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Thread: Which lens good for what?

  1. #1
    ClaudioG's Avatar
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    Which lens good for what?

    Hi all...i'm very new to photography and im trying to read as much as i can to get all the knowledge i can. What im struggling to figure out is which lens to use when. I have a Nikon D5100 and i got 3 kit lenses with it..i know they not the best but a good starting point for me. I have the a 18-55 vr lens..55-200 and then a 35mm prime lens. Now, I'm guessing i could use the 18-55 for sort of wide angle lens at the 18mm end? and maybe the rest as a walk around lens? 55-200 maybe for nature and sort of portraits at its 200mm end? I read it could give good results for portraits? and the 35 mm lens? That one just stumps me... iused it close up and quick with my dogs, i quite liked the pics and the lens seemed quite fast to..its also good in low light..but can i use it for portraits? I know its alot of questions, but any help is appreciated.

    thank you!!

  2. #2
    dubaiphil's Avatar
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    Re: Which lens good for what?

    The conundrum of lots of lenses and not knowing what to use for what.

    The answer probably is to stick to one lens for a day or two and see what you can shoot with it. Then switch to the next. And so on.

    The 18-55mm is a good focal range for a general walkabout lens. You'll be able to get wide enough for cityscapes and group shots indoors, but have enough length for portraits etc.

    The 55-200mm will allow you to isolate a subject more for portraits and get more separation from the background, or pop. You'll need more distance from the subject to do this though. You'll also need faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake, so you will need better light, higher ISO or both (I'd recommend setting your Auto ISO to ON, with a minimum shutter speed of 1/200th - 1/320th and a maximum ISO of 3200-6400, and you should get plenty of 'keepers'. Anything that's more distant, then that's your option. Longer focal lengths 'compress' and 'flatten' the image, making more distant objects seem closer, while shorter focal lengths give more depth to an image. Creatively you can use longer focal lengths for landscapes - just because you're shooting a landscape don't think you automatically need 18mm - this will potentially give you a lot of empty foreground and very small distant points of interest in your images.

    The 35mm prime - ah, that discussion again! It's an OK focal length for portraits, is the sharpest lens of the 3, and lets you get to f1.8. This will give you options that the other lenses cannot:

    Shallower Depth of Field
    Shooting in lower light without resorting to flash

    You'll have to be careful on your focusing at f1.8 to f.2.8, especially up close, and you'll have to watch your shutter speeds again. 1/30th second will be OK handheld for static subjects, but you'll need 1/80th-1/100th to freeze motion of people. Again, a good option while you're learning could be to set Auto ISO to ON, with a min shutter speed of 1/30th or 1/100th depending on what you're shooting and see how you get on. It's considered a good focal length as a starting point for prime lenses, and could be good as a walkabout lens if you're shooting in the evenings/very early mornings.

  3. #3
    ClaudioG's Avatar
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    Re: Which lens good for what?

    Thats fantastic information thank you. As a beginner, will i still get good pictures from setting to aperture priority and setting ISO to Auto? i understand if i want different effects especially in lower light i"ll probably set the ISO myself..but is auto ISO(on) alright for the moment while i'm learning?

    Thanks to both of you for the info..i see the general idea is to get out there and PLAY!!

  4. #4
    dubaiphil's Avatar
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    Re: Which lens good for what?

    For all my street photography, and anywhere where light levels change, then 90% of the time I'm using Aperture priority mode and Auto ISO. It's a useful feature that helps insure that you don't miss a shot. As long as you watch the minimum shutter speed you're using.

    You don't have the instant and complete control of the exposure that you do in full manual mode, but exposure compensation can be quickly dialed in if required.

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    Re: Which lens good for what?

    Quote Originally Posted by dubaiphil View Post
    The conundrum of lots of lenses and not knowing what to use for what.

    The answer probably is to stick to one lens for a day or two and see what you can shoot with it. Then switch to the next. And so on.

    The 18-55mm is a good focal range for a general walkabout lens. You'll be able to get wide enough for cityscapes and group shots indoors, but have enough length for portraits etc.

    The 55-200mm will allow you to isolate a subject more for portraits and get more separation from the background, or pop. You'll need more distance from the subject to do this though. You'll also need faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake, so you will need better light, higher ISO or both (I'd recommend setting your Auto ISO to ON, with a minimum shutter speed of 1/200th - 1/320th and a maximum ISO of 3200-6400, and you should get plenty of 'keepers'. Anything that's more distant, then that's your option. Longer focal lengths 'compress' and 'flatten' the image, making more distant objects seem closer, while shorter focal lengths give more depth to an image. Creatively you can use longer focal lengths for landscapes - just because you're shooting a landscape don't think you automatically need 18mm - this will potentially give you a lot of empty foreground and very small distant points of interest in your images.

    The 35mm prime - ah, that discussion again! It's an OK focal length for portraits, is the sharpest lens of the 3, and lets you get to f1.8. This will give you options that the other lenses cannot:

    Shallower Depth of Field
    Shooting in lower light without resorting to flash

    You'll have to be careful on your focusing at f1.8 to f.2.8, especially up close, and you'll have to watch your shutter speeds again. 1/30th second will be OK handheld for static subjects, but you'll need 1/80th-1/100th to freeze motion of people. Again, a good option while you're learning could be to set Auto ISO to ON, with a min shutter speed of 1/30th or 1/100th depending on what you're shooting and see how you get on. It's considered a good focal length as a starting point for prime lenses, and could be good as a walkabout lens if you're shooting in the evenings/very early mornings.
    Very informative reply. And it addresses Claudio's question about his 3 lenses. Specifically, 18-55; 55-200mm and his 35mm. With helpful suggestions about f-stops, focal length, iso, shutter speeds, focusing, distances/etc.

    Hope Claudio got some ideas from Phil.
    { I sure did! }

    Thanks

  6. #6
    ClaudioG's Avatar
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    Re: Which lens good for what?

    Hi Victor..yeh its a great answer, very informative. Much appreciated all!!

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    Re: Which lens good for what?

    There's really no mystery to lenses. The way I take a photograph is to find what I want to take a picture of and start walking. When I find the place that I want to stand to take the photo (technically referred to as the "perspective'), I get out my camera and determine how I want to frame the photo. The focal length that gives me the framing that I want from the place that I am standing is the right focal length. People find all this mysterious when they start with the lens and ask, "Now, how do I get a photo from this?" You've just asked the question the wrong way around, that's all.

  8. #8
    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Which lens good for what?

    Hi Claudio - I own all three lenses. I picked up the 18-55mm when I bought my D90 four years ago and acquired the 55-200mm a few months later and bought the 35mm about 3 years ago. When I compare the results I get with the two zooms against what my wife gets with her 18-200mm lens, the results are actually a bit better. That being said, they weigh very little and were quite inexpensive. On the downside, with their plastic lens mount, the construction is not particularly robust.

    Phil has given you a fairly comprehensive overview, and I agree with what he has written. I probably shoot with the 18-55mm about 75% of the time, use the 55-200mm around 20% of the time and the 35mm gets used less than 5% of the time. Because of the plastic lens mount, I don't like leaving either of the two zooms mounted when I travel, so I put on the 35mm because it is more robust and it is almost used as a body cap, rather than a lens most of the time. If something comes up, I do have a reasonably good lens waiting to be used (there are other speciality purposes I use it for as well).

    The 18-55mm is a nice mid-range zoom that covers a lot of the shooting range that I normally work at. Anything from architecture, to landscape work and at the long end of the range, you are getting into portrait range, especially if you are doing group shots or 3/4 shots.

    The 55-200mm is a reasonable medium telephoto lens so I use it to zoom in on architectural details, some wildlife shots and portraiture, especially head shots. The lens at the medium to longer focal lengths flattens things out nicely and does not distort facial features, especially the nose.

    The 35mm lens is best described as a reasonably fast "normal" lens. This means it has a focal length that gives roughly the same perspective as the human eye. Being f/1.8, this means you can get reasonably shallow depth of field. I tend to use it as my street photography lens, i.e. walking about in downtown areas to get people shots. It is okay for some portrait work, but more the environmental portraiture type work. It is also a good lens to use for night photography; I have no issues shooting it wide open so that I can shoot at lower ISO settings to reduce sensor noise.

    I am someone who disables the auto-ISO function on my camera. I tend to want to preset the ISO I will be working at because all sensors have the highest dynamic range and lowest sensor noise at the lowest ISO setting. That doesn't mean I shoot just at ISO 200, but tend to stay below ISO 800 if I can. Probably 80% of my shots are done at aperture priority, as I like shallower depth of field shots where the background is nicely out of focus for pretty well all my shooting other than landscape or cityscape work. For portraiture I tend to shoot between f/5.6 - f/11 (smaller aperture numbers when I am standing farther away and larger ones when I am closer to the subject).

    I probably shoot a good 80% - 90% of my shots using aperture priority and the rest with shutter priority. I do shoot totally manually as well, but these only under very specific lighting conditions. I pretty well always shoot jpeg + RAW and always do some post-processing on any images that are posted on the internet, go into slide shows or are printed. I tend to use auto colour balance but might flip into one of the other modes, especially custom white balance. If doing sunrise shots I will flip around the white balance settings to see which ones are most pleasing.

    My work-flow for shooting is as follows:

    1. Select the ISO I will be using;

    2. Determine if I want to shot for a specific depth of field (DoF) , where I will go with aperture priority mode or I want to do something motion; either to freeze it or blur it (shutter priority). I will set the camera into the correct model and then select either the aperture or shutter speed I am going to shoot with.

    3. I will check the exposure on the first shot of a series using the histogram display to judge my exposure.
    Last edited by GrumpyDiver; 13th March 2013 at 03:03 PM.

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    ClaudioG's Avatar
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    Re: Which lens good for what?

    Great advice Manfred thank you..Its especially helpful that you put your work flow as well..it was about to be my next question...I'm just wondering now..u put ISO as your first step.. What makes u decide at what settings to put it at? Is it all going to depend on what end of the lens you'll be using, for example the 200mm end you would use a higher ISO to prevent camera shake? Does lighting pllay a role..and finally..last question I promise...do u have certain work flows depending on what you'll be shooting, if so..could I push my luck for examples?

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    How I use a telephoto zoom...

    Let me give an idea of how I use a tele zoom lens. In my case a 70-200mm f/4L IS. Many photographers restrict their use of longer focal lenses to sports and wildlife but, I carry my 70-200mm lens on every trip I make and use it in conjunction with the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens for just about every type of photography...

    I use it to achieve very shallow selective depth of field...

    Which lens good for what?

    To shoot people without them being aware of my camera and thus looking natural...

    Which lens good for what?

    For cropping in the camera. "Zooming with your feet" is not always possible...

    Which lens good for what?

    Isolating portions of landscapes

    Which lens good for what?

    Shooting stage shows. I elect to shoot at times with the least subject movement

    Which lens good for what?

    To compress distances

    Which lens good for what?

    For people portraits

    Which lens good for what?

    For dog portraits...

    Which lens good for what?

    For zoo pictures

    Which lens good for what?

    And for action shots

    Which lens good for what?

    I generally use my 70-200mm f/4L IS lens for at least 1/3 of all my photography and all of my portraiture. I like a longer focal length for people and dog photography because, IMO, it provides a more flattering perspective..

    I often begin shooting at ISO 160 if the conditions are bright, however when I know that I am going to shoot fast moving subjects, I will start out at ISO 320 or 400. In lower light levels, I will begin with ISO 320 or 400 and increase my ISO if I need a faster shutter speed or a smaller f/stop or both. Although auto ISO is a valid way of shooting; I have just not gotten used to operating that way.

    I constantly monitor my ISO and use the lowest ISO comensurate with a shutter speed to stop camera shake (IS really helps) and subject movement (selecting to shoot at the peak of the action or when the subject/subjects are moving the least is a valuable technique).

    I personally like Programmed exposure for many of my shots but, don't just leave that exposure as the camera selected. I monitor my exposure and change f/stop and aperture as needed and also add or subtract exposure when required. My cameras like the 40D and 7D make it very easy to monitor exposure and adjust exposure while shooting. I also have no qualms about shooting with auto exposure bracketing in chancy exposure situations.

    IMO, it is the final resulting image rather than how it was obtained that marks a good photographer.

    A general rule of thumb is that you should use at least the reciprocal of your focal length (multiplied by the crop factor) as your shutter speed. As an example, if I am shooting at 200mm, I might need at least 1/320 scond to mainain sharp imagery. However using Image Stabilization, I can get down to 1/60 second without problems from camera shake.

    IS will not freeze subject motion but, shooting a the peak of action or when a moving subject is approaching the camera or going away from the camera will allow a sharper capture at a slower shutter speed. Back in the days before cameras had gazillion ISO capabilities; that was a normal way of shooting...

    Since I carry my 70-200mm lens everywhere and use it for such a variety of imagery; I selected the f/4L IS verson of this lens because of the lighter weight than the f/2.8 (series). The IS capablity also allows me to get sharper hand-held imagery in lower light levels.

    You should be able to use your 55-250mm lens for many if not all of the above types of shots.
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 13th March 2013 at 07:06 PM. Reason: Added material

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    ClaudioG's Avatar
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    Re: How I use a telephoto zoom...

    I have copied and stored all this info on my VERY IMPORTANT PHOTO STUFF on my computer . This is great stuff and i'm getting the exact answers i need. THANK YOU ALL!! . One more thing....when its comes to metering? Which is a good option to set to and when? I believe Center weighted better for portraits...but if im zooming in to the 200mm does that affect my choice on metering.

    Sorry guys... I can only imagine how behind i sound by these questions. I just would like to hear it in english like you're all explaining instead of French and Japanese like in my books..think some throw in chemistry to

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: How I use a telephoto zoom...

    Quote Originally Posted by ClaudioG View Post
    Great advice Manfred thank you..Its especially helpful that you put your work flow as well..it was about to be my next question...I'm just wondering now..u put ISO as your first step.. What makes u decide at what settings to put it at? Is it all going to depend on what end of the lens you'll be using, for example the 200mm end you would use a higher ISO to prevent camera shake? Does lighting pllay a role..and finally..last question I promise...do u have certain work flows depending on what you'll be shooting, if so..could I push my luck for examples?
    I want to be a bit careful in what I write here, because there really is no right or wrong answer. We are dealing with compositional elements and everyone is going to look at subject matter slightly differently. Whatever shooting decisions you make will be based on some trade-offs; for instance, shooting wide open will give you the narrowest depth of field (and nicely out of focus backgrounds), but you will be shooting at a point where your lenses performance is not peak.

    Quote Originally Posted by ClaudioG View Post
    Is it all going to depend on what end of the lens you'll be using, for example the 200mm end you would use a higher ISO to prevent camera shake
    As per what I said before, I will try to shoot with the lowest ISO I can get away with on my camera because it gives me the best sensor performance; lower noise and higher dynamic range. In good lighting, can usually shoot at ISO 100 (on my D800) or ISO 200 (on my D90), even at a 200mm setting. With VR I have no problem handholding at 200mm at 1/100 sec; if I am worried, I can either use a tripod for a stationary subject or if I am getting into a range where I am a bit worried about movement, I will select a higher ISO. I try to stay at or below ISO 800 whenever I can, but frankly the performance of the D800 is fine at ISO 1600 and 3200, especially if I use some noise reduction in post-processing.

    Yes, the lens does matter as it is easier to handhold a sharp image with a wide angle lens. Shoot with an ultra-wide angle lens and you will find pretty well everything will be reasonably sharp because of this and very large DoF

    In general, I shoot fairly wide open for most scenes that are not landscapes of cityscapes as a compositional tool. By blurring the background, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the subject. This gives me a bit of headroom on the ISO side.

    Quote Originally Posted by ClaudioG View Post
    Does lighting pllay a role?

    Lighting is what photography is all about. Lighting has a key role and trying to figure out how to get an acceptable picture will be dependent on the lighting conditions.

    Let me show you an example. The first shot is a “scouting” shot where I was looking for interesting places to shot and was taken late morning:


    Which lens good for what?



    This is the shot I went back for at sunset:

    Which lens good for what?


    Quote Originally Posted by ClaudioG View Post
    do u have certain work flows depending on what you'll be shooting, if so..could I push my luck for examples?
    I would say there are common elements to my workflow, but these do vary by the type of shooting I am doing and the equipment I have on hand. I will do travel photography differently than when I am shooting under studio lighting. Action shots are handled differently than landscapes.
    I will check the shots to see if they are working for me. I will often have a quick look at my histogram when I take my first shot(s) of a new scene to make sure my exposure is right. I might change lenses in some cases. I will work the scene to get different types of coverage. I might add light if I have lighting equipment or reflectors along.

    Quote Originally Posted by ClaudioG View Post
    One more thing....when its comes to metering? Which is a good option to set to and when? I believe Center weighted better for portraits...but if im zooming in to the 200mm does that affect my choice on metering.
    I virtually always use matrix metering. I have on occasion used spot metering, but have never found any need to go to centre weighted metering. I think this is very much a hold-over from the days when cameras were much less sophisticated than today. I do use exposure compensation when required.

    I will use an external incident lightmeter (Sekonic L-358) when setting up strobes and have used it in portraiture with ambient light as well.

  13. #13

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    Re: How I use a telephoto zoom...

    Quote Originally Posted by ClaudioG View Post
    One more thing....when its comes to metering? Which is a good option to set to and when? I believe Center weighted better for portraits...but if im zooming in to the 200mm does that affect my choice on metering.
    The main thing you need to understand about a camera's metering is that it measures reflected light and sets the camera to make that reading come out as mid-gray. If you are metering a bridal gown, it will set the camera to make it mid-gray. If you are metering a black dog, it will set the camera to make it mid-gray. So, whatever metering mode you use, the average value of the region metered will be set for mid-gray.

    If you understand what was belabored above, the answer of how to meter is relatively clear: if the average of the entire scene is what you want to have set to mid-gray, use matrix metering. If the face of a child is what you want to be mid-range, spot meter on that. If the foreground group of people against a dark background is what you want to meter as mid-gray, choose center-weighting. There's really no mystery in this so far.

    It gets tricky when you want to shoot something that is either high-key or low-key. Then you are reduced to having to think. What you want to understand is how to adjust the metering to accommodate the reality of a scene that does not meet the assumptions of your camera's light meter -- how to set the EV adjustment for the given scene. For that, you should understand the basics of the zone system: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tu...e_system.shtml HTH
    Last edited by tclune; 14th March 2013 at 06:34 PM. Reason: fix broken code

  14. #14
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    Re: How I use a telephoto zoom...

    Two comments first. I agree (not quite 1000 percent, but at least 100 percent) with what Richard (rpcrowe) says above in his comments on this matter. I'd also like to give him a virtual gold star for all the terrific examples.

    A neighbor and I have been talking about a young woman who has started her own "photography business" without having a clue that any of these issues exist. She has a ton of different lenses, most of which members of this site would kill to have! But, that she doesn't seem to distinguish portraits from wildflowers from sports I find really irritating.

    I seriously believe that, as Richard points out, we learn these kinds of lessons by picking one lens and becoming very familiar with it, finding its sweet spot, and making a portfolio or gallery of your 10 (or so) most favorites.

    I also use my 70-200 A LOT. In fact, when I first got my alpha 700, it was the first lens I bought after the prime lens (50) that was part of the kit. The retailer wouldn't let me separate it so I now have three 50s because I also have the kit lenses that came with my two Minolta Maxxums and that were 50s ;~(. After using it for just about every photographic expedition I went on over several years, I finally concluded that I had a reasonably good understanding of how the 70-200 lens works so now I'm working on the next lens I bought, a 50mm f1.28 Macro, and I'm having great fun.

    Somebody, I think it was Malcolm Gladwell, said that for a person to become really good at something requires on the order of 10,000 hours of experience with it. Now, I wouldn't say anybody needs 10,000 hours with just one lens or that people who follow photography or any other creative hobby needs to spend 10,000 hours working at it.

    But, consider that a year of working a "regular" 8-hour day, 5-days a week, allowing 2 weeks of vacation per year, in the US comes out to 2048 hours per year. So, thinking of thousands of hours to become really really really really good shouldn't be considered particularly strange.

    We all need to chose our own degree of desired competency. For myself, I don't spend a lot of time on portraiture, or people subjects, or baby pictures, or architecture (unless the structure has some kind of special meaning for me), or cars (like my neighbor).... On the other hand, I do spend a lot of time on scenery, wildflowers and not-so-wild flowers, trees, bodies of water, occasional animals of various sorts (earlier today I saw three hummingbirds all working on the same flower stalk and buzzed home to get my camera -- I don't generally take it to the library with me!).

    Thank you again, Richard!

    I'm jes' sayin'....

    virginia
    Last edited by drjuice; 16th March 2013 at 12:34 PM.

  15. #15
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: How I use a telephoto zoom...

    Manfred hits the nail on the head when he mentions...

    "Lighting is what photography is all about. Lighting has a key role and trying to figure out how to get an acceptable picture will be dependent on the lighting conditions."

    I live in a semi-rural area and drive about five miles on a freeway to the nearest supermarket. There is a view that I pass everytime that I go out for a container of milk. It is of some foothills with mountains in the background. Most of the time the view is pretty mundane but, occasionally when the light is just right it is very beautiful. So that is a combinaton of being in the right place at the right time. It is not just the light but, the clarity of the air that influences the vista. Sometimes it is a bit smoggy and the view is deteriorated. Other times it is bell clear and I long to shoot the image. However, the only place that I would have access to the view is from the freeway and I don't think that any image is worth risking my life or the lives of others to shoot.

    The time of day, which influences the angle of the sun and the quality of the light is another important factor in all photography. The time of day influences the quality of landscape images as the two images which Manfred has posted. One is a fairly sraightforward record shot and the other is, IMO, breathtakingly lovely.

    Unfortunately many photographers do not take avantage of the best times to shoot. I would bet that the majority of travel pictures are taken between ten AM and three PM. This is very often the case when we are visiting an area with our families. My wife certainly has no desire to wake up and acompany me as I start shooting early in the morning or continue shooting into the evenng; despite the fact that those times can be the best for phtography. We do need to be sensitive to the needs and desires of our companions. After all, it is my wife's vacation too!

    Another hint when it comes to travel photography; if you see a place that is aching to be photographed, take the time to photograph it when you first see it. Don't just make a mental note to return to shoot at a better time. You will often not be able to return for some reason.

    I was traveling with my wife in our motorhome along the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington State. We stopped in a lovely campground along a tributary leading into the Columbia. There was a beautiful view the first morning. However, my wife wanted to cook breakfast and wanted me to stay and eat rather than leave to shoot the views. I complied, thinking that I would shoot the following morning. To make a long story short, the park rangers came through later in the afternoon warning of some very imminent winds which were expected that night. We packed up and left the park; avoiding the dangerous winds but also missing the opportunity for photography the following morning.

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