Master your Canon lenses, Canon DSLR Techniques

How to shoot with any lens, from wide-angle and telephoto zooms to macro, prime and fisheye...

Lenses. We all own one in some shape or form, and tend to take them for granted. But are you sure you're getting the most from that pricey bit of glass stuck on the end of your Canon D-SLR? What lens you pick to shoot a subject, and how you use it, has a massive influence on the quality of your photographs. For example, the focal length affects how much of the scene you can include, which in turn will influence the viewpoint and composition. The apertures available on your lens will affect the depth of field, and will also determine the available shutter speeds. Certain lenses lend themselves to certain subjects.      
A wide-angle lens is the natural choice for landscapes, while for sports and action you'll almost automatically reach for a telephoto. But lens choice isn't always this obvious. By understanding how each lens affects your images, you can think a little more laterally, and get even more eye-catching results by using a lens that you wouldn't normally use for a particular subject.      
To discover the effect of different types of lens on your images, the subjects you shoot, and even the way you look at the scene in front of you, we've provided a straightforward guide to the main types of lenses: from 10-20mm wide-angles, 50mm primes and 70-300mm telephoto zooms to 8mm fisheye and 100mm macro lenses. And whether you use Canon, Sigma, Tamron or Tokina lenses on your D-SLR, our tips will be relevant to you. So read on how to discover everything you need to know about your collection of lenses, and how to get the most from them. We'll also help you overcome some of the most common Canon-fit lens problems!


Using different types of lenses on your Canon D-SLR provides you with the opportunity to capture scenes in original ways

Wide-angle lenses

Shooting with wide-angle lenses doesn't just enable you to include more of the landscape - it also exaggerates the perspective

The widest setting on most standard kit zooms (eg EF-S 18-55mm) offers a reasonable wide-angle option, but how can a 10-20mm ultra wide-angle lens affect your pictures? At its simplest, a really wide-angle lens enables you to include more of the scene in your image. But using a wide-angle lens successfully isn't just about including the whole scene. Shooting at the widest focal length, for instance, can easily make everything in the scene appear tiny in shot, so you need to use a few compositional tricks to maximise the impact of your images. To make your wide-angle shots really stand out, you need to get in close to exaggerate the perspective. Look for foreground interest or leading lines to give your images a three-dimensional feel, or your wide-angle shots can look rather empty.


Grand or old architecture is a classic subject for wide-angle zoom lenses

Converging verticals
Getting the whole subject in while keeping it a reasonable size in the frame can lead to a common problem, especially with building and architecture shots: when you angle the camera up slightly to get the best composition, the vertical lines in the subject end up pointing inwards, making it look like the subject is falling over. The only way to avoid this with a wide-angle lens is to make sure the back of the camera is parallel to the subject and try to make the most of the composition from this position. Try shooting with the camera very low to the ground to include plenty of foreground if it's interesting enough. Otherwise, you'll have to crop the image afterwards to remove the featureless foreground.


CAMERA TILTED UPWARDS


CAMERA LEVEL
When shooting buildings you should keep the camera back parallel to the subject to keep the vertical lines straight

FOCAL LENGTH AND SENSOR SIZE

Your camera sensor has a huge effect on the field of view. Canon D-SLRs like the 750D/T6i, 80D or 7D Mk II have a smaller 'APS-C' sized sensor, which has a magnifying effect (or crop factor) on lenses of 1.6x. For instance, a 50mm lens on an APS-C sensor has the same field of view as a 80mm lens on a full-frame sensor. Here's a rundown of which lenses you need to get different effects.

EOS D-SLR Wide-angle Standard zoom Telephoto
APS-C 10-16mm 18-55mm Above 70mm
Full frame 14-24mm 28-70mm Above 85mm

 

SUPER TIP!*

WATCH OUT FOR DISTORTION
It may be tempting to use an extreme wide-angle lens to shoot groups of people, especially if space is limited. But go too wide and you can end up with loads of unflattering distortion, making the people close to the camera appear much larger than those in the background.

 

"Look for foreground interest or leading lines to give your images a three-dimensional feel"


 

GET THE SHARPEST RESULTS

It's tempting to think that, to ensure sharp images, you simply set the lens to the narrowest aperture (eg f/22) and shoot away, but this isn't the best approach. There are loads of factors that can affect the sharpness of your images, such as the quality of the lens or the presence of camera shake, but the aperture you choose is the easiest one to control on location. Shooting at the widest aperture will usually give you reasonable sharpness in the middle of the frame, but the edges will often be much softer. Shooting at the narrowest aperture will give you better depth of field, but the sharpness across the image can suffer because of diffraction. Most lenses have a 'sweet spot' that will give you sharp results across the image, usually around f/8-f/11.


f/4


f/11


f/22

Prime lenses

Swap the convenience of a zoom for the speed and quality of a prime lens to really improve your shots


Fixed focal-length lenses (primes) may seem a bit like dinosaurs in these days of image-stabilised zoom lenses and the high-ISO capabilities of the latest Canon D-SLRs, but they still have a place in your camera bag. There are plenty of prime lenses to choose from. The prices of extremely fast wide-angle and telephoto optics are verging on lottery-win territory, but there are more reasonable options around such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 that is available for around £100/ $100. The main advantage of a prime lens over the common zoom is the wider maximum aperture (eg f/1.8 compared to f/3.5), which enables you to achieve faster shutter speeds for shooting in lower light levels at the same ISO without risking camera shake. These wider apertures are also ideal for capturing a shallow depth of field.

"The main advantage of a prime lens over a zoom is the wider maximum aperture"

Explore your viewpoint
Zoom lenses are very convenient, but this convenience is not without its drawbacks. A zoom lens can make you lazy when it comes to choosing your viewpoint, as you simply zoom in or out. With a prime lens, the only way of altering the framing or size of the subject is to physically move, which can result in striking compositions.

*SUPER TIP!*
ALWAYS FOCUS ON THE EYES
Working with a shallow depth of field makes focusing accurately very difficult. When shooting portraits, for example, you normally want to make sure that the eyes are sharp, so use a single AF point and ensure the focus point is positioned over the eyes (or closest eye) of your subject.


Prime lenses are perfect for exploring different viewpoints. They can produce striking images of relatively familiar subjects, such as flowers or car bonnets

EXPLORE DEPTH OF FIELD

Even the best quality prime lenses don't give their sharpest results at the maximum aperture, but the limited depth of field helps to make the sharp areas really stand out. You'll also find that the lack of sharpness is mostly confined to the edges of the image, so keep your main point of focus within the central area.

f/1.8


f/22


The range of apertures on prime lenses makes them perfect for experimenting with depth-of-field effects

Telephoto lenses

Extending the reach of your photography with a long lens can help you capture subjects that are beyond the scope of other optics...

Atelephoto lens is the natural choice for sports and wildlife subjects that you can't get close to. But long-focal-length lenses are great for shooting all sorts of subjects. Because you can shoot from a distance, it's easier to isolate individual subjects from their surroundings, or make subjects at different distances appear to be very close together in the final image. This effect is called 'compressed perspective', and is dead handy when there are layers of objects in the scene that appear to stack on top of each other. As well as photographing birds and wildlife and action shots, the longer focal length is also perfect for grabbing candid portraits. But a telephoto lens can also be used creatively for picking out individual details in architecture or landscape scenes.

“Shoot from a distance and isolate individual subjects from their surroundings”

Image stabilisers
The downside to lenses with longer focal lengths is that they are more prone to camera shake (see right). To combat this, lens manufacturers have developed 'image stabilisation' systems that enable you to get sharp results with slow shutter speeds. Look out for lenses with the following abbreviations: Canon IS (Image Stabilizer), Sigma OS (Optical Stabilizer), and Tamron VC (Vibration Compensation). With a little practice these systems enable you to shoot with shutter speeds well below those you would normally use when handholding your Canon camera - for instance, a four-stop IS system means instead of a 1/320 sec shutter speed, you can get away with shooting at just 1/20 sec.

 

SUPER TIP!*
COMPRESSING PERSPECTIVE
It's the distance that you shoot from rather than the focal length that causes the 'compressed perspective' effect. If you don't have a long lens you can get the same effect by simply cropping in on an image shot at a shorter focal length from the same distance as you would if shooting with a telephoto.

BEAT CAMERA SHAKE

The long focal length of a telephoto lens not only magnifies the subject, but also the movement of the camera and lens. This makes them more prone to blurring than short-focal-length lenses, so you need to take extra care when using them. The old rule of thumb for shake-free results is to use a shutter speed of 1/the focal length or faster - so if you're shooting at a focal length of 200mm, you should get sharp results at 1/200 sec or faster. You should use the fastest shutter speed you can by increasing the ISO - eg from 100 to 400, 800, 1600 or 3200. This will help to minimise the effects of camera shake. But this isn't always possible if you need to use a low ISO. The obvious solution would be to use a tripod, but it's not always practical to set one up. In this situation, look out for objects to brace yourself against, such as fences, benches, walls and streetlamps.

“If you're shooting at a focal length of 200mm, you should get sharp results at 1/200 sec or faster ”

300mm - SOFT


200mm - SHARP


Shooting at 1/250 sec with a 70-300mm lens will give you sharp results at 200mm, but at 300mm the image is blurred due to camera shake. See how the handles and padlocks lose sharpness at 300mm?

Fisheye lenses

Embrace the extreme distortion created by fisheye lenses and get really striking results

“Using a fisheye lens means thinking slightly differently about your shooting technique”

Like wide-angle lenses, fisheye optics enable you to shoot wide, but the distorted view produced by fisheyes produces much more stylised images. Using a fisheye lens means thinking slightly differently about your shooting technique, because many of the normal rules don't apply. For instance, you need to be much closer to your subject than with a conventional lens. The distorted image also makes it difficult to use many of the compositional techniques that work perfectly well with any other type of lens. Experiment with different framing techniques. Symmetrical compositions work particularly well, as these shots taken at Brighton seafront illustrate, while portraits can take on a caricature-like quality.


With a fisheye lens, you'll need to get really close to your subject. For this image, we were three feet away from the beach huts

Two fisheye types
There are two main types of fisheye lens: full-frame and circular. A full-frame fisheye produces an image that covers the entire sensor, while a circular fisheye produces a round image in the middle of the sensor with a dark border around it. This effect varies according to the design of the lens and the size of the sensor in your Canon D-SLR. A lens that produces full-frame images on an APS-C sensor (eg 750D/T6i) will look different on a full-frame camera (eg EOS 5D Mk IV), so you need to check the coverage for your camera. For example, the Sigma 8mm lens used for the shots on this page produces fully circular images on a full-framer, and images that are between circular and frame-filling on an APS-C D-SLR.

Distorted view
Fisheye lenses are also characterised by their distorted view of the world. With most lenses you try to avoid distortion, but with a fisheye lens, distortion is one of the key features of the image. The distortion can range from lines that appear to bend, to entirely circular images.      
When it comes to framing, you need to get in close to your subject, otherwise everything will appear tiny in the final image. This can feel unnatural because you often need to shoot just inches away from the subject. So even if you're used to shooting with wide-angle lenses, the best technique is to step right up to your subject, and really embrace the wacky world of fisheye lenses.

SUPER TIP!***
CHECK THE FRAME EDGES
The extremely wide field of view you get with a fisheye lens means that you can end up with your feet, your shadow or your tripod in the bottom of the shot. This usually looks like a mistake on your part, so always take a quick look at the edges of the frame to make sure you aren't in the shot!

 

GET WELL-BALANCED EXPOSURES

With such an extreme field of view that includes large areas of sky and foreground, and no chance of using ND grad filters, the results from a fisheye lens often suffer from too much contrast from left to right. The best solution for this is to shoot in Raw format and adjust the exposure in Adobe Camera Raw to ensure that as much highlight and shadow detail as possible is retained. In extreme conditions you can also try shooting several different exposures and combining them as a composite in Photoshop.

BEFORE


AFTER

Macro lenses

Explore the close-up potential of macro lenses and you'll find a whole new world in almost any and every location

“At close distances with a macro lens, the depth of field can be just a few millimetres”

Amacro lens enables you to enter a world that's invisible to the casual observer. Most photographers use them to fill the frame with tiny subjects, but they're much more versatile than simply being a tool for focusing on close-ups. Most Canon-fit macro lenses have a focal length between 50mm to 180mm, as well as a reasonably fast maximum aperture, which is perfect when you want to really blur out the background.      
Used at normal distances, you can use a macro lens like you would a prime lens. Most offer a maximum aperture of around f/2.8, which will create a shallow depth of field when shooting portraits, for instance. So for normal shooting, simply employ the same techniques as you would with prime lenses if you want to use the widest apertures. It's at close distances that a macro lens really comes into its own, and the depth of field can be just a few millimetres.      
For these subjects, switch to manual focus, and carefully focus on the part of the subject you want to be sharp. If the subject is static, put your Canon camera on a tripod to be even more precise with your focusing. If you find it difficult to focus accurately through the viewfinder, try using Live View mode and zoom in to check the focus.

SUPER TIP!***
WHEN IS MACRO NOT REALLY MACRO?
You'll find the word macro added to many zoom lenses, but this doesn't mean that they will give the same results as a 'true' macro lens. The term macro on most zoom lenses means that it may be able to focus a little closer than other similar lenses, not that it will be able to focus on small subjects.

 

Working distance
We used a 50mm macro lens for our shot of the shell above, but you can buy a macro lenses with a focal length of 60mm, 90mm, 100mm or 180mm. The main difference in using these lenses is the distance between you and the subject at the same magnification. These distances may not sound important, but just like using normal lenses, it can alter your perspective slightly. More importantly, it can also make a huge difference to your ability to shoot subjects such as insects, which you may not be able to get close to without scaring them off.

CLOSE-UP CREATIVE POINT OF VIEW

CLOSE-UP 1


CLOSE-UP 2


CLOSE-UP 3


The great bonus of using macro lenses on your Canon EOS D-SLR is that they enable you to capture creative shots of the most mundane things. By simply being able to focus very closely you can shoot everyday objects in new and exciting ways and end up with cool, abstract images - as our close-up examples show. Believe it or not, these shots are simply of water in a glass, with olive oil on the surface to create the bubbles, and by using different coloured paper under the glass, you can quickly change the colour of each image. Try shooting a series of three similar images then printing and combining them together for an artistic 'triptych'.


Focusing is critical when shooting macro subjects, especially when working at wide apertures. In this shot, even a tiny adjustment to the focus ring meant that the focus was on the petals behind the stamens

 

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