Tuesday, February 7, 2017


As an artist the lens you choose shows your audience, literally, your vision or interpretation of the world. Being creative often means breaking the rules (I make my own rules) or at least not doing what everybody else is doing! Too many photographers are just copying what others are doing; often copying bad habits.

I often read that experienced photographers suggest this or that focal length lens is best for photographing a certain subject. Or even more bizarre that “artists should be using prime lenses only!” REALLY? That may have been true 50 years ago (I remember that era having begun my photography then), but not for the last 20 years as our computer designed zoom lenses have excelled. The nature purists say we should not distort nature or that the portrait lens of choice is the “nifty-fifty” or the 85mm (and you must have the f 1.2 version) to create good bokeh. Hogwash—These “rules” or popular fads in lens choice are creative killers! 

In the image below, because my subject (Delicate Arch) is such an iconic subject, I set-out to do something really different….
Delicate Arch: Lens: 16mm fisheye; Film: Kodak 35mm Ektachrome Infared (EIR) with an 056 (Orange) filter
Everybody photographs Delicate Arch from the other side (I’m on the cliff side!) and they always photograph the whole thing—a literal translation—boring. So, I’m inside the arch and with a fisheye lens, that sees 180°, I turned away from the right leg of the arch to omit it from the composition. I wanted the one leg and its shadow joining with the rest of the arch’s shadow to imply its presence. In addition to minimize distortion I kept the horizon line in the middle of the frame. If you want to maximize distortion with a super wide angle lens you place the horizon line either above or below the horizontal center line of your frame. Not content with this radical presentation I used Infared color film with an unusual (056) filter color (everybody used a yellow filter back then) to make my sky green. Before photoshop we had to be creative in different ways!

I usually don’t decide what focal length lens I’m going to use, when doing nature, until I’m standing in front of the subject. Then that’s usually the First decision I make followed by the Aperture/Shutter speed and the ISO I need to get there.

I believe that the focal length you choose is the most important artistic decision in photography—and to quote Ansel Adams “where you stand”, relative to the subject, is right up there!

The focal length you choose:
  • determines the artistic canvas (how much you see).
  • determines the perspective.
  • determines the composition.
  • and determines what kind of distortion (extension-wide angle or compression-telephoto) will be used, if any.
Speaking of distortion—how about breaking a portrait “rule” by using a fisheye lens….

f8.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; lens 15mm fisheye
In this image I actually increased the extension distortion by tilting the camera up (putting the horizontal line very low in the frame) creating the “bowl effect” and wrapping the trees around my subject. Note that the guy is not distorted because I kept him in the middle of the composition.

Using Perspective Distortion Creatively…

f5.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 24mm
A classic use of wide angle is to highlight a foreground feature with your wide angle lens that leads you into a more distant main subject—an often cliche, nature, composition. Here, using my zoom lens at 24mm, I made my center of interest the foreground object and because it was more interesting (I like the purple mid-way lights on the clown’s face!) I moved-in close to the painting making it really dominate my frame using the lens’ distortion.

As you can tell I really like very wide angle lenses!  In Part 2 I’ll go into lenses for portraiture and other creative uses for portrait lenses.

Author:  Jerry W Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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