Guest Speaker at a Camera Club v3.0

Last year, a good friend of mine, who runs a growing camera club, asked me if I would return for the third occasion as a guest speaker.

I had the honour and privilege of presenting an audio-visual show and talk about light and composition in September of 2017, and in February of 2016, I presented some images and spoke about wildlife photography and our adventures in South Africa and Kenya.

This time, I decided to focus my presentation on seascape photography, which has been one of my major photographic pursuits for over a decade now.

During my time off work over the Christmas and new year period, I re-visited a seascape presentation I had delivered at another camera club in 2010, and revised the content.  I also created a new AV presentation of my favourite and most compelling seascape images, as I had produced my best work after 2010.

My presentation will provide an introduction to this popular form of photography, and will cover topics such as when, where and why to shoot seascapes, considerations such as weather, tides and safety (it can sometimes be a dangerous pursuit); equipment (both photographic and non-photographic), more detail about filters; techniques such as composition, focusing and exposure; and how to capture the image.

There will also be a small show-and-tell, where people can have a look at the equipment I use for my seascape photography.

I was also asked to provide short critiques of the members’ photos produced for the club’s monthly challenge, so I am looking forward to seeing what the members have been shooting, and giving them some good, constructive critique to help them with their journey.

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Lenses: Primes vs. Zooms

Introduction

In the photography world, the topic of prime lenses vs. zoom lenses is one of those enduring debates.

As someone who has used both types of lenses extensively over the years, I will offer my views both for and against both types.

Let me preface by saying that I made a conscious choice to use prime lenses only; but before explaining why, this article will examine the strengths and weakness of both lens types.

Photography is all about trade-offs, and it is no different with lenses.

 

Prime Lenses

A prime lens, otherwise known as a fixed focal lens, is a lens which has only one focal length.

 

Advantages of Prime Lenses

Because a prime lens is optically designed for a specific focal length, it is therefore specialised.  It does one thing, and it does that one thing well.

With a prime lens, it can be the case that the optical formula is simpler, and therefore the types of adverse optical effects the optical design needs to counter, are reduced in both number and nature.  The use of less lens elements or groups of lens elements contributes to this ability.

Prime lenses are generally (but not always) sharper than their zoom lens counterparts at equivalent focal lengths.  Depending on the lenses compared, the sharpness difference can be substantial, or barely noticeable.

Zoom lenses have come a long way in recent years, with their sharpness in some cases able to equal or exceed the sharpness of prime lenses at equivalent focal lengths.

Newer lenses may introduce optical designs and lens coating processes which are superior to those of older lenses.

On the other hand, some quite old lenses are legendary for their sharpness despite substantial development as digital photography has become widespread.

Prime lenses tend to be available in wider apertures than zoom lenses, with f/2.8 commonly being the widest aperture in which zoom lenses have been available.  In recent years, zoom lenses have become available with maximum apertures of f/2 and even f/1.8.  Sigma in particular has been at the forefront of lens innovation and breaking of traditional boundaries.

In the Canon EOS/EF product lineup, the lens with the widest aperture ever released was the Canon EF 50mm f/1.0L USM, which has long been discontinued, and which is somewhat rare and expensive, earning it a position as a ‘cult’ lens.  Currently, the widest aperture Canon offers is f/1.2, in both a 50mm lens and an 85mm lens.

Incidentally, despite its cult status, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.0L USM is notoriously soft at f/1, and produces a strange rainbow effect in the bokeh in some situations.  This lens is more desirable for its specifications than its abilities.

In the 1960s, Canon offered an S-mount 50mm f/0.95 lens.

The f/1.4, f/1.8 and f/2 apertures are common maximum apertures amongst prime lenses.

Generally speaking, lenses with very wide or very long focal lengths tend to be somewhat limited in the widest apertures in which they are available.  This limitation is due to physics, in that it requires a lot of glass — particularly with long focal lengths — to produce a lens with a wide aperture.  This increases the optical complexity, production cost, size and weight, all of which are inherently negative attributes from both the manufacturer’s perspective as well as the end user’s perspective.

Because prime lenses are generally available in wider apertures than zoom lenses covering the same focal lengths, this makes them advantageous and desirable on several fronts.

The first benefit is low light ability.  Lenses with wider apertures can more easily capture images in low light.  This means that a faster shutter speed and/or lower ISO sensitivity rating can be used, which has the benefit of hand-holdability and a cleaner image.

The ability to use a faster shutter speed is particularly important when capturing movement — specifically when there is the desire to freeze subject movement.  It is difficult to achieve this objective by using lenses with narrower apertures.  There are ways around this, but there are invariably trade-offs.  Increasing the ISO sensitivity rating increases noise, and using artificial lighting is not always practical or even possible.

The second benefit is bokeh, the Japanese word for the quality of the out-of-focus highlights.

A lens with a wider aperture means that it is possible to achieve a narrower depth of field, which obfuscates the background with pleasing blur, and isolates the subject from the background.  Both effects are visually appealing, particularly for portraiture.

Depth of field is, of course, affected by not only the aperture, but the focal length and the distance between the camera and the subject.  The extent to which the background is blurred is also affected by the distance between the subject and the background.

The third benefit of lenses with wider apertures is the ability to autofocus in low light.  Modern lenses with electronic apertures leave the diaphragm wide open when composing and focusing, and then close it down to the user- or camera-specified f/stop when exposing.

This means that even when shooting at f/11 with an f/1.4 lens, the lens’s aperture is opened to f/1.4 when composing and focusing.  This results in more accurate, reliable autofocus.

One final benefit of prime lenses is a reduction in size and weight, compared to zooms offering the same focal length.

While this can be the case, it is not always the case.

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens is physically large and heavy relative to its focal length.  It is physically longer than the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens, which itself is a monster of a lens, weighing over 1kg.

Other prime lenses are smaller and lighter than the general-purpose zoom lenses which provide the same focal lengths.

So, those are the advantages of prime lenses; but what are the disadvantages?

 

Disadvantages of Prime Lenses

For all the positive benefits prime lenses provide, they also come with some negative attributes.

As discussed in the previous paragraph, prime lenses can be larger and heavier than zoom lenses which provide the same focal lengths.

This is particularly true with longer lenses, such as those offering the 200mm or 300mm focal lengths.  Prime lenses in these focal lengths — even those not offering the widest apertures available in those focal lengths — can be larger and heavier than some zoom lenses which cover those focal lengths, albeit at narrower apertures.

A photographer who makes use of prime lenses may find that the size and weight increases, and this must be considered when travelling, as it does not take much effort to consume a lot of space or exceed airline cabin baggage weight restrictions.  Having carried large and heavy prime lenses to far away destinations, I am all too familiar with these challenges.

Cost is another consideration when using prime lenses instead of zoom lenses.

Some zoom lenses cover a broad range of focal lengths, and to cover a number of those focal lengths with prime lenses can mean not only an increase in the number of lenses one needs, but a higher cost, depending on the specifications of the lenses.

One general-purpose zoom lens can easily cover four, five or even six common focal lengths for which prime lenses are available, in a single package which costs and weighs less than a bag full of primes.

By far the most significant disadvantage of prime lenses is the lack of flexibility to change the framing.  With a prime lens, the only way to change the view of a subject is to move — or change lenses.  In some cases, this is not particularly problematic; but in other cases, there may be circumstances which limit or eliminate the ability to move.

Someone photographing action, such as wildlife, sports or performances, may not have the time to switch lenses.  These subjects are very time-dependent, and a moment missed can never be re-visited.

It may not be possible to move positions to change the view.  When photographing any of those above-mentioned subjects, you may be limited to the very position in which you happen to be, as it is not safe, practical or permissible to move closer to the subject, or further from the subject.  To that end, prime lenses can be quite limiting.

 

Zoom Lenses

A zoom lens, otherwise known as a variable focal lens, is a lens which offers a range of focal lengths, which can be changed by rotating a ring on the lens barrel.

 

Advantages of Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses offer a number of advantages over prime lenses.

The most significant is the ability to change focal lengths without moving, or changing lenses.  As discussed in the preceding section on prime lenses, sometimes timing may be critical, or the shooting position may be fixed.

If one is shooting a subject which moves, an appropriate focal length can be selected by rotating the zoom ring in either direction to zoom in or out of the scene to achieve an ideal composition.

In addition to the often highly desired ability to change focal lengths easily, is the reduction in size and weight.

One zoom lens can easily cater for the focal lengths of five or six prime lenses.  This means that the size, weight, cost and quantity of lenses is significantly reduced.  In some situations, this can be essential, as well as desirable.

This can be advantageous for someone on a budget, or with limited ability or desire to carry a bag full of lenses.  Convenience is the result.

One other feature zoom lenses offer is the ability to introduce motion blur by zooming during exposure.  Admittedly, in my opinion, it is a gimmicky effect which has limited practical application; but occasionally, if done sparingly and with a suitable subject, the motion blur caused by zooming in or out during exposure can result in an interesting image, which no prime lens can capture.

What zoom lenses offer over primes is predominantly convenience.

Some people do not wish to change lenses, which in my own opinion defeats the purpose of investing in a camera system designed for the ability to change lenses; but in some situations, changing lenses is not practical or sensible.

So, what are the disadvantages of zoom lenses?

 

Disadvantages of Zoom Lenses

Naturally, zoom lenses come with disadvantages, too.  Remember, photography is all about trade-offs.

Image quality — particularly sharpness — is one of the attributes often cited as a disadvantage of zoom lenses.

One must be cautious when making claims about the sharpness of images captured with zoom lenses — specifically, less sharpness — as it is not quite so simple.

As described earlier, some zoom lenses can rival or exceed the sharpness provided by zoom lenses at identical focal lengths.  Modern zoom lenses have come a long way, and the current generation of professional-grade zoom lenses offers image sharpness which would satisfy all but the most fussy, pixel-peeping photographer.

In practical terms, very few people could look at an image captured with a modern, professional-grade zoom lens and identify, purely visually, that it was captured with a zoom lens.

Of course, not all zoom lenses offer outstanding image quality.

The challenge zoom lenses have, which prime lenses do not have, is the need to optically cater for a spectrum of focal lengths and associated optical characteristics.

Zoom lenses generally have more distortion than prime lenses, particularly at the widest and longest focal lengths provided in the lens.

The widest focal lengths tend to experience more pronounced barrel distortion; and conversely, at the longest focal lengths, pincushion distortion is not uncommon.

The broader the range of focal lengths a zoom lens offers, the more challenging it is to avoid adverse optical effects.

This is why professional-grade zoom lenses offer a narrower range of focal lengths than entry-level or mid-range zoom lenses.  Professional-grade zoom lenses typically do not exceed a zoom ratio of 3x.  Entry-level ‘super-zoom’ lenses can offer zoom ratios in double-digit territory.

The zoom ratio of a lens is calculated by dividing the longest focal length by the widest focal length.

A 24-70mm lens has a zoom ratio of 2.92 (ie, 70 divided by 24 equals 2.92 with rounding).

An 18-200mm lens has a zoom ratio of 11.1 (ie, 200 divided by 18 equals 11.1).

One of the other disadvantages of zoom lenses is the maximum aperture available.  Added to this is the fact that not all zoom lenses have a constant aperture across the range of focal lengths.

Until relatively recently, whether the aperture was constant or variable, zoom lenses did not offer a maximum aperture wider than f/2.8, and zoom lenses which could open to f/2.8 were typically professional-grade lenses, which cost a lot more than consumer-grade lenses offering similar focal lengths.

As discussed earlier, some lens manufacturers — notably Sigma — have recently offered zoom lenses with maximum apertures wider than f/2.8.  Major camera and lens manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon, at the time of writing, have still not yet offered a zoom lens with a maximum aperture wider than f/2.8.  Perhaps the third-party vendors, or even other major players, will challenge that and result in wider-aperture zooms becoming available.

Other than professional-grade zoom lenses, mid-range and entry-level zooms typically have variable apertures (eg, f/4-5.6).  This means that as the focal length increases, the maximum aperture decreases.  The main problem with this design is that if one is shooting at the widest aperture, and zooms in to a longer focal length, the exposure will need to be adjusted, as the aperture will automatically stop down as the focal length is increased.

With zoom lenses offering narrower apertures than prime lenses of an identical focal length, the ability to isolate the subject from the background is reduced.  It should be remembered, as discussed earlier, that depth of field is affected by more than aperture; but all else being equal, a narrower aperture results in a less blurred background.  Depending on the focal length, camera-to-subject distance, subject-to-background distance and aperture difference, the resulting background blur and subject isolation may not be substantially different.

 

My Choice of Lenses and Preference for Primes

As mentioned briefly in the introduction, I shoot with prime lenses only.  I have owned a number of zoom lenses over the years, up to the year 2017, when I offloaded my remaining zoom lens, which a prime lens replaced.

I have had zooms and primes for a long time.  When I bought my first SLR, I had a pair of cheap, slow kit zooms.  When I bought my first DSLR, I also had a kit zoom, and I bought a number of zooms over the years since.

I also bought and sold a number of prime lenses.

I owned a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens for over nine years, and I extensively shot with it until early 2017.  According to my lens usage statistics, it is my most commonly used lens.

What I observed, and what my focal length usage per lens statistics confirm, is that the 16mm focal length was by far my most used focal length on that lens.  I used the lens like it was a prime, and I recall being on one shoot, disliking the composition, and then moving the tripod forward to re-compose.  It did not even occur to me to simply rotate the zoom ring!

Now, I like the 16mm focal length, and I already owned more primes than zooms, so perhaps it was two factors which unconsciously affected my behaviour.

In early 2017, as much as I liked my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, I decided that I wanted a wider focal length, and I wanted to move to a prime for my ultra-wide lens, so I replaced this lens with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM.  More details about this lens change can be read here.

A few months later, I decided to replace my long-serving Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM.  Like my 16-35/2.8L II, my 70-200/2.8L IS had brought me many pleasing images, and had travelled abroad on several occasions; but again, I wanted to move to a prime-only configuration, and gain an extra stop in the form of the lust-worthy 200/2L IS.  More details about this lens change can be read here.

Even more recently in 2018, with the addition of a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens (story here) which bridged the significant gap between my 16mm and 35mm lenses, I have covered all focal lengths I want, in prime lenses only.

While I had only two zoom lenses for a period of nine years, I made a rapid transition to exclusive use of prime lenses in 2017.

Why did I do this?

I like prime lenses.  I am used to using prime lenses, and ‘zooming with one’s feet’ is not something I find to be an obstacle.

I also like lenses with wide apertures, and primes give me that.

I like the look the use of a wide aperture provides, and I like the ability for low light to be of little or no challenge.

All of my lenses have the widest currently available apertures offered by Canon in those focal lengths.

While there are some excellent zoom lenses, the advantages zoom lenses provide are not necessary in my pursuits.  I do not need the convenience one or two lenses offers over six or seven lenses.

My photography is mostly planned.  I do not carry an SLR rig as a matter of course; I go out specifically to shoot, and I take the lenses I know from years of experience that I will need.

The use of prime lenses suits my planned, controlled and specific photography.

It just works for me, and I am very accustomed to it.

Sure, I sometimes end up with a heavier bag than other photographers may like, but for the images I seek, and the capability I want, I can work with this.

With my current array of primes and telephoto extenders, I now have 14mm at f/2.8, 24mm at f/1.4, 35mm at f/1.4, 85mm at f/1.2, 135mm at f/2, 189mm at f/2.8, 200mm at f/2, 270mm at f/4, 280mm at f/2.8, 300mm at f/2.8, 400mm at f/2.8, 420mm at f/4, 560mm at f/4, 600mm at f/5.6 and 800mm at f/5.6.

I cannot complain!

Where is the 50mm prime, you ask?  Not in my bag!

 

Conclusion

As this article has discussed, both prime lenses and zoom lenses have their advantages and disadvantages.

Both types of lenses have their place.

Some people, such as myself, choose to use prime lenses only, as they like the capability and specialisation primes offer over zooms.

Some people choose to use zoom lenses only, as they like the flexibility and convenience.

Some people — many, from what I have seen — like to use both, and therefore have the best of both worlds, with more flexibility being the key benefit.

There is an enormous range of high-quality primes and zooms available, and many of today’s zooms can rival or exceed the image quality traditionally provided by prime lenses.

It is all a matter of choice, based on the individual photographer’s needs and wants.

Hopefully this article has provided plenty of information about both lens types which will help people decide whether one type of lens, or both, is the most suitable choice for the job.

Precarious Position: First Seascape of 2018

This image of Turimetta Beach was captured during my first seascape session in nearly a year, and this was the first time I have returned to Turimetta since 2012.

Precarious Position

Precarious Position

The conditions were a lot more dangerous than this image would suggest, with a strong south-easterly wind, medium-to-large swell and an incoming tide.

Large waves were crashing near this small part of exposed rock shelf and causing splashes and surges which made standing here dangerous.  I had to be quick about composing and capturing images in between sets of larger waves.

It was good to be near the ocean again, but having been out of the seascaping scene for quite some time, this morning’s shoot had its challenges.

My New Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM: Ideal for Cityscapes

Last week, I decided to buy a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens.

It was a lens I had entertained — but not seriously — adding to my rig.

Until the addition of this lens, my two wide lenses consisted of my Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM  and Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM.

While I love a wide vista, sometimes 14mm is just too wide.  I never thought I would say so, but alas, it is true.

On the other hand, 35mm can sometimes be too long.

Twice in the past 12 months I have needed a focal length in between 14mm and 35mm, but did not have a lens of that focal length.

I have barely owned my Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM for a week, and I have used it on two separate twilight cityscape shoots.

So far, the 24mm focal length is proving to be very useful for cityscapes — particularly when shooting skylines across the water from a distance.  With a wider lens, the skyline can shrink into a vast expanse of sky and water; and with a longer lens, the framing can be just a bit too tight, whereby there is not quite enough sky.

My first shoot, on the same day I bought the lens, resulted in the following image:

Lavender Bay on a Summer Night

Lavender Bay on a Summer Night

This particular location does not seem to be hugely popular for cityscapes, but it was something different, and the 24mm focal length was absolutely perfect for this composition.

My second shoot with the new lens was last night.

After a few lazy days at home, I felt the need to get out for a photoshoot.

I decided to re-visit Mrs Macquarie’s Point.  The last time I photographed Sydney from this location was just over eight years ago.

Mrs Macquarie's View

Mrs Macquarie’s View

From this view, the skyline has not changed a great deal, but there are some buildings which did not exist in my previous image.

For this image, I opted for a wider focal length, and waited for the rich blue light of twilight to emerge after sunset.

I am enjoying the field of view this new lens provides.  Not having used the  24mm focal length for quite a while, it made for a nice change, and has been quite suitable so far for the images I have captured with it.

I am hoping to use it more next week, but I really need to invest in the NiSi filter holder which will fit this lens, as I need to be able to use my grads and ND filters with it.

Brisbane and South-East Queensland Visit – 2017

Late in 2017, we headed to Brisbane and south-east Queensland for the first time since 2013.

It was high time to visit Dave and Lea, and engage in some photography, tomfoolery and shiraz consumption.

On our first full day, we decided to head south-west to Queen Mary Falls, as there had been some recent rain in the Gold Coast area, and there was predicted cloud cover, which made waterfall photography ideal.

Our first stop was at Daggs Falls, where an observation platform provided a great view.  Unfortunately, the platform was very prone to vibrations, which made shooting long exposures with a 200mm lens and ten-stop ND filter somewhat impossible.

We drove up the road for a few minutes and got to Queen Mary Falls, which had a much more stable observation platform.  This time, I used my 14mm lens to capture the vast expanse of the scenery and the high view.

Long Way Down

Long Way Down

After we had finished shooting, we decided it was time for a late lunch.  Heading north-east for around five minutes, we happened across the Spring Creek Mountain Café, which offers a very pleasant view of the Scenic Rim.

While waiting for our lunch at an outside table, I took advantage of the light and cloud conditions over the valley, and captured this view.

Spring Creek Mountain

Spring Creek Mountain

The plan for the same day was to visit Brisbane‘s iconic Story Bridge for a twilight shoot.  The last time I photographed the Story Bridge was in 2008, and it was time for a new look at it, applying the experience and gear I have acquired since I last shot it.

The bridge is often photographed from Wilson Outlook Reserve, high up on the cliffs to the east.

This time, we decided to venture down onto the Brisbane River Walk below and try a different vantage point, which gave us a lower angle, allowing the reflections of the lights in the water to appear much more prominently.

During the session, the bridge put on an ever-changing show of multi-coloured lights, which created a nice contrast to the blue and cloudy night sky.

Story of Colour

Story of Colour

On the topic of the sky, the clouds were somewhat annoying and detracted from the image I had pictured, but it was what it was, and I had to make the best of the conditions at the time we were there.

After our shoot concluded, we walked to New Farm and stopped in an Italian restaurant for a late dinner before making the drive north-west to Cedar Creek.

The next day, the plan was to head out for an afternoon landscape shoot during golden hour.  This time, Dave and I headed out on our own.

We decided, given all the driving the day before, to remain in the local vicinity, and we threw around a few ideas.  We figured we would look for a view of the mountains in the area such that the sun would be behind us.

Driving around, we ended up at Mount Pleasant, but the scenes we visited just were not right, so we continued on, and this time headed up Mount Mee.

While driving north along Mount Mee Road, Dave spotted an interesting tree on the right at the junction with Sellin Road.

We stopped and headed over to the eastern side of the road to photograph the tree, which also had some grazing cows lingering nearby.

The light was warm, as it was quite late in the afternoon, but not quite warm enough for what we had in mind.  However, the light was still decent enough, so we snapped away as the cows grazed.

Here is what I captured:

High Steaks

High Steaks

For this image, and the image I was to shoot later in the day, I used my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM lens.  Now, this lens was not one I bought to shoot landscapes, and I rarely ever use a telephoto lens for landscapes, much preferring the wide vista provided by an ultra-wide lens; however, from where we were standing, the 200mm focal length was just right, and provided a nice amount of compression.

After we had finished shooting at this spot, we headed west along Sellin Road, and spotted a lone tree we had photographed at dawn back in 2010.  To our surprise, there was now a large house now on the property, close to Sellin Road.  We could still see the tree further up the paddock in the distance.

Here are the stand-out images I captured of the ‘ Mount Mee Tree‘ in 2010:

Dawn on Mount Mee

Dawn on Mount Mee

Tree on Mee

Tree on Mee

We continued westward, and found some lovely side-lighting htting the lush green grasses down the ravine, but compositionally, there was not much on offer; so, we turned around and headed east.

I was beginning to think that we may not find much at all, and I pointed out that one really needs to scout and plan a location, which, we clearly had not done.

However, heading further east to where we had photographed the cows, I spotted a lovely, large tree down a valley to our left.  After driving past it, we swung back around and pulled up, with this location to be our final location for the day, in which we would photograph this beautiful tree in the rich and warm golden hour light which would greet us a little later.

I quickly found my composition, again using my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM lens.  The view I found from the spot where I perched myself also contained some lush, long green grasses in the foreground, which I purposefully kept in the frame.  I liked the extra interest, as well as the framing device, it provided.

From then, it was a waiting game.

Once the light became even warmer, we snapped away.  Dave was capturing all sorts of images of different subjects in the area, from varying positions.  I remain focused on the tree.  That was my image, and I was not interested in anything else.

After waiting for the right light, here is the image I shot:

Glowing Tree

Glowing Tree

After the lovely light had disappeared, we headed back to Samford to collect some cows (of the non-grazing variety) and fermented grape juice for dinner at the house.

Thus, my photography for this trip was completed.

During our stay, Dave and I decided to compare our 200mm lenses.  He owns a Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM (a legendary and relatively rare lens, with only 8,000 having been built), and I own a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, which effectively replaced the 200/1.8L some 20 years after it was introduced.

We lined them up for a ‘family portrait’, and Dave captured an image of the two lenses side-by-side.  Later during the visit, we also staged a semi-scientific shoot, with a foam rubber dinosaur as the subject.  We photographed the dinosaur with both lenses, using the widest apertures available on both, as well as the widest aperture common to both.

Upon inspecting the resulting images, there is not a great deal of difference in sharpness between the two lenses.  Both deliver outstanding results.

All in all, it was a fun trip, and while photographically the conditions were not super exciting, I did manage to capture a few pleasing images along the way.

Trip to Taronga Western Plains Zoo

In late October, we headed away with some good friends of ours for a three-day trip to Mudgee and Dubbo.

Our plan, apart from sampling and buying some fantastic wine in Mudgee, was to stay at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, in its exclusive Zoofari lodge, at which ten luxurious tents, complete with mod-cons, overlook the savannah, where African, Asian and even Australiananimals roam.

You know you know you are in Australia when an eland — a large Africanantelope — chases kangaroos away!

On day one, we headed to Mudgee, where we stopped at my favourite winery and stocked up on premium shiraz.  A nice dinner in town, followed by an overnight stay nearby, concluded the day.

On the following morning we headed up to Dubbo and went straight to the zoo.  Our official check-in was at 2pm, but we had time to roam the zoo via our inclusive two-day zoo pass.

Having been to Africa twice and spent time with truly wild animals in their natural habitat, a zoo can never quite come close; but Zoofari is an experience designed to emulate, as closely as possible, the safari experience.

Upon arriving at the zoo, our first stop was naturally the lion enclosure.  Unfortunately the lions were not terribly active or welcoming, so photography was not a terribly successful pursuit.  Incidentally and somewhat ironically, it is easier to photograph lions in the wild than in captivity.

One pleasing image I did capture at the lion enclosure was not an image of a lion, but an Australian pied cormorant, which was perched on a log over the lion enclosure’s moat in the morning sun.

Australian Pied Cormorant

Australian Pied Cormorant

Being a fan of big cats, naturally, we needed to visit the cheetahs.  We fortunately timed our arrival to see the keepers feed the cheetahs, which consisted of a king cheetah mother and several sub-adult cubs.

Contrary to popular belief, the king cheetah is not a separate species of cheetah, but rather, is a cheetah which has a rare fur pattern mutation as a result of a recessive gene.

The light was quite harsh, and the cheetah were very active — particularly as food was being provided — so photography was quite challenging, but I did land this pleasing image of the king cheetah.

King Cheetah

King Cheetah

The king cheetah is quite rare, so it was a pleasure to see one, and capture pleasing images of her.

Following the big cats theme, high on the agenda was a visit to the Sumatran tiger.

Now, I do not have many images of tigers, so I was keen to capture some pleasing tiger portraits despite the difficulty of broad daylight.

Again, we timed our visit to co-incide with the keeper’s talk and a feeding session, so this Sumatran beauty was very alert and more often than not, looked in our general direction, which is always what a wildlife photographer wants.

Striped Beauty

Striped Beauty

As the biggest of the big cats, the tiger is a very impressive big cat.

After lunch, we roamed the zoo and found our way to the siamangs.  I had never seen one before, so we spent a bit of time watching them play, and I snapped away, trying to land a pleasing image of one of them.

Siamang Stare

Siamang Stare

Not long afterwards, we headed to Zoofari lodge and checked in.

With adjacent tents, we soon joined at our tent for some afternoon lounging.  It was a taxing experience to sit on the back deck, overlooking the savannah, whilst consuming premium shiraz and munching on potato chips.  It is a tough life, but someone has to do it.

These were the appalling, slum-like conditions we had to endure during our overnight stay:

Animal View Lodge

Animal View Lodge

It was tolerable.

What cannot be seen in this image is the open door overlooking the savannah.  We decided to keep the doors and windows open so that we could hear the incredible sounds of wildlife at night, just as we experienced in South Africa and Kenya.

In the late afternoon light, we had the pleasure of watcing the giraffes grazing on the savannah, while these two particular giraffes (of the four inhabiting the reserve) shared a sticky snack.

Sharing a Sticky Snack

Sharing a Sticky Snack

During our lazy afternoon on the deck, we were visited by a peacock, which was only too happy to munch on our snacks, and sit very close with us on the deck overlooking the savannah.

In the early evening we headed to the communal dining room, where some wine tasting, and later, dinner, were served.

After dinner, we got to experience a night tour of the zoo, whereby 4WD vehicles drove us around the zoo in complete darkness.  We visited the lions, hippos and rhinos in their night enclosures, which are not accessible to the general public.

As can be imagined, photography was just not going to happen, as it was pitch-black; but it was great to be close to these animals in the darkness.

After a good night‘s sleep, the following morning saw another early start, with a pre-breakfast tour of the zoo — again, behind the scenes — during which we got to visit the cheetahs and see them from a different location; feed a giraffe; spend some time with the meerkats; and partake in an exclusive visit to the elephant ‘maintenance’ shed, in which the keepers bathed and fed the elephants in preparation for their entrance into their exhibition enclosures for the day.

Here is an image of one of the meerkats on sentry duty.

Wide-Eyed Meerkat

Wide-Eyed Meerkat

After the tour, we returned for a communal breakfast, before making our way back to the lodge to pack and check out.

On our arrival at the zoo the previous day, we had booked ourselves onto a rhino encounter.  Once the tour guide arrived, we found out that we were the only people booked on the tour, so we got an even more exclusive tour of the rhinos and spent a great morning learning about the zoo and how it operates — a much more personal tour than would have been otherwise possible.

After the conclusion of our Zoofari experience, we made another round of the zoo, before embarking on the long trip home.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and I did manage to land some pleasing images of the  wildlife which inhabits Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

Guest Speaker at Photography Club

A few months ago, a good friend of mine, who I had met years ago in the camera club scene, and who now runs a small but rapidly growing photography club, invited me back to his club as a guest speaker to deliver a presentation at the September meeting.

Last year I had presented at the same club, and I delivered an audio-visual show and talk about wildlife photography.

This time, the theme I chose was light and composition, and I titled my presentation and talk A Perfectionist’s Guide to Light and Composition.

I am a very fussy photographer, and I fuss about light and composition in particular, so it made for an excellent subject which I thought would provide good value to the club’s members, many of whom are relatively new to photography.

We are now living in a digital age, and the proliferation of digital cameras has put cameras into the hands of many people who would never bother to own a camera if the medium was still film.

Additionally, technology, both in terms of cameras and generally, has progressed at a rapid rate.  The unfortunate side-effect of this digital ‘explosion’ is that many people who get into photography worry more about gear and technology than the basics of good photography.

For my presentation, I wanted to focus (so to speak) on the basics, and examine in words and pictures some of the crucial building blocks of great images.

My presentation started with a audio-visual slideshow of a wide variety of my best images from the seven types of subject matter upon which my photography is based.

I then proceeded to provide an introduction to light, talking about what is light, and the properties and effects of different types of lighting.  Along with this, I presented different images which highlighted both good light and ‘bad’ light, and I showed examples of how flat light looks, compared to the more dramatic and engaging side lighting.

My next topic was composition.  For this topic, I went into the ‘rules’ of composition, but rather than calling them ‘rules’, I called them ‘principles’, and explained the main principles of composition, why they work, and why one could or should break the rules in some circumstances.

Along with the key points about effective composition, I again provided numerous photographic examples, and pointed out that many of my images use several principles of composition rather than just one.

The club’s members and guests asked me questions from time to time, and some of the questions raised brought up closely related topics which my presentation did not originally address, so thanks to those members and guests, I was able to provide more information which would help them in their pursuits.

All in all, it was a great night, and I am pleased that I had the opportunity to share my images and knowledge, and help newer photographers think about, and put into practice, the fundamentals of light and composition.

Fortunately there was very little focus on gear, and no questions about “What did you use to capture that?”, to which my answer might have been “light, composition, and a camera”.

To my delight, I have been asked back to the club to deliver another presentation early next year, so I look forward to engaging more with the club’s members to help them along their photographic journeys.