One of the things I expected a photography class to do was reveal some of my shooting habits. I hesitate to call them “bad” habits, since I don’t believe the photographic choices one makes can be defined in such absolute terms. Whether a photograph works comes down to a host of factors and doing one thing might work great for one situation but be totally wrong for another. The trick is being able to discern the differences, not get mired in a particular method or way of seeing things, and be able to adapt to the situation.
When I first started taking photographs I relied a lot on my telephoto lens, mainly because as a shy person it allowed me to take pictures of people from a safe, comfortable distance. But I gradually got tired of that rather uniform look and the distanced psychological quality that long focal lengths imparted to my images. What I was even more unhappy with was my compulsion to stay in my comfort zone, effectively hiding behind a telephoto lens rather than taking a chance and getting close to my subjects. So I started working more with wide angle lenses, which forced me to move in close in order to fill the frame. The advice to “get close” (as famously described by combat photographer Robert Capa) is a good one, but as with most things moderation is also important. In the case of photographs of people, there are certain focal lengths that are more flattering to them; go too wide and you begin distorting features. In the last few years I think I have been more or less ignoring that fact, often sacrificing what’s traditionally pleasing for the inherent drama and unconventional effect of wider angle lenses. Again, I think it’s fine to use such lenses as the situations call for them, even with people. The problem comes when a photographer relies on them too much and the lens effect becomes the selling point of the photo rather than the subject itself.
For Assignment Two, the class was instructed to shoot a party with following in mind:
- Make some fun and natural photos with a variety of lenses.
- Be sure and try some funky things with the flash – bounce it off the wall, off the ceiling, heck, try the floor.
I think the first thing I missed was using a variety of lenses or focal lengths. I often stuck to the wider ranges, like 17mm and under, which my instructor cautioned me about because of the perspective distortion. He also made a good point about honing in on details to create a graphic image, which tends to be harder to do with wides because of their encompassing view. I think there were some nice details in the doughnut decorations that could have been nicely captured with a longer focal length.
In the following the perspective distortion is kind of severe, and not necessarily the most flattering for subjects of the human variety. Mr. Gero suggested stepping back and using a focal length 22mm and above, which will minimize distortion and give a better overall perspective.
While the wide angle was used more effectively in the next image, some refinement of the flash bounce angle would have remedied the light fall off on the far end of the room.
The final image is the best of the group, though the original exposure was about 1.33 stops over. The flash was in TTL mode, so I’m not sure what threw it off so severely. I was able to compensate for a lot of the overexposure by having shot in RAW, but ideally I shouldn’t have had to.
Overall, this has been another good lesson, in part about lens selection, but also for helping me identify a habit I’ve acquired over the last few years. As my initial use of wide angle lenses was itself an attempt to address a particular habit, it would seem that the concurrent (and perhaps more important) take away is to not get locked into a certain way of doing things, but remain flexible and open.