FOCUS ON: EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

March 11, 2011

Are great images a product of the photographer, or their camera equipment? This series (formerly known as "Lens of the Month") explores the idea that it's BOTH: Featuring a professional photographer and a single Canon lens, the Canon Digital Learning Center focuses on the relationship that artists can have with their gear.

Canon Digital Learning Center (CDLC): What type of photography do you do, professionally? What field(s) do you prefer for personal projects/as a hobby?

Ric Peterson (RP): I began my professional career in 1980 shooting weddings and portraiture. In 1984, I opened my first commercial studio shooting primarily fashion. I kept pushing the boundaries of my comfort level in shooting styles and became known as a table top photographer as well. For a few years I had a number of architectural clients as well.

Today in Seattle, I am a generalist; or as I prefer to say a serial specialist. I photograph people and products. I really enjoy the balance. I love photographing people, working with a crew on a catalog or campaign. Also, I love the Morelevel of control, lighting and composition I have when photographing product and still life work. I shoot very tight, small hard to light objects, medical devices, jewelry, macro work, as well as soft lines, clothing on and off figure, software, coffee, and products as large as trucks.

Years ago, I did a lot of projects with light painting techniques. Worked really beautifully on the Rollerblade account shooting table top product images. I had a shoot for a band equipment company, cabinets for band rooms, chairs and music stands, stage risers etc.

We set up an entire band room complete with staging and sound walls in the studio, and I decided it should be a lit with light painting for a very dramatic image. Well, the total exposure time needed for me to light paint this entire set was over two hours. In the end it was a beautiful image, but really took a toll on my crew and profit margins.

My personal projects are diversified as well. Portraiture is still one of my favorite areas to shoot. In addition I love getting into the back country, I love hiking, camping, backpacking, kayaking and canoeing. Here the northwest is fabulous for nature and landscape work. I can be on a mountain in less than an hour; I live on an island so the Puget sound is immediate, the Pacific Ocean and the coast is less than 2 hours away. I spend a lot of time alone or with other photographers hiking, photographing the natural world, all year round. My equipment needs to be sturdy, dependable, and rain resistant. Many days I’m shooting from my kayak in the morning and shooting table top beauty images in the studio with the same lenses in the afternoon. Lately, I’ve been working on a body of work “Industrial Landscapes”. I have been shooting our impact on nature along the industrial core, the rivers, harbors, ship yards, loggers and forests here in the Pacific Northwest.

CDLC: What are the most important features you need in the lenses you use professionally? What about personal work (if there is a difference)?

RP:It is always first and foremost about the glass. The lens must be crisp and sharp, without light fall off at the corners and minimal chromatic aberration. I use auto focus a lot these days, and love image stabilization when I’m hand holding. I still shoot quite a bit from a tripod and learned early on you must turn off image stabilization if the camera is mounted on a tripod. Fast lenses are great, but it’s not that often I must shoot hand held in low light conditions. I have a couple fast lenses; I rent them if I really need them for a project. It’s great to have a professional resource like Glazers rentals here in Seattle.

Durability is really important to me. Over the past three years I shot over 30,000 images with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens alone. These range from images in the studio, to being few days into the backcountry in a canyon or on a mountain. I don’t pamper my equipment, but I try really hard not to abuse it.

Flexibility and multiple uses are very important to me as a professional photographer. It’s great to have the best latest equipment, but more importantly I must get a reasonable rate of return on my equipment purchases. A great lens sitting in a cabinet in the studio for months and months is not earning it’s keep for my business. While it’s great to cherish a beautiful specialty lens, as an entrepreneur especially in difficult economic times my capital investments for my business need to provide a benefit or advantage to my operations and assignments.

For my personal work, I try to carry as little gear as possible. I love the quality and versatility I can get with Canon Zoom lenses today. I have great coverage in my backpack with a few lenses and couple camera bodies. When I’m shooting from my kayak, I take one camera body and two lenses, the 24-105mm and the EF 100-400mm f/4L IS USM lens. Frequently, especially if I’m photographing wildlife I’ll bring the 1.4 teleconvertor as well.
While I used to shoot prime lenses primarily, with the quality and flexibility available today from zoom lenses, I am shooting them more and more every day.

CDLC: What is your favorite Canon lens and why?

RP:I’m not sure I can pick a single favorite lens. It really depends on the context. What am I shooting, what is the environment I’m in, what kind of support do I have on the shoot, am I carrying lots of extra back up equipment, what is the end result I want to achieve from the image. That said, the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM is my most frequently used lens. It has a focal range that really fits well for my shooting style with people, products and landscape images. I do not even carry a normal prime lens anymore. I use the 24-105mm as my normal lens.

On a shoot it’s wonderful to be able to get in close and interact with my subject shooting with the wide angle focal length. Also, zooming in for details, or backing off from the subject and shooting a longer focal length gives me greater control of the background, depth of field and simplifies the image on the primary subject. This lens is a working tool that covers the bulk of my shooting needs. If I need a wider angle, a longer telephoto, a macro lens, or a tilt shift lens, I use them. It is the 24-105mm that stays attached to my camera body and I change lenses only when needed for the shot.

CDLC: If the lens you used this month is one of your favorites, what is it about the lens that you love?

RP:I love this lens because it is sharp, focuses quickly; fits well in my hands, features such as turning on/off auto focus are easy to reach and placed well so I don’t need to look at the lens to make adjustments. The focal range of this lens is fantastic for covering the majority of my assignments. With my portrait work I almost always start with or use a focal length somewhere between 85-105mm. This is just what works for me for headshots, and working with a subject. However, I am moving in, shooting tighter with a wider angle more and more.

For example, the image of woman on red steps was shot at 32mm. The focal length really adds some drama to this image for me.

CDLC:What types of assignments do you think this lens will really excel at, and why?

RP:This lens is ideal for editorial, event, and portrait assignments. The flexibility of the wider angle is nice for group images, or images where the environment surrounding the subject is needed, and you also have the telephoto end for an individual portrait or headshots. The 24-105mm capability is a fabulous composition tool on any camera.

CDLC:What, if any, challenges did you experience working with the lens?

RP:Occasionally, I wish this lens was faster than f/4. I do switch to my 70-200mm f/2.8 when shooting portrait assignments, especially late in the day or in low light situations. However, I also use this lens in low light on tripods with good results. Cameras with faster ISOs and low noise in the shadows, like the EOS 5D Mark II, make this less of an issue. But this is not the fastest lens, and sometimes that extra f-stop or two does make a difference.

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