Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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I'll be travelling to Paris and I'll be bringing me with a Canon T2i/550D, a Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3,5-5,6 IS and a Tokina 11-16mm f/2,8 (I could also bring a Canon EF 50mm f/1,8 II). I bought the Tokina yesterday so I have no experience with it or using such a wide angle lens and I'll have only a weekend to try it prior to the trip.

I'm an amateur still learning everytime I use my camera so my question might sound basic but in what situation/landmarks should I use these lenses when in Paris? Also, any tips on using my new ultra wide angle lens would be appreciated.

[Edit: Reading the comments, I realize now that the question was really not clear at all. My ititial thought was more about what lens should I bring when going to see monument A or museum B but thanks the experience of this forum amazing contributors, the real question is more about composition and what do I really want to capture and for that, there are no clear answers but many thanks for letting me see the issue from an artistic point of view instead of a technical point of view.]

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General tips on composition using the wide-angle lens: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/12691/… –  mattdm Jun 11 '11 at 12:52
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Not sure what is being asked here. Your lenses do not overlap, so if you can frame it with one, you can't with the other... All that's left is looking at the question about wide-angle lens composition as @mattdm noted. –  Itai Jun 11 '11 at 13:55
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As I see it, it's basically a question of composition and focal length (and perspective) when taking travel photographs. I'd love to see the question answered with examples of how different focal lengths work in composition drawn from actual famous landmarks in Paris. While the answers might generalize to any large city, Paris makes a lovely case study. –  mattdm Jun 11 '11 at 14:13
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Check out the travel tips as well - photo.stackexchange.com/questions/6966/… –  rfusca Jun 11 '11 at 18:51
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As I see it, this question was entirely answerable. I think it was a fine question that fits the purpose of our site quite superbly. I hope my answer can demonstrate the simple fact that if we take the time to ANSWER, instead of DEBATE THE NEED to answer, our site will grow and become more useful to people in the long run. –  jrista Jun 11 '11 at 20:21

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Choosing the right lens

It looks like you have a pretty solid range of focal lengths covering everything from 11mm through 200mm. Not a bad set of lenses to work with. One thing that should be noted is that lugging around all that gear might get tiresome after a while, so you might want to think about picking a particular lens to bring if you don't want to go lugging weight around.

As to when to use which lens, I guess there are a few factors that go into that decision: what you want to capture, how much your scene should encompass, and how much reach you need to achieve the previous two. Once you have decided on these three things, and chosen a lens, you should try to achieve the composition you desire. You may find that you end up wanting to photograph a single scene with more than one lens, and thats where art and personal style will come into play. So, without further ado...

Answering the questions

What scene do you wish to capture?

Before you can pick a lens, you need to decide what scene you wish to capture. You have three lenses that cover a fairly broad range of common focal length "buckets": ultra-wide & wide angle, standard/normal angle, and long/telephoto. As a general rule of thumb, the wider you go, the more encompassing your shots can be, and the longer (narrower) you go the less encompassing and more targeted your shots can be. It should also be noted that the maximum aperture of a lens also plays a role here, as wider apertures allow thinner DOF and blurrier backgrounds.

Some of the first things you should think about is what do you want to capture? Are you interested in photographing an entire city skyline at night? Do you want to capture a portrait of friends or family, with a nice creamy backdrop to guide the eye? Do you want to reach out over a noisy foreground and single out something in the distance? Do you want to capture a broad scene with great depth, but focus on a particular subject in the foreground?

How much of the world do you wish to encompass in a single scene?

A single photograph can be a lot of things...can encompass a broad, detailed scene with a lot of interesting elements, or a narrow, targeted, specific scene that focuses on a single subject...or something in-between those two. This is the scope of the photography you wish to take. There are different ways to achieve the scope you desire as well.

In the case of capturing a city skyline, your scope is very broad. Your intention is to bring in a considerable amount of the world you see before you, and keep as much of the detail present as you can. The desire is to create a broadly encompassing shot, which is probably best served by a wide angle lens. Ultra-wide and wide angles, such as 11-24mm, will help you bring in that entire city skyline, along with the waterfront reflecting it in the foreground (i.e. Marina Bay, Singapore @ 22mm). You can put a compositional twist on this scene, and bring in not only a broad scene at a distance, but also include strong foreground element: Photographing the city skyline from the corner of a bridge that stretches out across that waterfront foreground. Again, a wide-angle lens is going to be your friend here. In addition to allowing your photos to encompass a broad scope, wide angle lenses also allow you to simultaneously "get in close", and draw in a critical foreground element (i.e. Bridge in the Fog @ 20mm). Another element of scope is architecture itself. Rather than encompassing an entire city skyline, you may wish to capture an entire building in an artistic manner. You mentioned your trip was to Paris, where there are some of the worlds most renown architectural wonders. Another excellent use of wide angle lenses is capturing a building or city landmark, up close, from head to toe. (i.e. Eiffel Tower @ 18mm).

In contrast to scenes that encompass a broad scope are scenes that encompass a narrower scope. Portraits, for one, are usually intended to focus on a single element of a scene. A narrower field of view, and often a less distinct backdrop, can help narrow the scope of your photograph and focus on just one or a few things...such as a portrait of a girlfriend or wife, or maybe a group shot of some friends. The indistinct, yet present, backdrop of Paris might add an intriguing artistic element, yet not distract from the real intent of the photo...your friends and family. Sometimes you may simply notice something intriguing that you want to focus on, without bringing in a lot of other distracting elements. Focal lengths between 35mm and 135mm are often superb for this purpose (i.e. Mission Completed @ 105mm).

Finally, there may be times when you see something in the distance (or even not so distant) that makes for a superb photograph, but is mired by a lot of foreground "noise" and distraction. This is where your telephoto focal lengths and the added reach they provide come in particularly handy. Longer lenses have the ability to greatly reduce the scope of a scene, and focus on a very specific thing.

how much reach you need to photograph the scene you've chosen?

Reach is the final aspect of choosing a lens. When photographing a wide-angle scene, the reach of the lens is in the breadth of scope that it captures. You may find that too much reach is including elements of foreground or periphery that you don't want in your scene, in which case a less-wide angle is probably necessary. If 16mm is capturing parts of a cityscape that detract from your final vision, perhaps switching from the 11-16mm to the 18-200mm will allow you to narrow your scope a bit, and reduce the all-encompassing reach of wide-angle lenses.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, telephoto lenses offer a different kind of reach...the ability to "reach out" and "reach across". When you find that amazing photo of something off in the distance, such as the Eiffel Tower, but you find that your vision is mired by all the chaos of a foreground market, a telephoto lens that can reach out and beyond that noisy foreground, and zero in on just the Eiffel Tower in the distance, is probably the lens you want. A 200mm lens will do well here, such as your 18-200, or as is often the case...the wildly popular and higher quality 70-200mm lenses that many manufacturers offer.

Composing the shot

As a final step, it should be noted that once you have selected a focal length that meets your initial vision, don't forget to take some time to compose. Simply snapping a shot will certainly allow you to record your trip...but it won't necessarily help you tell a story about your trip, engage you in the art form of photography, or create particularly compelling photographs. It doesn't take long, but when you find the lens you need and frame your subject, think about composition...how the scene is divided, how much depth of field you include (or conversely, how blurry the background is), etc. Taking those few moments will help you craft a photographic story about your trip, and create more compelling photographs that you and your friends might hopefully enjoy more for a longer period of time. Some may even be frame-worthy and end up on your walls. ;)

On another note...you should also not limit yourself to a single focal length for any given scene. You may initially decide that using a 200mm focal length to photograph the Eiffel Tower is best. Your 200mm lens also happens to be a general-purpose lens that supports focal lengths that cover the entire range of buckets, from wide, to normal, to long and telephoto. Try out some alternative focal lengths, and compose a few additional shots. Maybe that "noisy" foreground has some intriguing elements in and of itself, and a slightly blurry Eiffel Tower as a backdrop could create an entirely new and different vision of your trip.

Last, after choosing a lens and composing your shots...don't forget to mind your camera settings. There is nothing worse than getting home and finding that you had your ISO far too high and all your photographs ended up horribly noisy, or that your aperture was not what you intended, and that blurry background turned out to be far more detailed and distracting than you desired.

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Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to write this answer and for letting me see the problem from an artistic point of view instead of the technical point of view. It's appreciated. –  CSharpRocks Jun 12 '11 at 1:17
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@CSharpRocks: My pleasure. :) I hope you'll have some artistic story-telling photos to show off when you get back. Those of us who hang out in chat a lot always love to see our members work. –  jrista Jun 12 '11 at 2:01
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+1 - @CSharpRocks - Please do post some shots and I'm glad jrista was able to help. –  rfusca Jun 12 '11 at 2:31

I'd advise two things that few people take.

  1. A tripod. It's a pain, but honestly worth it.
  2. Enough ND filters (or two polarizers) so you can get some 30 second (or so) shots in daylight.

The two go together. Paris is enough of a tourist destination that most of the obvious places to take pictures (Les Invalides, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc.) will be packed with tourists virtually all the time. It's difficult to get a picture that isn't more of the tourists than the place itself (well, okay, the Eiffel tower is big enough that the tourists don't impinge as much, but in the other cases...)

The cure for that is fairly simple: few tourists stand still for more than a few seconds or so, but the buildings don't move at all. In an exposure of a minute or two, almost nobody will stand in one place long enough to show up in the picture, and you end up with a picture of the building, monument, cathedral, or whatever, not just of the crowd in/around it.

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Jerry, I thank you for this comment a great deal. I didn't even think of bringing a standard ND on my trip that is similar to the original posters. But now that you bring up this idea, I will certainly throw the 2oz ND into my bag. I would also suggest that you can stack multiple images in Photoshop and it will automatically remove the people easily. –  dpollitt Jun 13 '11 at 1:37
    
@dpollitt: Yes, image stacking should also work, though I haven't tried it (for this purpose) so I can't say with real certainty. But yes, an ND filter is about as small and light of an addition as you can hope for... –  Jerry Coffin Jun 13 '11 at 14:16

I think Paris is a bit unusual to other European cities, because it has both tight streets (usual for Europe), but also very wide boulevards, spacious monument areas and sweeping vistas with many opportunities for nice landscape shots.

In my experience, Paris benefits best from a WIDE lens. The Tokina you mention is likely the lens that will get the most use.

Paris has some very nice vistas, especially at nite, where a wide lens will be really welcome. But, there is also incredible architectural detail to be seen as well, and while a zoom will allow you to get a nicely cropped shot of details, the wide angle lets you get in close, and capture all of the detail in context.

Where to take shots can be gathered better from tour books, but favorites of mine are of course the Eiffel Tower, where you should absolutely go up onto the platforms (you can walk for free, but if you plan to do other touring, pay the $$ for the elevator). I recommend this both in the day and at night.

Around the Notre Dame there are thousands of details to be found, so just wander and shoot. In the evening, go to the Musee de la Marine, and take shots of the Eiffel Tower with the lights. Walk along the Seine, taking photos of the city of lights. A tripod will be helpful here.

Also check out Artists' Quarter, Montmartre, for incredible shots of the unique culture of Paris. Finally, since you will likely be going there anyway, the Louvre, Champs-Elysees, and Arc de Triomphe are worth shooting.

For examples from my trip to Paris, check out these shots, which were almost all shot with a Sigma 10-20 EX.

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Even your "architectural detail" shot looks like it could easily be taken with a UWA or the original posters 11-16 Tonkina. You and I have similar tastes in travel photography, I almost exclusively shoot UWA. –  dpollitt Jun 13 '11 at 1:39
    
Thanks. I checked and you are correct, that shot was done with my Tamron 28-75, not the UWA Sigma. Oh well. Here is another example of "architectural detail" that was shot with the UWA Sigma. –  cmason Jun 13 '11 at 13:04

It depends mostly on what you want to shoot in Paris.

Details and street photo

If you want to shoot details, and there are plenty of them, go for telephoto (18-200). Also it works well for shooting people in the crowd, you do not have to approach them closely. It is easier to compose telephoto shots for you can crop away things that disturb the picture. 18 mm will cover your occasional itch for a wide angle view. One lens that covers everything, except for low-light conditions.

Portraits

You are not travelling alone, are you? If you want to take portraits of the people who come with you, then again, midrange telephoto usually works the best. In your case, it is 18-200 and 50 f/1.8. If it is a romantic travel, then I expect 50 f/1.8 will produce the most memorable shots.

Night photography

Paris is nice at night. Consider taking 50 f/1.8 with you. And a tripod too.

Indoor photography

On one hand, imagine that you want to keep photos from some event happening in a tiny bar or restaurant. There is simply not enough space for a telephoto, you can barely move yourself. And 11-16 comes to rescue. 18 mm of your 18-200 may work well too.

On the other hand, if there is enough space (for example, in the church or in a museum), then the next thing you need indoors is light. And 50 f/1.8 is your best friend there.


P.S. Weight considerations

Finally, one more note. Are you ready to carry all the lenses always with you? Are you willing to change lenses in the middle of the crowded street? It doesn't make sense to leave glass it in the hotel room or carry the dead weight.

I prefer walking lightweight. For that reason I'd go with 50 f/1.8 alone. It works well as medium telephoto for details, it works well for portraits, it may be used for architecture too (you won't be able to fit entire buildings most of the time, but it forces you to compose wisely, and such composition may look even more interesting), it works well indoors and in low light.

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The 18-200mm lens has a range that will probably suit most situations. The 11-16mm lens will be great for indoor shots of the cathedrals and monuments which tend to be rather dark. The perspective distortion of the 11-16mm lens will be very pronounced when you take pictures up-close of building facades, so unless you fall in love with this effect, then my guess is you'll probably end up using the 18-200mm lens in most outdoor situations.

If you have room for a third lens, don't mind carrying all the gear all the time (and primarily go for the purpose of taking pictures), then consider renting a tilt-shift lens. A tilt-shift lens lets you capture the facade of a building without the converging lines perspective distortion you get with regular lenses.

Paris is full of great photo opportunities, but it is also a very dense and busy urban environment, so you will find your self constrained in a lot of cases. Other tourists will be in the picture, the shadow of a nearby building will ruin an otherwise perfect composition, a street will be too narrow to let you capture the entire facade of the building in front of you. Don't get me wrong--Paris is a great place to visit (I've lived there one and a half year)--just make sure you set your expectations.

A final note; much to my dismay, I've experienced more and more sites like museums to prohibit indoor photography. For example, I used to be able to go to the Orsay museum and take pictures of their fabulous collection of impressionistic paintings. You would even see painters set up their easels to study and copy the great masters. Not anymore. Guards posted throughout the building now come running shouting "no photography!" whenever you bring up the camera to your eye.

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Paintings suffer from flash light. Unfortunately, many people don't know how to disable flash. It is easier and more practical to not allow photography at all, rather than control that flash is not used. –  sastanin Jun 13 '11 at 20:33
    
@jetxee in the case of Musee d'Orsay and several other museums, it seems more motivated by an attempt to boost sales of prints, books and merchandise –  Kim Burgaard Jun 13 '11 at 21:51
    
That reason too. –  sastanin Jun 14 '11 at 10:30

I was also in Paris some time ago and I would take the Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3,5-5,6 IS and the Tokina 11-16mm f/2,8 , while I would use in most of time the Tokina - because the wide lens is most useful in Paris. For some particular needs I would also take the Canon - for some details etc.

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