Focal Length Variations

Finding the picture within the picture
One feature I love in a TV is Picture in Picture. Not that it’s new, but it sparked a thought regarding photography. When I judge an art exhibition or a local camera club competition and I see an image that includes too much information, I comment that the photographer should look for the picture within the picture. This in turn sparked an idea for my weekly photo tip.

Some photographers tend to view their subjects with “telephoto eyes” and instinctively lean toward long lens shots. Others see the world through “wide angle eyes” and attach wide zooms. Limiting one’s self to a specific set of eyes results in many missed photo opportunities. I learned this through experience the hard way. In the days I shot slide film, I used to strictly be a “telephoto eye” shooter. I liked the results, but when my friends and I got together to project the images, I realized I missed many shots as I admired the projected images of those who saw the same scene with “wide angle eyes.” After about the third trip and many thoughts to myself of, “Why in the heck didn’t you see that,” it finally sunk in that I simply needed to view my subjects with open eyes.

The approach I now incorporate is to photograph every subject I encounter using as many focal lengths as possible. I need to stress “as possible” because the subject may be mobile. If the action is repeatable, I practice what I preach. If not, I go with my gut. Here’s a scenario: Photographer X is out for the day and has a 28-105mm lens. In his backpack there’s a flash, spare batteries and memory cards in addition to his “just in case” lenses of 80-400mm and 12-24mm. He comes across a beautifully painted Victorian home and late afternoon light bathes it in gorgeous yellow tones. He spends 20 minutes taking many different angles using the 28-135. He goes home happy with what he’s done.

Outdoor Photographer Tip Of The Week

Photographer X is now in front of his computer. After downloading, he checks the metadata and sees that most of his pics were made at pretty much the same focal length. If you or someone you know fits X’s profile, I encourage you to heed the following advice. If the lens that’s on your camera zooms from 28-105mm, challenge yourself to find at least one image you can make along all the key increments: 28 / 35 / 50 / 80 / 105. Use foreground elements for the wide-angle shots to use as a leading line. Look for the common shot at the mid range lengths. How about trying some selective focus shots at the long end? Once you complete this task, shoot with the “just in case” lenses in your camera bag and continue the process. At the 400mm range, look for intricate details and fill the frame. Tunnel your vision and find a slice of the overall subject and isolate it. At the other extreme, put on the super wide and make some of those infinite depth of field shots or ones with exaggerated perspective. The sooner you get into the habit of incorporating these tactics, you’ll never find yourself saying the words I once told myself, “Why in the heck didn’t you see that?” From now on, view all subjects with “open eyes.”

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3 Comments

    My favorite lens of all time is not my sharpest, fastest or the one with least distortion. It’s my 18-200mm super-zoom. For landscape and travel it’s sharp, fast and distortion-free enough and it gives me an infinite number of options for framing.

    If I’m shooting for money, which I do on occasion, my full-frame gets pro-level glass but a wide-ranging zoom lets me get what I want quickly even under fast changing conditions and light where I’d be spending most of my time changing lenses with other glass.

    My go-to travel lens is my 16-85 mm wide angle – midrange zoom, which works great for 90% of what I usually capture when traveling. I admit that I tend to shoot more wide angle landscapes, and often forget to zoom in on the details. I dropped my 18-200mm in favor of the extra wide field offered by the 16mm option on this lens, and I rarely miss the longer zoom range.

    With a wide angle shot, a very good lens, and a high resolution sensor, can’t the “zooming” be done after the photo is taken by cropping? This works for me many times. You have time to see everything, and get the best of the scene in the finished photo.

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