Move your feet or your pictures are all the same

Can you see what the following pictures have in common?

20140822006 20140822005 20140822004

No, it’s not the cathedral or the soybeans.  They are all essentially the same picture.  Why?

I read something the other day that jogged my memory about zoom lenses.  The author was saying how great they are for bringing distant subjects closer but they don’t really change perspective.  To do that you have to change the actual distance between camera and subject – basically move your feet.  And new perspectives can make all the difference for compositions.

The images above were taken with a 50mm, 75mm and 150mm lens on the same camera.  The somewhat odd color is due to the film I was using, a B&W film that is processed like color negatives.  The film has nothing to do with my point – I just like the color cast!

I shot the three from the same point, simply changing lenses with each shot.  Don’t see how they are the same?  Look at these crops.

20140822006-50mm 20140822004-75mm20140822005-150mm These are the 50mm, 75mm and 150mm images above cropped to show the same portion of each image at the same size.  Look at the relationship between the two trees framing the cathedral and the building itself.  Notice the perspective doesn’t change – the trees are the same distance from each other and the building in each image.  Although I changed prime lenses I would have gotten the same result with a zoom lens set at each of these focal lengths.

Suppose I wanted the trees to appear farther apart, or closer to me than they are?  I would have had to walk closer to them to change the perspective.  Doing so would have also made them look bigger than the cathedral.

BTW, this is also what’s behind the “crop” factor you read about for sensors less than full frame (or the size of a piece of 35mm film).  A lens of a given focal length will cast a circle of light on the sensor that’s the same size regardless of the size of sensor.  Smaller sensors ‘see’ a smaller part of the image – they ‘crop’ the image to their size.  What you see looks as if it was shot through a longer lens.  Thus, for a 2x crop factor camera (like the Four-Thirds system), using a 50mm lens results in an image that looks like it was shot through a 100mm lens.  Again, perspective doesn’t change, just the amount of the image you see.

The moral of the story?  Yes, zoom lenses are much better now than 20 years ago – faster, sharper, probably lighter.  But in order to bring variety to the look of your images you still need to use your legs to work the scene.

Return to the basics

I finally gathered up all the exposed film sitting around in the freezer and took it over to the local studio/lab I found on the web.  Haven’t had to send my sheet film off to a distant lab so far after these few years learning how to use it so I was very happy to find someone in town who processes it.  My first round turned out very nice (they even processed my 5×7 Velvia, an unusual size) so I expect to finally get back to film this year.

Didn’t really know what these images were – been too long ago since I made them – so it was a nice surprise to see what I’d done.  Looks like I was trying to learn how to use flash with my view camera, tricky because there is no trigger for a flash on such an old camera.  Apparently I set up my scene, turned off the lights, opened the shutter and then fired the flash manually.  I must be getting good with a light meter because these really turned out better than I expected.

Kodak Ektachrome 100G, 4×5″ slide

Kodak Ektachrome 100g, 4×5″ slide

Fuji Velvia 50, 5×7″ slide

The bigness of huge.

One of the challenges of photographing something that is really big is to provide a reference for the immense size you want to show.  If you back up enough to get the whole subject in the image it’s hard to convey the impression of just how big it is.  If you get too close it’s hard to provide that feeling of immensity you want for the viewer.  Sometimes it’s better to show a little of the subject with some point of reference, and leave the rest to the viewer’s imagination.

Mt- Rainier Climb, MEM1995S004-09As an example, here’s a photo of Mt. Rainier.  Trust me, it’s Rainier.  One does think of mountains as being large but it’s sometimes hard to have a good reference, mostly because any one mountain is surrounded by other, fairly large, mountains.  Not Rainier.  It stands out pretty much by itself surrounded by forest.  When you see it close you’re immediately struck by a “wow, that’s really huge!” feeling.  But how to convey that in an image?

OK, you see the people in the middle of the scene – they look like tiny specks on the snow field.  But follow the line from them upward toward the grey block in the upper right.  See those even small specks just where the snow line is?  Those are people too, about a half mile away.  That rock you see behind them?  Probably another half mile beyond them.  From that rock outcropping to the summit (toward the upper left of the image) is easily another mile and 5000′ in altitude.

This is a big mountain.  My little Olympus film camera and 50mm lens just wasn’t up to the challenge to show the whole thing from here but hopefully you get a sense there’s a lot more not in the image.

Without the people this is just a nice picture of snow and rocks – with them there’s a sense that this is a big, open place leading to something even bigger.  Leaving most of the mountain out of the image gives the viewer a chance to wonder what else is there and just how big is this thing!?


Just some random images

When you’re just standing there with camera in hand, wondering why you aren’t seeing beautiful photographs, start pushing the shutter button.  Work that muscle, look through the viewfinder, get back into the rhythm.  Next thing you know it all starts making sense again, why you’re there, what you’re doing, how to look at things different.

Practice, practice, practice….


Every little thing

Watching the chipmunks and ground squirrels running around chasing food and each other I got to wondering what the world must look like from their perspective.  With eyes almost on either side of their head the view is much wider than we see, and just about every plant around grows taller than them.

I put my tripod flat on the ground and mounted my shortest lens to a panoramic attachment to get some images of the world at their level.  It certainly looks like a much bigger and wider world than we’re used to seeing.  And the details are almost overwhelming.  No wonder they seem to attend to every little twig and leaf that turns up in their small section of land.


10 image panoramic, 14mm, f/8, ISO100