Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Using Unusual Focal Lengths

This is so important I’ll repeat what I said in Part 1, “The Focal Length you choose is the most important artistic decision in photography.”

The focal length you choose:
  • determines the artistic canvas (how much is seen).
  • determines the perspective.
  • determines the composition.
  • and determines what kind of distortion (extension-wide angle or compression-telephoto) will be used, if any.
All things being equal—you nail your exposure and have your lighting under control—creative choice of Lens shows your audience (literally) your vision, or interpretation, of the world. And isn’t that what art is all about? Photographing things exactly as they are is merely reportage; anyone can do that. That’s why when I undertake the challenge to photograph some iconic thing that has been photographed millions of times I must do my best to create something original.

So, when I was planning our vacation to Italy in 2004, with a stop in Rome, and our hotel only four blocks from the Colosseum, research and planning to photograph the ultimate Roman icon was a priority. Googling the Roman Colosseum produced an endless series of pictures, of course, of the whole thing. Hundreds and hundreds of images of the Colosseum centered in the frame just sitting there.  Amazingly many were taken in broad daylight depicting a dull gray, butt ugly, sad structure!

Knowing this was to be a night-shot I bought a compact tripod that would fit in my luggage along with an umbrella (we were going in May). Doing research I found that Nikon’s 20mm, f2.8, was one of their sharpest lenses, so I bought one! I didn’t yet own a fisheye for my digital cameras then, but I’d already decided that I did not want to distort the Colosseum that much.  

This is my version of the Colosseum at night…
f22.0 @ 4.0 sec., ISO 800; Lens - 20mm
The 20mm lens was perfect for taking a vertical slice of the structure. I did a two way tilt pointing up and over to tilt the structure creating diagonal lines that point to the vanishing point created by the cars, streaking red, taillights. I was happy it rained (Kathi held the umbrella over head to shield the lens) making the street nice and reflective.

Next I went to work slicing-up the Colosseum with my 24-85mm zoom getting some nice detail images, again mostly verticals, that hardly anybody does even today.

Another vertical slice of a Roman structure…
f13.0 @ 1/350 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
This was up on Palatine Hill towards sunset. I couldn’t resist the alignment of the tree and the archway as I moved-in close with my lens at 24mm.  

I’ll wrap-up with something very recent. Here in Idaho we’ve just had a record setting winter with more snow on the ground than ever recorded in Boise. Coupled with low temps. from -2° to -8° F, with melting in between, we’ve also had lots of great icicles! 
f5.6 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 100; Lens: 15mm
Warping my front porch with my fisheye lens, I wanted it to look like a mouth full of wicked teeth! Putting the setting sun directly behind the longest icicle (it’s about 3 feet long) created nice backlit detail in all the icicles.   I’ve been having sooooo much fun here this winter!

So, as you can see I like my lens choices at each end of the focal length spectrum. I tend to avoid the boring middle. Try it, you’ll start to see differently using extreme focal lengths.

’Til next week…show me some of your experiments…I’d love to see them.

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

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