-       In the true spirit of this simple blog, I won’t go into too much technical detail about the individual products, but I will point out what’s important.  You can research the products further yourself if you’re interested in the models I recommend.

The first question you need to ask yourself is “what am I going to use the camera for?”  Cameras are not cheap so you want to spend the right amount of money and get the most out of your equipment (yeah I know how that sounds!).
If you are a family man, have a hectic life and like to travel a lot, carry lots of gear for the kids etc, then buying a large camera with several optional lenses is not really for you.  A compact camera is a much better fit and, to be honest, todays compact cameras are really great.  On the other hand if you really want to get into photography and want to improve on your skills as a photographer then a DSLR is the only way to go.  There are lots of options for both of these solutions but I’m going to keep this simple and just give you recommendations of what, in my opinion, are the best on the market right now.

Compact Camera
Todays compacts are much more sophisticated than merely just pointing and shooting.  They do pack some punch in resolution, features and low light photography.  What’s great about the newer models coming out today is the option of interchangeable lenses.  Remember the lens is the most important part of the camera.  A good quality lens can make all the difference.  So without further comment, our winner in this category is:-

Sony Nex-3 or Nex-5

-     This small camera (and it really is small believe me) allows you Manual operations, i.e. you can set the F Stop, Shutter Speed and ISO independently.  It also allows you Shutter and Aperture priority functions too.  “we’ll discuss Shutter and Aperture Priority in another post”
-     The size of the sensor chip (CCD Chip) that captures your images is huge,  given that this is a compact camera.  It is the equivelant size of an entry level DSLR.  This means that your images will be of a higher resolution and quality.
-     You have the ability to change lenses.  Not only can you use the lenses that Sony provides for the NEX but you can also use lenses from other makes of cameras such as Nikon, Canon etc.  All you have to do is buy the adaptor that will allow you to connect your choice of cameras lenses to the NEX.
-     Takes HD movies
-     The screen at the back tilts so you can take photos at low and high angles.
-     The only important difference between the Nex-3 and the Nex-5 is the resolution of the HD movie that you can record.  The Nex-3 shoots at 720 and the Nex-5 shoots at 1080.

Entry Level and Professional DSLR’s
This area is a little more difficult to recommend so I’m going to recommend 2 of each.  The reason for this is the fierce competition between Nikon and Canon.  Both makes of cameras are equally good and both companies have a wide selection of lenses to go with their cameras.  If you are looking for something very specific , before choosing one or the other, please look into their specifications more carefully.

Entry Level DSLR’s
Entry Level DSLR’s have only one main difference with Professional DSLR’s.  A smaller CCD Chip.  These smaller ccd chips are also referred to as DX cameras for Nikon and EF-S on Canon.  For these cameras you would also need to purchase very specific lenses which are designed to fit the camera’s chip size.  Not to be too confusing, but if you were to use a 50mm lens on one of these cameras, your actual output would be around 75mm.  So you’re not getting 100% the result you’re looking for.  This is not to be confused with not getting the result you see through the lens.  

I recommend the following Entry Level cameras:-

Nikon D7000 

This is the latest from Nikon and has all the bells and whistles you need to get started in semi pro photography.  I would argue that I have seen some very professional work come out of these cameras so it’s a little misleading to call the work semi pro.  This camera also shoots movies in full 1080 resolution. If this is the market you’ve budgeted for then you will not be disappointed with this camera.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i

This is the latest Rebel from Canon and just like the Nikon, it has all the bells and whistles.  If you’ve heard good things about Canon and want to lean towards this company then this is your best option for an entry level camera.

Professional DSLR’s
 So I’ve already explained that the entry level cameras have a smaller sensor than the professional cameras, but what does that mean.  Professional DSLR’s are also called Full Frame cameras.  The sensor is the same size as a 35mm film camera and uses full frame lenses.  On a full frame camera a 50mm lens gives you a 50mm output, you get a 1:1 ratio on what you see, so there’s no confusing maths involved!

Nikon D3x

This is a heavy weight in camera technology and one that I own myself.  It has a ton of features, none of which I use!  I keep my photography simple but I require the best equipment to do it.  The build quality is unsurpassed by any other camera and the results from my thorough use of the camera are astounding.  I highly recommend this camera to any budding professional and let’s not forget the impressive range of lenses available for the Nikon.  This is considered a professional DSLR and therefore there is no video functionality here.  This camera only takes photos!

Canon 5D MkII

In the Canon camp we have the 5D MkII.  This is Canons most popular professional camera.  Once again it is a full frame camera and once again, the image quality and features are without dispute.  The big difference between this and the Nikon D3x is that the Canon can actually record HD Movies.  The quality of movies produced on the Canon 5D MkII are so good that some amateur film makers are filming entire movies with it.  If you combine the ability to shoot a movie, full frame sensor and powerful lenses, I’m sure you can see the advantages already!  If you are thinking of doing event photography and there’s a possibility of recording video at the event, then this baby is for you!

Now that we’ve done cameras we move on to the biggest factor in photography hardware, the Lenses.  We will discuss this in the next post!


Let’s start with an important fact:  The body of your camera is just a dark box which allows you to control the amount of light/image that comes in through the lens.  Some can be very hi-tech and full of features but, at the end of the day, they are no more than a dark box.
The quality of that light/image, coming in, is entirely dependent on the quality of the lens that you have.

Poor lens = poor quality of light/image.

Unfortunately good lenses are expensive.  So purchasing the right lens is not only important but it could also keep your bank manager happy!

I won’t be explaining or recommending any lens by make or model.  We’re talking about the different kinds of lenses on offer, so the make and model of the camera is irrelevant.

There is a set category of lenses and every lens fits into one of these.  The categories describe what kind of lens it is.  These categories are:-

Wide Angle

Wide Angle
Wide Angle lenses have a very wide field of view.  When you look through the viewfinder on your camera, you will see that this lens encompasses more of what you see.  I won’t go into how they do this but just imagine a chrome ball and how the reflection on it shows most of the environment.  The reflection bulges forward in the centre and distorts away towards the edges.  This is the same principle with Wide Angle lenses.

Normal lenses are best described as lenses that best reproduce what looks natural.  They best translate what you see through your eyes.

This one is really difficult to explain simply but I’ll try my best.  Telephoto does not refer to the size of the lens, in fact it suggests the complete opposite.  Even though you can get large telephoto lenses, the actual focal length of these is even larger.  A 400mm Telephoto lens is much smaller than a Standard 400mm lens.  You can immediately see the advantage of not having to carry around a huge lens.  These lenses are great for taking shots of things far away, sports, landscapes etc.  One of the obvious visual results of using Telephoto lenses is that images look flatter.  Objects further away and closer to you look like they’re on the same plane.  You can also achieve a very shallow depth of field.  This is an effect that most landscape and wildlife photographers like. 

For most people these are the most popular types of lenses.  Look at these like a convenient range of many different lenses in one.  For example a 24-120mm goes from a very wide angle of 24mm all the way up to 120mm telephoto.  So there is no changing of lenses, no heavy bags, no huge costs.  You can see why these lenses are so popular.

Macro lenses are used to shoot objects very close to the camera.  They are great for getting shots of very small objects or just allowing you to focus on an object where normal lenses can’t.  Although you can use these lenses normally at whatever distance the lens is, it’s only really sharp at it’s macro level.  For example, if you use a 105mm macro as a telephoto lens then it’s not going to give you the same sharpness as a 105mm telephoto lens.  It’s true power and clarity is at the macro level.  Simply put, just use it for close up objects and use other lenses for everything else.

So now that we understand the different types of lenses, what lenses do I recommend for a beginner.  Well this is a very difficult area for advice but I address this with the following consideration.  If you are absolutely new to photography and would like to know what lenses would help you get started on the road to great photography.  Then I recommend the following 2 lenses.  Remember earlier, I said that lenses are expensive, so I’m taking that into consideration and recommend only the highest quality items, however, use these as a guide and find the right lens for your budget, around or close to the ones I recommend.

The first lens I recommend is:-
50mm f/1.4:  This is a Normal lens and also known as a Prime Lens.  Prime lens means that it has just one focal length and therefore is always going to be sharper and more powerful than zooms.

Regardless of who you are and what you are going to be shooting, this is a MUST have lens.  You start with this lens and then move onto others.  I have used this lens more than any other lens in my entire career.  It’s small and discrete and it goes down to f/1.4, so you can use it even when the light is very low, e.g. night time and indoor shoots.  You can capture Portraits, Crowds, Landscapes, holiday snaps etc.  It covers everything because it best replicates what you see through your eyes. 
If this is too pricey a lens for you then you may want to consider purchasing a 50mm f/1.8.  It’s half the price, however, it’s half the price for good reason!

There is another reason why I recommend this lens above any other.  Since it’s a Prime lens and closely replicates what you see with your eyes, It will force you to make framing decisions naturally.  Not as easy as it sounds, but with practice you’ll be able to master it!

Note: if you have an entry level DSLR, then you need to purchase a 35mm to make up for the crop factor.  Remember we discussed this in the post “What Camera Should I Buy?”

The Second lens I recommend is:-
24-70mm f/2.8:  This lens goes from a very wide 24mm to a close up of 70mm.

If you are beginner and want to just buy one lens that’s an all rounder then I highly recommend a small range zoom like the one above.  Small range means that the distance between the wide and the zoom is not too great.  Larger zooms means larger lenses.  The scale of a lens does not dictate the quality of a lens.  The only time you will need a large zoom is if you’re thinking of doing some nature or sports photography.
Get a small zoom and it will help you to frame a picture without having to move a few steps forward or backward.

Just a note about Zoom Lenses.  If you need to take a photo of something far away, then move closer to it.  The number of times that you will need an extreme zoom is going to be very rare, unless you happen to do a lot of nature and sport photography.  Also after a certain zoom, you’re going to need a tripod.  That’s because every tiny movement of your camera is magnified by the amount of zoom.

You know I could go into a lot more information about lenses, but I’m going to leave it at the two recommendations that I gave you.  Like I mentioned earlier, lenses are expensive, so you need to maximise on what you have, so do your research online if you’re not happy with the advice I have given.  There is a wealth of information out there.  Or if you are looking to purchase a particular lens, then drop me a message and I’ll try and help you as much as I can with regards to your choices.