The Basics of Lenses and Focusing | Dan Bannister | Skillshare

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The Basics of Lenses and Focusing

teacher avatar Dan Bannister, Fashion, Advertising, Portraits

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

11 Lessons (21m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Leica Rangerfinders

    • 3. Canon SLR

    • 4. Hasselblad Medium Format

    • 5. Leica

    • 6. Hasselblad

    • 7. Canon DSLR

    • 8. Where and how to focus your camera

    • 9. Assignment Demonstration

    • 10. 10 With Fade Out

    • 11. Conclusion

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About This Class

What’s the best lens for landscapes? What about portraits? Where do I focus? Do I need a filter? Prime or Zoom? What’s your favourite F stop?

New photographers tend to have a lot of questions about lenses and focusing but, what do you really need to know? People tend to get pretty bogged down in academic discussions about chromatic aberration, UV filters, hyperfocal distances etc. but the truth is, there’s just a few fundamental things you really need to know about lenses and focusing to successfully master this important aspect of photography.

Dan Bannister is a professional advertising and portrait photographer and in this class, he’ll tell you everything you really need to know and don't need to know about focusing and lenses. Dan will show you some of his favourite gear, tips and techniques and help you understand what’s important about choosing the right lens and how to focus it properly to make the best pictures you can make, whether it's portraits, landscapes or sports.



Meet Your Teacher

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Dan Bannister

Fashion, Advertising, Portraits


Toronto based Dan Bannister is a well known and award winning fashion, advertsing and portrait photographer.

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1. Intro: guys money and stand banister. And I'm a commercial photographer in Toronto, Canada. Issue advertising, fashion and portraiture for a wide range of clients. All over. Hey, guys. So what I'm gonna do today is I'm gonna walk you through some of the lenses that I use and some of the different camera systems that I use and focus on what's important and what's not important and what you need to know. What you don't need to know about different types of lenses and how to focus them. 2. Leica Rangerfinders: Now what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna talk about the different types of cameras systems that I use and how each one focuses on. I'm also gonna talk about some of the lenses that I use on a regular basis. The first system that I use and probably not a lot of people are going to see this in a regular basis is what's called a range finder system. And this is a like, uh, I know there's a number of other manufacturers of different types of range funders, but like as probably kind of the most popular, the secret with the like is, to be honest, the lenses. They are fantastically sharp. Zeiss, Voight, lander and, like of themselves make a number of different lenses, and they have sort of a 50 year history of incredible sharpness. Beautiful contrast. Fantastic lenses. A little bit limited from a commercial standpoint. They're not something I use regularly and commercial work once in a while, out for a fashion editorial or something will use it because it has a beautiful look. But they started as a photojournalist camera and the lens is that I happen. Own. Are this 50 millimeters ice I own a 35 millimeters ice, a swell. I own a 90 millimeter like a lens and a couple of other unique ones. I have a 28 millimeter Voight lander, and I also have kind of a neat little lens that I bought in Eastern Europe years years ago . It's a Russian made lens very, very cheap, Um, and it's never sharp. It's a little wonky, but it just has a really, really beautiful effect that I like for fashion editorials. 3. Canon SLR: right. So the second system I'm gonna talk about and it's probably the system that I use roughly 60% of the time for my commercial work is the basic canon SLR system. There's Canon Nikon, Sony's making cameras now in this format as well. On there's a few others can. And I've always been a canon shooter for no particular reason other than it's the first real camera I ever bought. I just sort of stuck with it. It's comfortable to me. I use it for a lot of my commercial work. Hasselblad as well. But Can is probably the first thing that comes out of the camera bag most days, and it really just depends on what we're shooting. Um, so I'm gonna talk about the lenses. I have a mix here. I don't have a lot of zooms. I think I own two. I'll talk about those on then everything else is primes, so basically the difference is a prime is a fixed focal length lens. In this case, it's a 35 millimeter lens. Doesn't zoom in or out. Um, it's a fixed focal length, and I have a range here from 24 millimeters, which is on the camera to 135 millimeters, which is right here and then there. Zoom lenses. The only two that I own right now are the 16 to 35 the 24 to 70. And the 24 to 70 is probably the lens that I use, I would say the most for commercial work I didn't use to feel this way about zoom lenses. I was always a little bit anti zoom lens, which old school people tend to be. Um, however, the cannon, 24 to 70 is just a really fantastic lens. It's super sharp. It works great. It's convenient. And so I I really like it, which is a bit of a change. For me, the 16 to 35 is equally good. The version two, and so I just don't use it a lot because I am a people photographer and 16 to 35 tends not to be a very flattering focal length for a lot of the work that I do, which is fashion and advertising work. Once in a blue moon, I'll get asked to take this out, and I do, but really, for the most part that 24 70. So the difference between zooms and primes. Like I said, UH, 24 70 you can zoom in, zoom out. It gives you the ability to get closer to your subject. The beauty of primes are primarily that the manufacturer can focus on on a quality lens, and they don't have to deal with the fact that the lens elements are all moving. So they tend to be a faster lens, which means a wider aperture on. They tend, for the most part, have better quality just because they don't have to deal with all those moving elements. So whatever I can I do tend to use the prime lenses, but not all the time. If it's a fast moving subject or something that we're doing that just doesn't allow me to sort of change lenses a lot, I'll go with a prime and it will be the 24. I'll go with a focus. I'll go with a zoom lens and it'll be a 24 to 70 4. Hasselblad Medium Format: So the last camera system that I want to talk about is the medium format, which in this case for me is hassle. Glad again, for no particular reason other than it's the first medium format camera system I ever bought. Everybody knows that phase also makes a medium format system as those Pentax, Um, and I can't really tell you about the pros and cons of each of the systems. I know that I've just been a Hasselblad user for a long, long time, and so I sort of stuck with it. It works for me, and I'm comfortable with it, but they're all equally good. They all have their own pros and cons. So the medium format system for a long time waas the standard for commercial work. And again that was primarily because things were being printed. Large billboards, bus wraps, building wraps, bus shelter ads or just double page magazine spreads. And so medium format was kind of the standard for a long, long time, and that's changed. Meet a 35 millimeter has gotten so good that the quality is there. You can do a double page magazine spread easily with a medium for with a standard format camera. There is a little something about the quality of medium format that I still like. Some people don't see it, but I do kind of still like it. So I do use it for portraiture. I do use it for some fashion work. Um, anything where the subject isn't moving too quickly. I I will try to use the medium format system if I can. It's a little clunky for me on location. I know there are some photographers that use it for location work. I try not to if I could help, but I stick with the cannon. But in the studio, I prefer to use the medium format. So couple of things about the medium format system. I don't own any zoom lenses for medium format, primarily because of the cost of really expensive lenses to make. And so I just don't have him and then a lot of times to we're not moving the camera a lot, so we don't need to zoom in and out. So what I own is is prime lenses for the medium format system, and I happen owned the 80 which is on the camera. I own a 50 Iona 1 50 Iona to 10 which I don't use a lot, but really is beautiful for portraiture. I own 100 millimeter, which is probably the de facto kind of standard for portraiture. I own some extension tubes, which again I don't really use a lot. And I own a 35 millimeter, which if you doing some landscapes or something like that, it's really great to use. Um, and I own the 50 which I really like. 5. Leica: So I want to talk really quickly about the like a range finder system, and I won't spend a lot of time on it because even though the really really beautiful cameras, they're expensive and not a lot of people own them on. They do have kind of a limited, a limited usage. But if you want to learn how to focus a camera, there's no better way to learn than learn on a range finder. I can tell you that the way they focus is, first of all, they're not a through the lens camera system. So when you're looking through the viewfinder, you're not seeing through the lens like you do with this. It's not a series of mirrors, so if you have a lens cap on, you can still see your subject by looking through the viewfinder. And I've done it myself where I've taken pictures with the lens cap on and thought I was getting a picture only to find out it was blank. So with the SLR system, when you look through the viewfinder, if you have a lens cap on as you know, you can't see anything and then you take the cap off you know. So, um, that's a little bit of a danger there, But with the focusing system here, there's two ways to focus. And the first way is you're looking through the viewfinder, and what you'll see is a series of boxes. And when the boxes lineup on a vertical plane, um, you know you're in focus. The any way to focus the range Finder system is by looking at the scale on the camera. So there is a distance scale here and basically back in the photojournalism days. And I remember doing this myself. Um, you could you could sort of hang the camera around your neck. People still do it. It's popular in cities like New York, where they do street photography. You can hang the camera around your neck, and you can look on the scale here, and you can see three feet four feet, five feet, seven feet, 10 feet and 15 feet or infinity, and you can sort of set the camera to five feet. So if you're on a subway, let's say and you want to sort of take pictures of people in the subway, you can set it to five feet away. Camera could be hanging on your neck and you could just press the button. I take pictures, um, which can sometimes result in some really interesting photography. Um, and you can do it in a way that you're not actually pointing the camera people. And again, it is popular with, um, conflict photography, war photography, things like that where people want to take pictures in a less obvious way. Um, and so you can just sort of walk around the street taking pictures by having the camera around your neck. So that's how you focus the camera. There used to be an expression f eight and be there, and that's an old photo journalist expression basically set the camera for F eight on. Do you just have to be in the right place at the right time? So you leave it at F eight and then you just kind of adjust the scale based on how far you think you are from the subject, and then you take pictures 6. Hasselblad: all right, So the second system I'm going to talk about is the house of Glad system, and it's a little bit different than the can in that it doesn't have multiple focus points like the cannon has. It's really just a center focused point. You place that on your subject, where you want it to be depressed, true focus. And then you reframe your subject, and that's it. Ah, lot of people still focus these cameras manually because the sensor is so big and the view is so big, you can you can focus manually pretty easily, unlike for me anyway, the cannon system. I find it a little hard to focus manually for critical focus. So I rely on the autofocus with this camera. I can still focus it manually if I want to, but I use the true focus system, and again, it is a little bit different than the cannon system. You can look it up online. There's a lot of information out there about it, but a lot of people probably arm or interested in the canon system. So we're gonna talk about that 7. Canon DSLR: Alright, guys. So what we're gonna talk about the most today is, in my case, the Candid System, but really the SLR camera system or single lens reflex, which is what S L. R stands for. Basically, the single lens reflex system means that when you look through the viewfinder you're seeing through the lens. So it's using a mirror to show you what the lens sees. And so I'm gonna talk about how those cameras focus. In the case of the cannon, there is an unbelievable amount of options for how to focus the camera, and you can really, really get bogged down in different ways of focusing the camera. I'm gonna talk about the way that I use the camera, how I focus the camera. I'm gonna talk about the way that it works best for me from a commercial photographer standpoint, and that is really the single point focus system. So what I do is I use the buttons here that says that allows me to change where the focus point is inside. So when you look inside the camera when you look inside the viewfinder, you see a whole bunch of boxes and in the case of cannon there red, and what you can do is you can just tell it to choose which one you want to choose. And so you press the button, you roll the wheel and it basically moves the red square around inside the camera. And that's the focus point. And so for me, that's the one that I use. I choose which focus point. Um, I locked that focus point in, and then I shoot. So there's a bunch of different canon focusing options that I don't want to get into, only because there's so much information. It's so confusing. And frankly, there's so much of it that I don't I don't understand it that the only system I really use is the single point system. It works great for most of my work, but I'm not a sports photographer. I've shot some sports. I've shot some sports campaigns from national retailers. Most of the time, those types of shoots air really, really in controlled situations. But for moving subjects, they do have something called an ai servo mode. Basically, what that does is you tell the camera that I'm gonna keep the red dot on the subject and the subject's gonna move around and that's it works very, very well. You'll have to do some research on that. Read the manual. There's lots of information online about how those systems work and how they don't work, but really, from from a keep it simple standpoint, you just lock that red square where you want it to be, and you keep the camera moving on the subject with the red square on them and the camera stays and focus a lot again. Spoke sports shooters use this type of system. It's very, very effective. But for me, from a commercial standpoint, most of the work that I do my subjects were not moving to too much, and I'm able to keep up with them just by using the single point autofocus system. 8. Where and how to focus your camera: So where should you be focusing the Red Square? Well, the the best. Wait, there's a lot of sort of theory and discussion, but really, from an artistic standpoint, you want to focus where you want the viewers. I toe land. And so let's say you're taking a picture of a portrait. The I closest to the camera is really the best place to focus now. There's a lot of exceptions to the rule, but from a from a sort of a general portraiture standpoint, the best place to focus is on the I closest to the camera camera. So what I do is I compose my shot. I'll choose my focus point. I'll tell the camera focus on this eye, and then I'll take my picture. So what I want to do here is I want to talk a little bit about selective focus and give you a little bit of reference or idea for the exercise that we're gonna do later. So this image and the next few images that I'm going to show you are good examples of selective focus. This particular image was shot for an annual report for an industrial company, and the idea here was that I wanted to show some construction, but I wanted to show it in context of kind of where they were. And so I really I deliberately focussed on the tops of the cranes, and I left the out of focus earth in the foreground just to give you kind of a frame of reference. It just makes for an interesting visual effect, but I very deliberately directed the viewer's eye towards the tops of the cranes. Here's another image again, very atmospheric, very ethereal shot in Malibu. And the idea here is you know, obviously the people are the main focus of the shot. And so what? It is very shallow depth of field with a very long lens to compress the background in and just make a really interesting composition where your eye goes right to the subjects. This particular image was shot. A sign for a travel magazine was shot in Bhutan, and this is what's called a battle nut. It's just ah local. Not that they regularly and I wanted the viewer to see what this note looks like, and I wanted your eye to go rate to it, and it's just a interesting composition another great example where we put a subject in the environment on and then your eye goes right to that subject. Same thing here. The teacup that that the viewers being offered is where your eye goes to first and you see the smiling face of the subject in the background. But it's very out of focus, and so you're I can't help but look at the Tea Cup first. Same example here with the prayer bowls. This was shot in Thailand for another magazine, and the idea is that it shows you all of the linear shape of the bulls, and your eye goes sort of to the middle portion of the shot. Again, kind of a really shallow depth of field example where the viewer's eye goes right to the subject size and they sort of pierce into the image. You really see the subject separating somebody out in a crowd like this again? Probably I don't remember, but probably to eight or F four on a 200 millimeter lens 9. Assignment Demonstration: So the idea here is I'm gonna use a really wide lands and a really small F stop to really accentuate how much we can get into focus with a wide lens and a small F stop like 16 in this particular case. So we're gonna take a picture of Michael and Michael sitting in the middle of the studio. If you look at the image, it's a very wide image Number one. It's not very flattering for a subject at all, typically when he's a much longer lens. But everything front to back is in focus. Michael is in focus, and the background, including the dog, is in focus in this picture or pretty close to sharp focus. And that's because F 16 is such a small aperture. The problem here is it's really hard to get a viewer's attention drawn into the image, so we're not having that selective focus of fact. Now we're gonna switch 235 millimeters, which to me is kind of a favorite portrait lens. It's a much more flattering lens for people because it sort of represents people's facial features in an accurate way. It doesn't distort them the way that a wide lens does. So let's see what that looks like. It f 60. So in this particular case, what we have is we have long lens 135 millimeters. We have a very small F stop f 16 and we have a background that's about 20 feet away from our subject. So our subject is in the foreground. He sharpies and focus. And in the background you can still tell what's back there. A messy kitchen in the studio. You can see the clock on the wall and you can tell that it's a clock and you can see the flowers as well. All right, so now what we've done is we've gone back to the wide lens 24 millimeters and we've changed . Our F stopped down to F 2.8, and so what that does is it gives us much less step the field and it gives us a really wide land. So we get a little bit of benefit from the wide lands in terms of depth of field, but we lose it with the F 2.8, so that will give us a much more unique effect on what we had before where everything is in focus. This time the backgrounds gonna fall off a little bit. Right? Right. So what we see here is Michael really sort of stands there in the background a little bit more than he did in the last shot where we were wide and we're it f 16. So one of the things that I wanted to talk about here is a depth of field calculator, and in this particular case, it's just an app that I use. You can download them, and it gives you a really great way to visualize what depth of field really is. And so it allows you to dialling the lens, the F stop and the distance that your subject is. And then it tells you how much depth of field you have. And what that is, is how much of that image is going to be in focus. So in this particular case, we're using a 24 millimeter lens. Michael is about eight feet from the camera, and we're F two point eight. And so what we see here is the depth of field of six feet six inches. What that means is everything from Michael's, where we're focusing the camera 6.5 feet front to back on. Our subject is in focus. If we were to change that 235 millimeters which we're going to do in a second, we're gonna leave the camp. We're gonna leave the F stop 2.8. This particular case, our depth of field is only two inches. So if I focus on Michael's, I Onley two inches front to back of his. I are going to be in focus versus the 24 millimeter where it was 6.5 feet. All right, so now what we've done is we switch back to the 35 millimeter lens were at F 2.8. So what we're doing is we're both compressing the background and we're using our aperture to be open up to 2.8, which creates a very shallow depth of field, just like I showed you on the depth of field calculator. So we have about two inches. So when I focus on the subjects, I we only have two inches of depth of field. Basically, they're here will be soft, and everything behind them will be soft. Let's see what that looks like what we have now is we have the eye goes right to the subjects phase. It really feels like a much stronger portrait because the person is in focus of looking into the camera there, smiling, and you have a nice, pleasing soft background that doesn't distract you from the subject. 10. 10 With Fade Out: Alright guys. So now that you've seen me walk through all four exercises where we've used a really wide aperture in a really wide lands or really tight aperture with really long lens and you should be able to see the difference between all four of those setups, what and then I want you to do is I want you to go out and make an image using focal length and focus point to really direct the viewer's eye in a way that helps you make an artistic or creative image. You're going to influence the viewer using focal length and focus point to create an image that you really are proud. 11. Conclusion: thanks very much for joining us. Guys. I hope that you were able to use focus, point and focal length in order to create an image that directs the viewer's eye where you wanted to go in the picture. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the assignments that you submit, and I'm gonna get back to each one of the individually with some feedback on what I'm seeing in the images. Thanks again.