Five days with a DSLR. What to shoot?
January 7, 2013 10:14 AM   Subscribe

I am renting a DSLR camera for five days. If you were doing this, what would you shoot?

I will have the camera for five days along with a 50mm lens and an intervalometer. Unfortunately, I won't have access to other lenses. I am located in Boston but can travel to Rhode Island, southern New Hampshire, and Cape Cod. I have limited ability to bother my family members, but the rental will include a weekend.

I am not a brand-new photographer. I am not concerned about issues like learning my way around the menus, nor with pixel-peeping or staging comparisons to equipment I already own. I'm looking at this as a "photographic vacation." Imagine you're a millionaire shopping for a summer home, so you rent a cottage somewhere to try out the area. What sort of things would you do, to get a feel for the area? That's how I'm thinking about this.

Thanks in advance for your ideas!
posted by cribcage to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If it was me, I'd try and photograph places that meant a lot to me, and capture them in such a way as to emphasise how they made me feel.

I'd also consider trying to take amazing portraits of a few people close to me, both for myself, and possibly for future gifts, either for them or other people close to them!

I'm not sure if that's the sort of answer you need for your purposes, but I hope you get some great shots :)
posted by greenish at 10:25 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: I guess it kind of depends on what body you're renting and what you like to shoot. For instance, if you're renting a Canon 5D Mark III (or II), the low-light performance is really phenomenal, and you might want to try shooting some street stuff at night using streetlamps and signs as the only illumination (particularly if you're renting a 1.2 or 1.4 50mm). If you're renting one of the big pro workhorses, like a 1dX or equivalent Nikon, those are really built on their focusing and frame rate, so you could try getting out to some of the car tracks or shoot some indoor sports.

Since you're renting an intervalometer, you can do some great time lapse stuff--like 24 hours in the life of your favorite window. It won't be great this time of year because daylight is so short, but it can be lots of fun. I did this off my balcony when I lived by North Station, looking at the Customs House--came out great.

Also, it can be a lot of fun to do night photography using an intervalometer as a shutter release. This is a great book to check out on the subject.

And, again, it depends on what you like to shoot. If you're not into street stuff, that's fine, but a 50mm (on a full frame body) is supposedly the focal length most equivalent to the human field of vision; it's fun to use it to capture the everyday. But it's also good for portraits. Is that your thing? Obviously, it won't be much good in wildlife photography, but who knows, you may find a friendly moose.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:28 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: 50mm isn't the lens I would opt for first, but I would go down to some of the area's better known summer spots and do an off-season study: the Cape (Nat'l Seashore, especially), Walden, the Vineyard, RI beaches, etc. The Cape off season can be beautifully desolate, especially with snow. Also, Mt. Washington could be interesting with the intervalometer--or deadly--if there's weather.

Or a winter study of Boston's beautiful cemeteries? My personal recommendation would be Forest Hills, or Cambridge's Mt. Auburn.

Last recommendation would be time lapse "portraits" on the subway platforms. That would take advantage of both the 50mm, the intervalometer, and the relative warmth of being indoors.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:32 AM on January 7, 2013

Response by poster: I am renting a Canon 5D Mark III with a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens. And yes, the reason I chose 50mm is because it best matches my typical shooting style.

Thanks for the answers so far!
posted by cribcage at 10:36 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: If you're wanting to get a feel for the camera's performance, try shooting the same area at different times of day. That will give you a decent idea of how it handles different kinds of light. Plus, having shots of the same location but with different light can make for some interesting triptychs/diptychs as your end product.
posted by agentmitten at 10:39 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: If this is a "try before you buy" type situation, you will most likely be thinking about different/additional lenses in the future. So with that in mind I'd say get a feel for the depth-of-field of the 50mm lens. Is it an f/1.8 or thereabouts? Then be sure to get some close-ups at different apertures to get a good sense of the focus depth.

Also, if it the camera has anything smaller than a full-frame sensor, be advised that a 50mm lens will have a narrower field of view and feel a bit more tele than it would on a full-frame camera.

If I understand correctly that you will be already comfortable operating a camera, I feel the lens will be a larger part of what you're auditioning than the camera itself. So I'd say adjust your subject matter accordingly, and be sure to get a wide variety of subjects: portraits, landscapes or cityscapes, urban scenes, close-ups of various things, and so on.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, I would not shy away from well-covered subjects, precisely because you will already have a very good idea of what a photo of those "should" look like. This can be a useful reference point for how well your camera/lens combo works for similar shots. If that means taking a hundred shots of the Old State House like a tourist, they might not be very exciting snapshots for you but it might prove to be a useful exercise.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:41 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: Ah, that one's full-frame, so a 50mm should behave more like you'd expect.

Maybe also shoot some video? If you think you wouldn't use it for that it might still be worth it, because you might want to in the future anyway. The Canons are very good at it.

And yes, given the combination of a full-frame sensor + an f/1.4 lens, definitely get some low-light shots.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:46 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: Night pictures, open shutter, leave it on a tripod/solid surface. take pictures of cars headlights
posted by sandmanwv at 10:50 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: Being in Boston and having access to an intervalometer, you could do a lot worse than going to a high foot and car traffic area, and let the intervalometer spin for a while. Get a series of shots you could bring together into a really nice time-lapse of the hustle and bustle of the city.
posted by ASoze at 10:52 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: My comment above still stands--but I wanted to put a pitch in for renting the 40mm 2.8 pancake. Obviously, it's a bit wider than the 50 and a stop slower, but optically it's great, and is very unobtrusive if you like street shooting.

I have a Mark III and you can really push the ISO. On my Mark II, I'd stop at 3200, but on the Mark III, you get the same quality at 10K+, so you may not find you desperately need the extra stop at 1.4.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:27 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: I'd shoot mostly street stuff in low light, but then I love taking pictures of lushes in bars and sleepers on subways. 50mm to me is mostly human scale stuff, so with the speed of that lens and the body, I'd go hunting for streetlights on snowy bodies, that sort of thing.
posted by klangklangston at 12:59 PM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: I have the same camera, and Canon's 50/1.4 lens. Coming from film/darkroom to digital point & shoots and on to the Mark III, here's what I recommend:
- read this, just to get things moving in your brain
- really have fun and get relaxed with shooting at higher ISOs, especially with nighttime shots pushed a stop or two
- intervalometer? Awesome! Shoot at high frame rates and make your own awesome gifs!
- futz with assigning functions to the custom buttons, especially for focus and exposure locks. Shoot at 1.4 or 1.8. Or hell, even at f/8. In the middle on the night
- get a nice circular polarizer, shoot RAW, and shoot tons of shots. Enjoy period after returning the gear nerding out in Lightroom
- enable silent shooting mode. Find bear. Take photos.
posted by herrdoktor at 5:43 PM on January 7, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks to everybody for your ideas. This was a helpful thread, and I'm sure I will return to it for inspiration just generally, even without a rental on my desk.

I shipped the camera back today. The rental period was productive. I shot some (I think) great photos, but also I got a sense of the camera and I feel better equipped to make a purchase decision now. Based on my experience over five days, I would recommend renting to other prospective buyers. If anyone is curious, I rented from and the process was simple.

I've marked every response as "Best" because I really did appreciate them all, and although that sometimes makes for visual clutter this is a short thread so I didn't think anybody would mind. Thanks again!
posted by cribcage at 7:12 PM on January 14, 2013

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