Photos in the Garden with Caroline Jensen

2. Let's Talk Gear

August 22, 2022 Caroline Jensen Season 1 Episode 2
Photos in the Garden with Caroline Jensen
2. Let's Talk Gear
Show Notes Transcript

Photography can be expensive, but nothing is more expensive than gear we do not use. Join Caroline as she gives her best tips for finding the gear that works for you. 

Hey everyone. My name is Caroline Jensen, professional photographer and Sony artisan. Welcome to photos in the garden today. We're gonna be talking about photo gear, photo gear. What is it that you need to make beautiful garden photography? Yes, there are a lot of choices out there. So many choices and being sponsored by Sony.

I probably will tell you what I use from their brand, but honestly, there are so many considerations that you need to think about that aren't brand specific things that you want to put in the back of your mind when you're shopping for gear.  one of the biggest problems I have noticed over the years with students and fellow photographers is this thing that they call gas gear, acquisition syndrome.

And it's, it's a, an epidemic disease.  among a lot of photographers, including myself at times where you see an image and you think, oh, this is amazing. And what gear did they use? What settings did they use? And then you, you lust after this, this camera or this lens. And end up buying it and then you try it on for size for your voice and style, and it's just not working.

And, and at first you can't quite put your finger on it and then you realize, Hey, this person, you know, they, they shot in a completely different climate. They shot with a completely different, outset. Like their goal is, is bold and vibrant and you like soft and muted, you know, you start to analyze. Your actual work against the influence that you had on or that someone else had on you and you realize that it's not gelling.

And so then it's money wasted.  you either sell it or it just sits in your closet. So today I want to kind of go over some universal basics that you wanna think about when it comes to gear. The first thing that you wanna think about is minimal. Or minimum focus, distance, how close can, whatever lens you choose, focus on a subject.

This is a, a uniquely. Important thing to macro and flower photography in general, if you can get a lens that has a fairly short distance between the end of the lens and your subject and its ability to focus easily, you're gonna have a lot more room to maneuver when it comes to creating beautiful imagery.

I personally look for lenses, both vintage and new that keep it in the one to three foot range. When I'm doing large arrangements or I'm, you know, photographing kind of a bigger mass of flowers, I wanna step back about three feet. And when I'm doing macro, I wanna be in about that one foot, uh, area. You know, there are macro lenses that are specific that can get really, really close, but then you run into the problem of casting your shadow on top of your subject or disturbing things.

Like butterflies and you don't necessarily want to make wildlife skittish about your presence. So being stepped back a little bit, butterfly doesn't care if you're within three feet, usually, uh, they're, they're usually pretty occupied in what they're doing, but you start to get it past that one foot range into their world.

And they're like, oh, something's going on here? I better move. And for that reason, I one to three feet is usually what I'm looking for. The reason I mention one to three feet, Is because some vintage lenses are actually farther than that. Uh, I have a lens that I really like it is it's called a cannon dream lens by many people, and it was made in the sixties and early seventies.

And it's a 0.9, five aperture. Which is amazing. It's it's not sharp at all. Like there there's no, , there's no sharpness to this lens. Even when you have it fully focused, it wide open it's it's soft, but it has a really distinct and unique Boca pattern that I absolutely love. And funny story. When I went to go buy this lens, I.

I went to a camera store and they had upstairs, they had this, this kind of special area where they had the photography nerds, the people who love the vintage lenses, the ones that know everything, right. The ones that, that, that I would pick their brain. If I needed answers for something. And I went upstairs and I said, Hey, I'm looking for this specific lens.

And they kind of looked at me like I was from Mars and I kept going and, and I started to say, well, this is why I want it. And  eventually they realized I was serious and that I wasn't. You know, I don't know what they thought, but eventually at first they told me they did not have this lens. And then by the end of my 10 minutes of rambling, they're like, oh, and they go back to a cupboard and pull it out.

And there it is. And I'm thinking seriously,  I don't know. I should go talk to them about that. Anyway, that was a long time ago. Uh, but this lens has a really long. Focusing distance. Uh, it's really better for atmospheric pictures of very, uh, wide open apertured images of the sun falling through the leaves.

It has really unique flare, but it, you can't get close. And if you try to put an extension tube set on it, or, you know, a, a macro lens on the end or something like that, it's so shallow that you literally can get nothing in focus at.  because of the 0.95 aperture. So because of that, I have to use it for very specific circumstances.

And I learned quickly that minimum focus distance is a very important thing. So one of the things you can do is look for a great macro lens that has some options for distance. Choosing my 90 millimeter macro from Sony has this option of picking various. Incremental, uh, stages of distance from myself to the subject.

They have a close focusing, uh, click. You can click it over to that. There's sort of a mid-range and then there's the full range where the camera's gonna hunt for something to focus dur through its entire range of focusing. This can be annoying if you're trying to focus on something really close, which is why they give you the focus limiter option, where you can choose to just have it focus really close near you or in the mid-range or, you know, extend it out to the whole thing.

That can be a benefit or a drawback on your shooting speed, because sometimes you're like why isn't focusing on this tree limb that I'm really excited to photograph. And then you realize, oh, I have the focus limiters set to really close need to change that. So spontaneity is impacted a little bit and you have to be aware of that, but it does give you a lot of control.

and usually macro lenses are incredibly sharp, which is a benefit too. So just, just think about that. You know, when you're, when you're looking at a macro lens, that can be a definite work horse for you. And it has been for me, the surprising thing for me is it, is that this almost since this entire year, I have been using a 50 millimeter and it's a G master.

So it's a 1.2 aperture.  almost consistently, regardless of whether I was trying to get macro que shots or people or portraits or whatever I happen to be shooting. And the reason I love that lens is that it has a fairly short focusing distance and I'm able to get in close macro. Like, I mean, it's not a true one to one macro, but it's, it's close enough.

And for those of you who don't know what a one to one macro is, when you think of a sensor of a camera.  if you're photographing say a ladybug, a one-to-one macro means that the ladybug is life size on the sensor. So it's a life size representation on the sensor of the camera and most regular lenses.

Aren't true. One to one macros, but they get close. You know, it might be two to one and you can get close enough that you can fill the frame with your subject. So moving on to filling your, your, your frame with the subject. One of the other options that I like a lot are longer, longer stretched lenses or telephoto lenses that have a, not a variable aperture, but a variable focus.

And so for instance, that might be my 100 to two, 400, uh, G master. That is an incredible lens, but it is a variable.  aperture lens. Like, I don't know. Did I, did I say variable aperture anyway, I'm I getting kind of confused. You have two different kinds of lenses. You have lenses that are variable aperture, where it can change from like 4.5 to six point something, or you know, where the, the aperture and light changes in your camera as you zoom out the lens, and then you have ones that have a fixed aperture, and those are generally.

Expensive, but the, you know, anything that's a higher tier CA uh, camera or lens in your camera line will have better and clearer and crisper and sharper features, even if it has a variable aperture.  and that's the case with the G master 100 to 400. But being that it's a, it's a telephoto lens where you have a longer focal length.

I can step back quite a bit and fill the frame with my subject. This is a great lens for birding because you can. If you're standing underneath the tree, you can kind of shoot up. Or if you happen to be lucky and you're in an apartment building say, and there's a tall tree next to you, you can get, uh, the birds at eye level.

Uh, but you can zoom in to really get in close and fill the frame with their little faces. So that's another amazing option.  I particularly like that one, the one drawback that I struggle with is the fact that usually the aperture is a bit deeper. And if you're not using supplemental lighting, you often have to crank your ISO pretty high in order to get a really sharp photo.

It's not uncommon for me to be shooting, moving things like. Like songbirds or butterflies with an ISO of 3,200 or more, which most cameras today can handle effortlessly. It's totally fine. Uh, tip quick tip on that. I do like to expose to the right a little bit. I'd rather crank the ISO up to 6,400 and have a really more light and bright image.

Then have 3,200 and have it be kind of dark. It's much easier in post for me to. Have a cleaner image. If it's bright enough in camera, once I bring it into Lightroom or whatever I'm doing for, for editing, then it is to have to increase the exposure. A couple of stops to make it be what I want it to be the noise and the shadows will be.

A lot worse. If you have to continually raise the exposure, especially in the darkest recesses of your image. So if you're photographing say a bird in a tree and you have a, really a. High propensity of dark little shadows between the leaves. I would rather overexpose it a little bit still within the realm of not, you know, running up the side of the histogram on the right hand side.

You're not blowing out anything, but just as bright as you can get it. So that was a little bit of a, I don't know, segue off of the path, but so working with those long telephoto lense,  I have to consider that. So I'm gonna choose a, a camera that can handle ISO really well. And in this case, I usually use my Sony a seven S three, which is usually a, a considered a very high grade video, uh, camera.

But. I use it for stills as well. It is only 12 megapixels. So I want to get my crop in camera. I don't wanna be slicing and dicing my images a lot at 12 megapixels. So that's a consideration as well. The thing about photography is there's always, always a compromise. I don't care who you are, what brand you use.

There are no cameras, the bodies that, that don't have some kind of compromise that you need to consider. And it might not be something to do with the lens or the interior guts of the camera or the technology it might have to do with the weight. , you know, you might have a camera that's really heavy or a lens where you need to use a monopod because it weighs seven pounds.

It's like putting a newborn baby in front of your face, you know, holding it. So there's always a compromise and knowing where your compromises are. Non-negotiable.  and where you can kind of have some wiggle room. That's a really important thing to know. I, for one have a pretty intensive. Back and neck issue, problems, issues, whatever.

my back and neck. Don't like me very much. And because of that, I used to choose lenses that were really tiny and I still do when, when possible. But again, we have that shadow issue. A lot of times, wider angle lenses and tinier lenses. You're getting on top of your subject and, and your casting shadows. So I actually do have some long telephoto lenses that I love and I just use a mono.

Which means I'm not gonna be quickly, you know, veering from horizontal to vertical. So again, compromise always, but just know what you need. Know, what is, is natural for you when you're shooting? Do you prefer to step back and be kind of a paparazzi type flower photographer or nature photographer? Or do you want like to be up in its business and right close and you know, Seeing and hearing the buzzing and the, you know, the pedal flutters and the wind and, you know, what is your style of shooting?

What does that look like? What does your ideal shooting such scenario look like? And quite honestly, my favorite way to shoot is to plunk my bottom in the grass, have a longer lens on a monopod. You know, maybe extended two feet. So it's just right in front of me at eye level, maybe, maybe two and a half, and just kind of swing my lens around and, and see the, the busyness that's happening at a distance from where I'm sitting.

It's really relaxing for me. And, you know, provided that the light is, is, is manageable. Perhaps we have a beautiful semi overcast day where you have the soft light everywhere. Like, that's my ideal, but again, my 50 millimeter hardly left my camera the entire year.  almost 365 days of never leaving my camera.

I was quite impressed. 15 millimeter. Isn't really a sexy, focal length. Like that's not one that people get super excited about. Usually it's very utilitarian, but man, that lens is so wicked sharp, so sharp.  I, I, I just, every time I bring images back into the camera, I'm like, How this is, this is incredible.

And so because of that, you know, I use it and I, I favor it over a macro lens, cuz it's sometimes sharper than a macro.  anyway, think about what you're actually going to use. So other than minimal focus, distance or minimum focus, distance, why am I calling it minimal minimum focus, distance, and the, the consideration of possibly having a longer telephoto, like 100 to 200 or 200 to 600 or 70 to 200, that kind of thing.

Um, then you wanna think about how does it create images and what do they look like? Okay. What is the Boca like? What is the, the background blur? Like for instance, I, I love my 200 to 600.  uh, G lens from Sony, but the Boca is not the same as my 400, 2 8. Right. The Boca is just not comparable. And so if you're working in a situation where say you're shooting birds in trees or bushes, the background doesn't really matter that much, right.

Because you're either gonna have the, the sky behind them or there's going to be greenery or bushes or something behind the.  it doesn't really matter that much, but if you're shooting birds and there is a fence behind them, and if you're in my yard, there's a fence with Horton, Nova netting that is stapled to it that I use to trail sweet peas up.

And you know, other, you know, climbing vines, it's ugly. It's super ugly. So if I'm gonna be shooting in my yard, I want to favor those shallow depth of field, uh, lenses, because I, I don't particularly wanna see the netting and I don't wanna deal with that in Photoshop. You know, I don't wanna have to figure out how to make that go away, you know, with blurring or dropping down gradients, or it just adds an extra layer of not fun to the image.

And if I can get it straight outta the camera, like I want great.  birds are birds and butterflies are butterflies and they'll go where they want. So regardless of how well you plan, you're probably gonna end up with something in the background that you're not interested in having there. And those images, you can go the extra mile, but I don't necessarily want to set myself up for having to do that all the time.

So a worthy investment is a lens that works in your environment. What are the challenges in your environment? For instance, if you're on.  say the eighth floor of a condo in Florida. And you like to shoot pelicans flying by . I used to live in the eighth floor of a condo in Florida, so right on the intercoastal waterway.

And so it was right at the level where the flax of birds would fly by. And, and that was an easy way to shoot birds. They were eye level and the sky was beyond them. There was.  interruption from buildings or, or trees or boats, or, you know, it was just open. Any lens would work. A kit lens would be amazing because of that scenario.

Uh, but if you're shooting something that you, you know, you have issues that you need to deal with, then a worthy investment is getting a lens that gets you around that in the best way. Uh, I find, figure out your compromising or figure, figure out your compromise, figure out your compromises. First, the things that you're willing to let go and then figure out your non-negotiables.

I need sharp images. Okay. So what's the sharpest lens. That's gonna get me this kind of look in this scenario.  and usually my compromises are high ISO. I'm totally cool with going to, you know, up to 20,000 ISO for an image sometimes more depending on what I'm shooting. So I'm willing to stop down my aperture to, to create what I want to create.

And let that ISO go, given a background that's acceptable, you know? Uh, yeah. So the other thing you wanna think about as potential lenses for flower or nature, photography are vintage lenses. And I could have a whole podcast on my favorite vintage lenses, but I'm just gonna throw it out there. Now as a consideration I have about a dozen or so vintage lenses that cost me between.

30 and $150 each barring the can 1965 dream lens. That was about 2,500. But with each of these lenses, the 30 to $150 range lenses, I bought a $12 ish adapter from Amazon that paired that vintage manual focus lens with a Sony camera amount. And so it.  a very minimal investment for each lens to have it have its own adapter.

So I can just plunk it on and, and get going. And I don't have to figure sometimes they're tricky to get off. The adapters are  and it's nice to just have one on each lens. Uh, but it's, it's, that's the, the method that I use and I, and I love it.  when you use vintage lenses, you're constantly working a little bit harder than you would with a regular camera and lens because there is no auto focus.

You have to manually focus. In which case I appreciate mirrorless so much because I can turn on, uh, focus. Magnifi. I can turn on focus, peeking, where you can see colors that appear on the areas that are in focus. There's there are a lot of help or tools that make manual focus, not impossibly annoying. Uh, I don't have very great eyes.

And back in my DSLR days with, you know, Amir manually focusing was hard. My eyes just couldn't tell. And so I sort of felt my way. And, and I could sort of feel that it was in focus and generally it was, but you had to overshoot a lot and it was, it was hard. Me, uh, mirrorless cameras completely changed the world for me.

So that's another consideration. And I would talk to somebody who uses a lot of vintage lenses and ask them, you know, what is your favorite vintage lens? And.  I bought a lot and I tried a lot and I'll just give you one of my favorites is a Pentagon 50 millimeter, 1.8, very standard, basic 50 millimeter lens.

But the Pentagon 50 millimeter has some pretty interesting Boca and out of focused area rendition capabilities. And I like it a lot. So that's, that's one I'll throw out there as, as a pretty common lens. You can find it pretty easily and it's usually not terribly expensive. Those are a few things to think about when it comes to finding your perfect year.

And my assignment for you today is really simple. I want you to go to a place that collects images. Pinterest is a great option, or you can just search people's websites. You can look on Instagram, but I want you to look at nature, flower, garden photography, and find three images. That speak to you.  three images that you look at and say, oh my goodness.

I think this is so pretty. I want you to take those three images and you can either save the links to their location online, like in your notes, on your phone. That's what I usually do so I can reopen them when at will, whenever I need to, or if they're in odd location, like you're seeing it in real life, uh, maybe in a photo gallery or in a museum or something like that.

Snap a picture, but just record three.  images of nature, flower, macro photography that you think are outstanding, then I want you to dissect it. And here's how I want you to do it. I want you to take each image and I want you to think about maybe three or four things about that image that you like and write that down.

I like the color scheme. It. This color, this color, this color, I like the shadowing on this. I like the light on this, whatever it is, write it down, do that for each of the three images. And by the way, the three images do not have to have anything in common. They are standalone images, they're serving a purpose of their own on their own, and they don't need to be cohesive.

They can just, they can. Be together.  like siblings who don't look anything alike. Uh, it's totally fine. Go through each image and figure out three to four things that you like about the image. And then I want you to spend a couple of days just simmering on those aspects and start to do some research on what made those images look the way they do.

You may come to a conclusion at the end of this quick study. These were probably all done with a phone or they were done with a kit lens or, you know, this isn't something that is super difficult or you might find that yeah, the Boca in these is really incredible. I'm gonna have to do some research and figure out, you know, what caused that to be that way or in the case of a painting, perhaps, you know, is it the light play?

Is it the, the overall contrast or lack thereof? You know, what are the elements that make your heart go? Ooh, I love this.  right. Why what's the why? And then break that down, spend the next week, looking at those images and just thinking about that. And this is a great exercise, whether you've been a photographer for 30 years or whether you're just picking up a camera, I do this kind of thing all the time because people's desire when it comes to creating images, does shift and change over time, we get bored.

Don't you get bored? I get bored. I get bored and seasons change. I love massive arrangements. You know, arrangements that are from my waist to my head that are just giant, but I can't do that in January here. So my, my interests have to pivot. So each season you could do this and think what is accessible to me right now.

you know, and it might be introducing some artificial flowers with some candles inside at Christmastime. I mean, there's, there's a lot of directions a person can pivot. And so finding three images that are speaking to you in this moment right now are usually gonna align with what is practical for you.

It may not, but you can always bank the idea and say, oh, I'm gonna toss this picture out till January and, and think about it then. But three picture. Three to four things about each picture, write that down and then simmer on it and think about how you pair that look with gear. What does that look like?

And then you can start to parse that and say, well, okay, so what it's like a giant Venn diagram in your, in your head, you can make a physical Venn diagram. Actually, if you wanted to and start to figure out what gear covers, the largest amount of bases.  that desire to cover these images, you know, with the, with, you know, what, what lens could possibly do all three, what camera could possibly do all three and it may very well be something you have in your possession right now.

And it may be something that you'd have to use post-processing to cross the bridge between gear and the final. Uh, that's another thing to think about, and I'm gonna go over my favorite apps in another podcast.  for editing, but for now, just get those nuts and bolts down. I like this image because 1, 2, 3, 4, I like this image because 1, 2, 3, That's your assignment.

Thank you all for joining me today. Again, my name is Caroline Jensen and you can find me at www dot create photography, or Caroline I am on Instagram at Caroline J. Thank you everybody. And I'll talk to you next week.