Feeling constrained by your camera's kit lens? Want to get up close to the action, to capture a time-lapse video, to capture a beautiful Brenizer method photograph? There are a few things you can do in your camera's settings, and a few different lenses you can try out, that can supercharge your photography and expand your skills.
In partnership with Nikon, Gizmodo’s 2015 Photography Guide features everything from lenses, accessories to sharing photos on the go. My Nikon Life connects beginner, enthusiast and professional photographers through their love of capturing beautiful images in an online community.
Special Effects Lenses: Fisheye, Telephoto, Tilt-Shift And Macro
Chief amongst special effects lenses is the fisheye lens. With an extremely wide-angle field of view -- in some cases, a full 180 degrees across the horizontal plane of your camera's imaging sensor -- you're able to capture incredibly wide and expansive images, whether they're landscapes or close-ups on static objects. Fisheyes are also great for video work, and have distorted extreme edges that look very funky. Equally weird and useful is the tilt-shift lens, which lets you adjust the angle of its internal glass elements to create sharp or smooth transitions in and out of focus across the lens plane, which can make large objects like buildings look like toy-effect miniatures. Both have limited usage, but are incredibly fun to try.
If you want to isolate a subject -- a person, a car, an object in situ -- against its background, then you'll need a telephoto lens, and ideally one (whether it's a prime or a zoom) with as wide a maximum aperture as possible. A macro lens will help you get extremely close up on your subject -- within a matter of millimetres from the front glass element of your lens, if you're buying the right one and photographing the right object.
If you want to get life-size images of flowers, butterflies, or other insects, then a macro lens is what you're after. If you want to get seriously scientific, then you can even buy some lenses that will magnify objects to larger-than-life status. These two lenses are more useful in real-world shooting, too, because they can be used outside their macro shooting focal range to give you the effect of a normal portrait or telephoto lens.
When you're buying any new lens, you have to take a few things into account -- will the lens fit your camera? If you're using a full-frame camera, from Canon's EF lens mount or Nikon's FX F-mount family, you're not able to use a smaller EF-S or DX F-mount lens. The reverse isn't true, though, with crop-sensor cameras fitting both their smaller lens family and the larger full-frame variant with no issues. Because of that, it's usually a good idea to buy a lens that fits a full-frame camera even if your camera is not a full-frame one, just in case you upgrade down the track. And, of course, you can buy as many lenses as you want, so you don't necessarily have to buy a more general-purpose one and work around its restrictions.
In-Camera Features: Time Lapse, Filters And Special-Effect Shooting Settings
Some newer cameras like the Nikon D7200 have unlimited continuous shooting that means you can capture a constant stream of long-exposure images (beyond four seconds' capture time) for as long as your camera's memory card and battery can manage; with a bit of effort in third-party photo editing software like Adobe's Photoshop or Photoshop Lightroom, or even a dedicated video creation application like Premiere, you can make an impressive time-lapse video simply by setting up your camera, switching on interval shooting mode and coming back a few hours later. A time-lapse video or series of photographs is a great way to bridge the gap between photography and videography -- and it will always look good with an interesting subject.
Even if you're just shooting a single photograph, you have a wealth of in-camera filters in almost every digital SLR from inexpensive entry-level ones upwards -- in fact, you'll find more of these creative features on a mid-range one than a high-end camera, which are usually more pared-back and professional-focused.
And, of course, you can use a program on your PC or Mac like Adobe Lightroom or Nikon's Capture NX-D to adjust a RAW file and get especially creative, like over- or under-saturating an image, blowing out highlights and raising exposure for that high-key look, or taking the opposite route and going for a shadowy, under-exposed photograph with crushed blacks to emphasise a mood or showcase a particularly stormy landscape.
You can also use your camera's shooting settings to your advantage to make sure that you're getting the best image for your creative requirements. If you want to emphasise a subject against its background, you'll want to shoot with as wide an aperture as possible -- this is the f/-number in your camera's shooting menu, and a smaller number means a wider aperture and a shallower depth of field, which translates into a smaller portion of your photograph being in perfect focus. If you want to create a smoothed, dreamy, calm effect on your photographs, you'll want to shoot with a slower shutter speed -- while keeping the camera itself steady -- to blur elements like the rustling leaves on a tree, or waves at the beach.
The Only Way To Learn Is To Try It Out Yourself
As much as you read about special effects lenses and in-camera filters, there's no substitute for actually trying it yourself! Once you've done a bit of research, looked at some photographs and watched a couple of YouTube videos explaining how best to get the effects you're after and how to use the equipment you're considering, there is no better way to make a buying decision than getting into a retail store -- whether it's a specialist camera retailer or a big-box electronics store -- and spending half an hour walking around and taking photographs. Shop around for the best prices, of course -- but having a camera in your hands in the first place is the thing to do.