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Best lens/settings for outdoor shots (high contrast) with 6D?


I have a 6D I'm just getting started with. When I get a perfect shot (perfect lighting, color saturation, depth of field, etc), I LOVE it! The trouble is, I'm not getting enough of them. Not capturing what my eye sees with good repeatablilty. I have the following lenses for it: The 70-300mm zoom that came with it; a 24-105mm; a 17-40mm ultra wide angle; and a 50mm 1.4 fixed (dumb impulse purchase that I haven't found too useful). I am planning a trip to our tulip festival, and there will be loads of colors and likely high contrast as it will be a mostly sunny day with some clouds. PERFECT, right? Except I find that many times, particularly on my full auto settings, I am not getting the exposures I want! The photos often turn out kinda washed out, without the full saturation I want. And sadly, I'm just not able to compensate for that with the photo editing software I have. As I said, I'm just a beginner and don't want to lug around a manual with me to read while trying to get a good shot, so...anyone have any quick and dirty advice for which of my lenses will be the best to use for distance vs closeup of the flowers, and what settings to use with it? Full auto vs A, AV, or full manual? And if I use full manual, what priority do I want to get the best saturation? Urgh, I hope this isn't too crazy wide-open of a question to be able to get good helpful responses, it's hard to know what to ask. I just want to get some really good, color-rich, good depth and texture photos without a lot of thinking, lol. Thanks! PS-- I'm thinking of selling my 50mm and maybe one of my other ones to get a different one with better ranges. Any suggestions? I tend to do a lot of wildlife and landscapes, if that's any help, and find sometimes that the 300mm doesn't cut it.

Thanks again!


@Suezgrrl wrote:

I'm just a beginner and don't want to lug around a manual with me to read while trying to get a good shot, so...

This is a bit off your main topic, but your remark about the manual caught my eye.


If you carry a laptop or tablet computer, and many do these days, you can download manuals for all your equipment from the Canon Web site. Then you'll have them with you wherever you go, without having to actually carry any additional weight. I still do it, and I hardly qualify as a beginner.  Smiley Wink

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA


This is an advanced topic of "exposure".  It's critically important that you understand all the concepts of "exposure" (if not, I might suggest the book "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson -- one of the most commonly recommended.)


HOWEVER... when shooting "landscape" photography, the amount of "dynamic range" in the shot is challenging for the camera.  It can usually easily grab things which are about 3 stops above and below the exposure that you set.   But many times landscapes go beyond.  Also... some elements of a landscape shot can be so overpowering that if you exposue to avoid blowing those parts out, the rest of the image seems underexposed.


There are a few techniques.  One has to do with how you select the exposure.


When shooting a landscape, you need to search for the brightest thing you can find in the exposure and also search for the darkest thing you can find int he exposure.    The camera needs to be set for an exposure half-way in between.  So... you'd set the camera to "manual" exposure, change the metering mode to "spot" metering, and then put the camera on the brightest "white" target you can find (the highlight of a bright puffy cloud) and take a reading.  Do the same with the darkest spot you can find, and take another reading.  You now know the "range" of the exposure.    If this range is only 5 or 6 stops apart... you're probably fine.  If not... time for a new technique...


When you need more range than a typical camera can handle, there are a few techniques.


One is to use something called a "gradient neutral density filter".  This is a rectangular-shaped filter which is tinted on one half and clear on the other half.  There's a holder/bracket that attaches to the end of your lens and you slide in the filter so that the "dark" part is toning down the sky and the clear part is over the land (which is typically not as bright).  This brings the exposure extremes closer together so that its no problem for the camera to capture the entire scene in just one shot.  Many (perhaps even most) of the very best and most dramatic landscpae shots you've seen were probably shot using such a filter.


Another technique is digital and involves taking multiple shots which are merged later.  The technique is called "HDR" for "High Dynamic Range".   You typically shoot at least 3 stots (but you might shoot several more... 5... 7... the "middle" exposure is the one that you set as I mentioned early.  The other shots are deliberately over-exposed or under-exposed.  The "underexposed" shots will capture highlights without them being blown out (over-exposed).  The "over-exposed" shots will capture the shadow details without them being clipped and lost in blackness.  The computer then merges these to create a combined image that appears to be very nicely exposed all throughout (there are some rather surreal looking HDR -- that's not the sort of thing I'm referring to.  Some of the best HDR is so natural in appearance that unless someone told you, you'd probably never guess it was an HDR image.)


This really is a matter of learning more about exposure and technique for landscape photography.  


The Lee Filters website has numerous tutorial videos on how to use their gradient neutral density filters (Lee is a high-end brand.  Cokin is a less costly brand -- but I don't think Cokin has videos on their website.)


You can also find numerous tutorial videos on how to use the HDR technique (there are lots and lots of these on YouTube.)


Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da


I'll keep it as simple as I can for you but to start GET OUT OF AUTO. If you don't understand all the controls & the why's fine start by using Program mode & learn about Exposure Compensation, which will be your friend. It sounds like you're shooting jpg's but if you switch to RAW + jpg you can learn some basic post processing in DPP that will allow you to modify the saturation & exposures when they are off a bit, BUT you can also increase Saturation in the menu of the Picture Style you've set for your jpg's

We have a Tulip Festival here in Ottawa but it's not for about a month but if I went I'd just use the 17-40 & 24-105 to do what I'd do but you may want a different perspective than me. If you want more control than P mode gives you then maybe Av mode is next up along with that 50 f1.4 which will allow nice shallow DOF to isolate a single bloom, but again Exposure Compensation can be your friend.

Please take the time to watch this until you have the basics in your head. It should help.

"A skill is developed through constant practice with a passion to improve, not bought."

Everything Cicopo said above about getting out of Auto and getting exposure right is good advice.

Also, in regards to washed out/under saturated images:

Backlit scenes.
If your subject is backlit and you let the camera do everything, it will underexpose and under saturate your subject, trying to make the overall scene average exposure. Deal by either adding positive exposure compensation, or by spot metering for your subject, both of which will blow out the background but expose the subject correctly. Or you can use a daytime flash for fill light.

Black clothing/black-ish scenes. UNDERexpose by 1-2 stops because your camera will meter black as grey and try to turn black grey, which will look washed out.
White clothing and snowy scenes. Same concept as above, but OVERexpose by 1-2 stops, because the camera will meter white as grey, giving you grey brides, grey snow, etc...

Use the lens hood. It can help saturate the images by reducing glare/flare from angled/side lighting. It also protects the lens.

Work on post processing technique, and consider upgrading to a top tier program like Lightroom (easy), or Photoshop Elements (a bit tougher).

Canon 5d mk 4, Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS mk2; EF 16-35 f/2.8 L mk. III; Sigma 35mm f/1.4 "Art" EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro; EF 85mm f/1.8; EF 1.4x extender mk. 3; EF 24-105 f/4 L; EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS; 3x Phottix Mitros+ speedlites

Why do so many people say "FER-tographer"? Do they take "fertographs"?

Thanks everyone for the great, in-depth answers! Probably more than I understand at this point, but I get the part about getting out of auto--which helped a lot. I don't really know how to change settings on sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone on my camera yet. Today I used AV setting with my 24-105 and ISO 100. Haven't had a chance to peek at them on the computer yet, but I tested these settings on stuff in my yard before I left and they seemed like I should get good results. Thanks again!

Last year I was in the city and come across a huge tulip garden at a large company entrance.  I had my 1D Mk III with a Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens.

Is this what you want? 




The Mk III was set to P, for professional of courseSmiley Happy

f4.5, 1/1000, ISO-100 and 85mm focal length.  This was just a quick snapshot because they were so beautiful.  No thought given to it.  You need to enjoy these moments not worry about canera settings or manuals.


If I were you and just wanted to have fun and get some great shots I would set your 60D to P  (for professional Smiley Happy).  Use your 24-105mm f4.

Set the ISO to 100 or 200.  BTW, sunny and cloudy can be a problem.  Most photogrphers hate direct or overhead Sun.


Above all you need to enjoy the beauty of the flowers with a friend, your camera.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!


FIrst of all, it takes time to learn how to use a complex camera system well, so don't beat up on yourself a lot or give up on the gear you already have too quickly. Keep taking lots of photos, analyzing them and how you might have made them better. All cameras and lenses have their ideal uses and limits, it's just a matter of learning them and there's no substitute for experience. Get the book "Understanding Exposure"  by Bryan Peterson and read it, study it, learn it. That's the best single book every semi-serious to serious photographer who wants to improve their skills should read.... Might turn out to be the best $18 you ever spend on your photography. 


The various exposure modes each have their uses. I see some people suggest using M (manual) only... but that's slower and limiting and there are times it will prevent you from "getting the shot". Av (aperture priority), Tv (shutter priority) and even P (program) all have their uses. I like to set my camera to M and forget it, but that's really only possible when lighting is very steady and consistent or I have time to carefully set up each shot.


Much of the time I have to use Av or Tv because of variable lighting conditions. This can be because of intermittent clouds changing the intensity of light itself, or because I'm trying to capture shots of a subject that's moving in and out of different lighting. I tend to use Program when I just need a quick shot in different light than I've been working, and don't have time to calculate my exposure and am not very concerned about depth of field (aperture) or freezing or blurring subject movement (shutter speed). All three of these auto exposure modes (as Canon calls them) require experience with and knowledge of how subject tonality effects the camera's reflective metering system and how to use Exposure Compensation to correct for it.


There's a "tool" built right into your camera that can help you learn about the exposure controls and how your choices with them effect your images.... On the top dial there's a "CA" setting, which is a great learning tool that will give you feedback on the LCD screen about your settings. This might take the place of carrying around the manual and consulting it before each shot. Try it!


Personally I don't use the "SCN" or "Green Box/A+" modes, both of which are super auto exposure... That dictate a lot more camera settings than just exposure. These also limit focus modes, file types, color rendition, and more. Av, Tv, P are plenty of automation for me.


A lot of your questions seem to be about lighting. If you ever watch a movie being shot or a pro making still portraits or macro shots, you are likely to see them using some sort of light modifiers.... reflectors to "bounce" more light onto a subject, fill flash to open up shadows, flags to block light, diffusers to reduce contrast and more. Monte Zucker was a master portrait photographer who specialized in available light (no flash) and made use of what he found on location and modifiers such as these... even invented a few of them. These are tools that you might use, or you can learn to look for similarly "ideal" lighting that's naturally occuring and will give you the effects you want.  For example, if shooting close-ups and macro shots of flowers, insects and such, I often look for light shade to work in... or pray for a moderately overcast day (all too rare here in Calif.). Same can be done with portraits and many other types of photography.


To get great color in your images, you should get set up for and learn to do a Custom White Balance. This will insure optimal color in a wide variety of situations. Auto White Balance is very usable, especially in full sun. However, shade or indoors/artificial lighting comes in a wide spectrum of colors and can challenge AWB, or you might prefer it be rendered differently than the auto mode will do. There are a bunch of "preset" White Balance you might use - flash, tungsten, shade, etc. - but setting a Custom WB can very often  give more accurate results. There are WB targets (usually white or neutral gray) that can be used to quickly set up a Custom WB simply by taking a test shot and telling the camera "this is what you should use"  to set WB. There are even "warm cards", which are lightly tinted to cause slight bias toward a little warmer looking image, or in some cases cooler.   


Shooting digitally, a lot of what you want to do can be, or might would even be better accomplished in post-processing..., i.e. at your computer at home. Today with digital photography we all are essentially our own "photo labs", too. More to learn, I'm afraid. There are various image editing and optimization softwares, as well as very helpful things like graphics quality computer monitors and calibration devices. It's hard to take your images to their "best" without some additional "development" at your computer. Shoot RAW for the maximum ability to make adjusments to your images in post-processing. This includes the ability to change White Balance quite freely. But a RAW file is sort of like a negative from the days of film... taking the shot is just the first step, the post-processing is necessary and an important part of creating the final image. (Note: Shooting RAW + JPEG is a good learning tool.... once you can make finished images from your RAW files that are better than JPEGs it's producing itself, you can stop shooting JPEGs at all.)


Sorry, but you aren't going to be able to do this "without a lot of thinking" Smiley Frustrated


However, over time you will find that working with your camera and lenses... as well as everything else that's part of the process... becomes easier and eventually a lot of it will be second-nature. You'll need to do a lot of practice and study at first... and may feel overwhelmed at times. But gradually and eventually you'll  realize that you know exactly what to do to get the images you want in many different situations. Don't be too quick to change or add more gear, because that just means starting some of the learning process over again.


With respect to wildlife photography, yes a 300mm lens on a 6D may not be enough reach a lot of the time. You have several possible solutions: get a longer focal length lens (Canon 400/5.6L is reasonably priced and quite good, but lacks IS so plan on using a tripod or at least  a monopod... Canon 500/4L IS is fantastic, but pretty expensive and quite large... think "tripod only").... Or, get a crop sensor camera (70D for example) to complement your full frame camera. The 300mm will "act like" a longer focal length, when used on a crop sensor camera.


Be warned, though, small wildlife, birds and such, there is no such thing as a "long enough" telephoto. If you have 300mm, you'll want 400mm.... But once you get that 400mm, you'll want a 500mm, etc., etc. Eventually the lenses get very pricey and large, hard to hold steady and even shooting through a lot of atmosphere will reduce image quality. So other solutions you'll probably want to learn inlude stalking skills, use of blinds, calls, decoys, baits to bring subjects closer.  


A lot of patience is needed too. There are times the subject is just too far away and all you can do is sit back and enjoy the show, hoping they'll come closer. Sometimes I've spent weeks or even months acclimating animals to allow me to approach close enough to get the shots I want (Canon EF 135/2L lens on Canon 7D)...


Valley Coyote 


Other times I've found locations where the critters are already relatively accustomed to people and will let me get close (EF 300/4 IS USM lens on 7D)...


Hey Mom!


Hunger sometimes  outweighs shyness and fear, too (EF 300/4L IS USM on 7D)...


Waxwing lunch


While some wildlife could care less about you and may even give you repeated opportunities to get a good shot of them (EF 300/4L IS USM lens on 5D MkII)...


Redtail flyby


Hope this helps!


Alan Myers

San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7D(x2), 50D(x3), some other cameras, various lenses & accessories








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