Posts Tagged Photography

Equipment Guide: Buying your first camera

I’ve been asked this question many times, so I figured I’d just blog it. The answer to the question “Which camera should I buy?” really depends on your budget and your style. The first question may be easy to answer, how much money you have… but the second question might require some discovery. With that said, this guide is really written with a specific friend in mind but I am providing my rationale for each item I’m listing here so hopefully this will be useful anyone who stumbles upon this page**.


I’m recommending Canon equipment here not necessarily because I think Canon is better, but because I shoot with Canon and I’m more familiar with the gear and because my friend who I’m writing this for is looking to buy a Canon. If you’re just starting off, I recommend you try out all the other brands too and see how you feel about them. IMO, a camera is a camera… but choose wisely because once you pick a platform you’ve got a lot of money invested in the lenses and probably won’t want to switch.

First, some plug:

  • Invest in good lenses first because they don’t obsolete, they keep their value and you can keep using them when you upgrade your body
  • Prime lenses are ideal for learning photography IMO. I have a post about this.

And some recommendations:

In the digital world, camera bodies become obsolete just as fast as computers. About every 12 months, Canon announces a new model. Thus, I’d recommend saving money on the camera body now, and spending more down the road when you can truly utilize the additional features on the camera.

Some more thoughts when picking a camera:

  • Megapixels don’t really mean much. Anything over 8MP is more than fine for most things you will be doing with your photos anyway.
  • Look at the maximum ISO for the camera and read reviews on how well they perform at each ISO. ISO is the sensitivity to light; the higher the maximum ISO, the better your camera will perform in low light. A typical entry-level DSLR will have an ISO range of 100-1600 iso to 100-6400 iso.
  • Hold the camera in your hands. While I’d generally recommend buying it online because you can generally get a better deal, it’s a good idea to stop by a camera store and try holding these bodies. You’ll realize that the Rebel series have very small grips and if you have large hands you might prefer to go with the 50d.

Rebel XS – Currently the least expensive DSLR in Canon’s lineup. This will set you back around $400-500.

Rebel T1i/T2i – If you’re interested in also doing video.

50D – This body is targeted to the “prosumer”. It has many of the features of Canon’s higher end cameras, but without the hefty price tag. It also has a more ergonomic grip.

40D with a 28-135mm lens attached.

Some thoughts about lenses:

  • Primes! They’re cheaper and they generally produce better photos for their price (compared to zooms). One of the characteristics that you look for in a lens is the maximum aperture. That is–how wide can the opening become?
  • You generally want a lens with a large maximum aperture. The larger the opening (the smaller the f-stop number — eg. f/2.8 is a larger aperture than f/4) the more light can get through (better in low-light situations) and the more background blur you get (referred to as bokeh)
  • Why do you care about bokeh? Nice background blur/shallow depth of field is one of the things that will set your photos apart from those taken with a point and shoot camera.
  • Lenses generally keep their value, so treat it as an investment.

Some Terminology (Canon):

  • EF – Is Canon’s lens mount. EF stands for “Electro-Focus” and replaces its predecessor, the FD mount (which is not compatible with EF). The cameras I recommended here will take both EF and EF-S lenses. EF-S is a subset of the EF mount which will only work on certain camera bodies.
  • USM – Ultrasonic Motor is the type of motor used in the lens’ AF (autofocus) system. USM is typically faster and quieter than the standard non-USM motor used in cheaper lenses. If you can afford it, find lenses with this type of motor. You can tell if a lens has this feature by looking at the name. For example, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM has this feature, whereas the EF 50mm f/1.8 II does not.
  • IS – Image Stabilized lenses have special gyros in the lenses that detect movement or vibration and compensate for the shift to mitigate blur in images.
  • f/xx – The maximum aperture of a lens is denoted by f/(value). For example, the maximum aperture of the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is 1.4. Remember, smaller number means larger opening.


EF 50mm f/1.8 II – For around $100, you can get a lens that will get you very professional results. This is a prime lens so that means there is no zoom. At 50mm on these digital bodies, you’ll be fairly zoomed in making this lens ideal for portraits and still life photography. Its a great lens to start off with but if you mainly want to shoot landscapes, you may want to consider a different lens. Check out the Flickr pool to see what people have done with this lens: If you can afford to spend a little more, go for the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. It has a nicer autofocus (AF) motor/focus ring and it has a slightly faster aperture (meaning that it can perform better in low light).

The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is a great lens. 50mm used to be the “normal” lens on 35mm film bodies because the field of view closely mimicked the field of view for human vision. These digital camera bodies have a 1.6x crop-factor compared to 35mm film so (30mm * 1.6x gives you 48mm) which is very close to the normal field of view. I really believe that prime lenses are the best way to learn photography because you can focus on composition and exposure. This is a great lens to do that with. It has a HSM AF motor which is Sigma’s equivalent to Canon’s USM.


If you’re going to be shooting a lot of landscape or stuck in tight spaces, you might want a zoom lens. Note that the 50d kit comes with the 28-135mm. I’ve shot with that lens for many years and I love that lens. It’s a good deal and a great beginner’s zoom lens. The other two lenses are very new in Canon’s lineup. They are a bit wider than the 28-135 so you get a wider field of view.

You’ll notice that the less expensive Canon zoom lenses have slower apertures than the expensive one which has f/2.8. If you’re going to be shooting in low light, it is best to get a zoom with a fast aperture. Also, these f/2.8 lenses do not change apertures as you zoom. The EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 will be f/3.5 when you’re zoomed to 28mm and f/5.6 when you’re zoomed to 135mm which is slightly annoying to compensate for. Essentially, this Sigma lens gives you that nice fast aperture for a relatively cheap price tag.


If you’re shooting sports, I recommend the 70-200mm. It is one of the cheapest L-series lenses you can buy (L-series is Canon’s high-end lenses that feature superior glass and build quality). I have shot with this lens for many years and still have not outgrown it. It produces stunningly sharp images and the AF motor is blazingly fast. If you are planning on doing portraits, the 85mm 1.8 is a great choice. It produces amazing bokeh and has a reasonable price tag.


Pick a body, and then pick one or two lenses to go with it. I started off with the Rebel XT. For a while my kit was the 28-135 with the 70-200. I used the 28-135 as my walk-around lens and 70-200 for portraits and shooting sports. If you have questions, want some recommendations or advice, feel free to leave a comment or email me at me at prenticew dot com.

Hope this guide was useful.

** – If you’ve stumbled upon this page some time in the future, its worthwhile to look at what’s new. Lenses won’t change very much but the camera bodies will.

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Learning Photography — Prime Lenses

Whether you’re new to photography or you’ve been shooting for a while, if you’re still using your kit zoom lens — you should consider getting a prime lens as your next lens.

July 16 - The Spiffy New Lens
An EF 85mm f/1.2L II mounted on my 40D

What is a “prime” lens? A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length meaning that it can not zoom. So you may wonder why in the world would you want to get a lens that doesn’t allow you to zoom? Well there are at least a dozen reasons I could give you — among them: primes are cheaper (generally for the quality you get), sharper, and faster.

Zoom optical systems are generally fairly complex because they have to correct for more factors; thus, with a simpler design, primes often require less glass (lower price) and/or produce a higher quality image (higher image quality). Furthermore, prime lenses often have larger apertures (especially for the price). You’ll find primes with apertures around f/1.4 for under $500, whereas most zoom lenses with an aperture of f/2.8 are going to very likely cost over $1k! Faster apertures also make these lenses great for taking photos at night or in a dim room without a flash. The shallow depth of field makes these lenses great for taking portraits with a beautiful background blur as well.

In addition to the tangible benefits, prime lenses also help reinforce important concepts in photography. Many photographers become lazy and use zooming to compose their images. Zooming rather than physically moving yourself to recompose your shot makes a big difference! Using a prime lens forces you to move around to recompose and makes you a better photographer. Using a prime also encourages the photographer to focus on other thing such as focusing and exposure.

Shows the same subject shot at 24mm vs. 200mm.

Shows the same subject shot at 24mm vs. 200mm.

You can see in this example that the same subject shot at two different focal lengths produce two extremely different images. Notice how the wide shot at 24mm emphasizes the shape of the glass and there is quite a bit of the background in view. In contrast, the 200mm shot compresses the detail and the glass looks pretty flat. Not as much of the background is also in the shot because the field of view is narrower. Because of this, telephoto lenses are generally preferable for shooting portraits because it does not emphasize facial features such as the nose or chin.

So which lenses should I get? Here’s a list of some prime lenses…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jillian in Black and White

I wondered around downtown with this wonderful lady doing her photo project today and decided to do one of my own! She was making portraits of employees in local businesses… and I was documenting her :).

Entire Set:


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Free Portrait Day – Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009People dress up in such great costumes for Halloween — instead of just giving out candy, why not some free portraits too! Some trick-or-treaters and some friends came over to be immortalized in their Halloween costumes. Photographs were shot by me (Prentice Wongvibulsin) and Brian Ujiie.

The hi-res photographs are available in this Flickr set. To obtain the hi-res version of the image, click on the “all sizes” button above the image and select “Original”. Leave a comment if you have problems getting to it. Also, I haven’t had time to go through all the portraits yet so also leave a comment if you don’t see yours here.


This post contains hi-res images: Please hide the sidebar by clicking HERE.


This post contains a few of the images from the set:

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Be sure to view the entire set!

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DIY Background Support for under $30


I wanted to do some seamless white shots… so I bought some pure white paper… but I didn’t have any way of getting that paper off the ground… so, looking into my options…. I could buy a background support system for $150… too expensive… I could buy 2 light stands, 2 super clamps and a pipe…. totaling somewhere over $100… too expensive… But in addition to that… I had an interesting space constraint. The room itself isnt that big… so this background has to go behind speakers and a giant heater. So, I can’t have wide legs from the light stand holding this stuff up. The perfect solution… buckets of concrete.

Building Bucket o’ Concrete Background Support System

STEP 1 – Make a trip to your local hardware store and buy the materials :)


STEP 2 – Cut posts to length (if necessary). These posts were 8′, and that is probably the perfect height for the stands but unfortunately our ceiling is only 7.5 ft, so I ended up cutting these to 7ft.


STEP 3 – Sand and seal. Take something like 100 grit sand paper and sand them down! Then spray with polyurethane.

Building a background stand

STEP 4 – Place post in bucket (its easiest to clamp the posts to scrap wood to keep it in place) and pour in dry concrete mix. Then add water and mix.

Building a background stand

STEP 5 – Let dry. Depending on what type of concrete you use… it may take a few days for it to be ready for use… mine said wait 24 hours before subjecting it to stress.


STEP 6 – Attach hooks, insert PVC to roll of paper, place roll on stand.


STEP 7 – Take awesome photos!

This works for any background but I went with white. You could probably also have multiple rolls of paper if you get multiple hooks and PVCs… but I’m good with my white for now :). Plus, it doubles as an excellent projector screen!

If you’re shooting seamless white, Zack Arias has a good tutorial .

Materials/Approx Costs
(1) Bag of Concrete – $2
(2) 2×3 studs – $4
(2) buckets – $6
(2) hooks – $12 (should’ve found cheaper ones, but whatever)
(2) screws (for the hooks) – cheep, had some lying around.
(1) PCV pipe (for background paper) – $3

Total: $27

Some test shots:

Camille’s Halloween Costume









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Walk SLO #1

Our first “Walk SLO” photowalk group met on October 24th, 2009! The following are a few of the photos I shot during the walk.

Walk SLO - October 09


Walk SLO - October 09

Bartender, pour me a drink.




We all met up at the old mission downtown at around 5 PM, walked around downtown SLO for a few hours shooting and ended up at mother’s tavern to share photo and for some amazing fries. Hopefully this will become a monthly event. We’ll photowalk a new location each month. Maybe Montana De Oro next month? If you’re in the SLO area and you’re interested in hanging out with some photographers and learning some new things, join our walk group! Our flick group is at

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Stick #1 - Floating Away
#1 – Floating Away

Stick #2 - Stranded
Stick #2 – Stranded

Stick #3 - Playground
Stick #3 – Playground

Stick #4 - Escape
Stick #4 – Escape

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Yosemite Trip, Summer 2009


This post contains hi-res images: Please hide the sidebar by clicking HERE.


This past weekend, my friends and I took an awesome trip to Yosemite. For our 3 day trip, we planned on hiking Cloud’s Rest when we got there on Saturday, Half Dome on Sunday and go relax and rafting in the valley on Monday before we drive home.

Sept 5 - Driving to Yosemite!

So to get there early enough to do Cloud’s Rest we decided to leave SLO at around 5am and drive to Tenaya Lake where we’d start our hike.


Unfortunately when we got there, the road to Tenaya Lake was closed due to the fires… so change of plans…


We decided to stop at Bridalveil Falls and explore that area since it was on the way into the valley…


There was nearly no water left coming down the falls so we were able to climb all the way into the base of the waterfall!


Nick ventured into the icy cold waters :)


We also stopped to get some food Nadia really seemed to enjoy…

Tent Cabin in Curry Village

Then met up with Eric and Angie to hike around Mirror Lake… which was also completely dry!




Beautiful greenery

On the hike I found this squirrel who was lit just perfectly by a ray of sun that broke through the trees above…

Can't leave Yosemite without a squirrel pic


On our way back to Curry Village, we encountered some deer near the campgrounds…


It was interesting that we saw more deer here than during our Half Dome hike. All the hikers must have scared the deer away from the trails :(.


We also encountered some assholes who decided to litter beer cans all over the ground… so Nick heroically ran to recycle them :)


Then we took a nice drive up to the top of Glacier Point where we got a good view of Half Dome.


There were some pretty amazing views from up there and we even packed an awesome dinner Nadia made for us to enjoy with the scenery!


The next day we began our hike before the sun rose… at 5 am, we left Curry Village.


Amazingly, even the Mist trail was dry…

Mist Trail

It was freezing once we got up to Nevada Falls… I think the temperature was in the 50’s or 40’s!

Nadia and Nick

After many more hours of hiking, we were close… nearly to the top!

Almost there!

We then stopped for lunch and rested up our feet for the long hike up the stairs…

180 on the way to Half Dome

Up the stairs

and then up the cables…

Half Dome

a super steep climb, nearly 60 degrees maybe at some points.


But we finally made it to the top!

360 Half Dome

Nadia at the top of Half Dome!

We made it!

And stood on inspiration point…

Nadia on Inspiration Point

Top of Half Dome!

And jumped some more….

We on top of the world baby!

We even saw a man in a Kilt on top of Half Dome!

Man in Kilt on Inspiration Point

Then it was time to go down…


Almost a straight plunge down…



Better not let go :)

Hold on tight...

After making it back down, we hiked to Nevada Falls…


where we cooled off our feet in the awesome water…

Dippin' our feet in the water.

and filled up our water bottles….


and jumped some more…

Nevada Falls

Sept 6 - Hiking to Half Dome

then we continued our journey back down…


By the time we got back, it was already dark… so we started hiking before the sun rose and got back after the sun set. It was an epic hike that took over 12 hours climbing over 5000ft in approximately 16 miles.


The next day we had anticipated rafting, but since there’s hardly any water left in the river… that was closed for the season. We ended up touring the awesome architecture of the Ahwahnee Hotel and then hitting the rocks at Bridalveil Falls again.

Sept 7 - Leaving Yosemite

And alas, it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful place and drive on home!

All these photos and more are in this slideshow below and in this set on

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Blog Upgrades: Scaling Images

I hacked this theme I’m using a little to hide/show the sidebar. This allows me to put larger photos on my blog posts. Some day when I have some free time I’ll make my own theme which incorporates a fancier version of this… but here’s what this hack can do:

Example 1: I can have a link at the top of a blog post to hide the sidebar and grow the image.

This post contains hi-res images: Please hide the sidebar by clicking HERE.
#72 Flying above SLO

Example 2: I have a toggle button on top of the sidebar to show/hide on any post.

(click on it!)

Example 3: I can link to a blog post with the sidebar hidden by setting hide=1

Link back to this page with sidebar hidden
LInk back to this page with sidebar showing

Incase anyone is interested, this is the code I used to resize the images. This code uses on the moo tools framework. The resize_all function takes an integer sz for width and a boolean instant (optional). The instant variable allows you to resize the image without the moo transition effects (this would be useful if you wanted the images resized on load).

const SZ_SMALL = 633;
const SZ_LARGE = 900; 
function resize_all(sz, instant){
   if (null == sz){
      sz = SZ_SMALL;
   if (null == instant){
      instant = false;
   for (x=0; x<document.images.length; x++){

      h = document.images[x].height;
      w = document.images[x].width;

      if (w > 600){ // ignore tiny images
         factor = sz / w;

         nh = factor * h;
         nw = sz;

         if (true == instant){
            document.images[x].height = nh;
            document.images[x].width = nw;
            document.images[x].set('morph',{duration: 'short',});
            document.images[x].morph({height: nh, width: nw});

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Images Submitted!

So I finally decided on the two images to upload for the photo walk photo contest. For everyone that gave me input on which photos to choose, thanks for all the feedback!

By the way, anyone have good suggestions for titles?

On the official site:
EDIT: The original links no longer work… you can see all the photos submitted to the OC walk here

On my Flickr:
A smoky afternoon at the fair...

OC Fair at Sunset

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