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Author Topic: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...  (Read 10136 times)

petermfiore

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #20 on: September 15, 2014, 11:59:36 am »

Interestingly there was an article in "Modern Photography" (I think it was that magazine) about 30-35 years ago that looked at focal length of the lens needed to duplicate many painted landscape and town scenes. The examples, if I remember correctly, were from the Dutch school of landscape painting. They found that an 85mm to 105 mm lens was needed to duplicate the painted scenes when they were able to duplicate where the artist was when they painted the picture. My memory is that a lot of letters to the editor disagreed but none presented any definite proof that the article was wrong.

But that also could be seen as how they, back in the 1700s or so, viewed the scene and not how we would like the scene viewed today. When I review my shots over the years, I find that I use 70-100 mm more often than other focal lengths except in cities where I favour wide angle views. I just feel better about the short telephoto shots and that's all it is - a feeling.

I will be interested to see what others say.

Dave S





There is a lot of truth is this statement. Painters when looking at the landscape will start to compose at least 30 feet from where they stand. Otherwise you will be painting your shoe tops. A odd perspective to draw and construct in a painting. The distortions that would arise in such a case are accepted in photography and often look bizarre in painting.

Peter

Jim Pascoe

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #21 on: September 15, 2014, 12:07:27 pm »

Forgetting work photography - (though I quite often will do a location portrait shoot with just an 85mm lens) personally I find shooting with a single prime lens to be my preferred method.  What lens to take with me on an outing depends on my mood and when I'm out I never agonise over bringing the 'wrong' lens.

So my Ricoh GR which is very pocketable has a 28mm - no choice there.  The Micro Four thirds I would often take with my Voightlander 50mm.  The Canon FF seems to work well with the 85mm, 50mm or 35mm - but this is not a camera I usually choose to lug around anymore for fun.

For general location portraiture the 85mm is my favourite for sure.  The 35 and 50mm are also great to put the subject in context.

When I'm out with a particular lens I just ignore anything that doesn't suit the lens.  It's a great discipline I think to be confined to one focal length.  It makes you really get to feel at one with the lens. For me the worst possible scenario would be to be out with a bag full of lenses from 16mm - 300mm.  What on earth would I shoot with so much choice.....

So my parting shot would be - try a fixed focal length lens and shoot with it exclusively for a while to learn it inside out.  Then perhaps try a different one.  Each lens seems to have it's own personality so I don't think it's as easy as just quoting focal lengths anyway.  The weight, feel in the hand, manual focus perhaps, aperture etc all combine in any particular picture.

The focal lengths I have quoted above are full-frame equivalents for the M43 and Ricoh.

Jim
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Alan Klein

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #22 on: September 15, 2014, 12:13:00 pm »

Peter:  You have some lovely paintings on your web site.  They were a delight to look at.   My inability to paint is the reason I photograph landscapes.  It's about as close as I'll ever get to being an artist.


It's hard to tell where you were standing when you painted them, or did you use a photo to paint from?   (My friend who is an illustrator uses photos in most cases).   In any case, would you say most of yours are "normal" perspective from were you painted or more "telephoto" or "wide angle"?  

Telecaster

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #23 on: September 15, 2014, 06:02:05 pm »

@Telecaster: A very interesting articulation of your preferred focal lengths. What caused you to consider focal lengths as a ratio of your camera's sensor size? What is the significance of that understanding?

That's just empirical observation. I bought a Leica CL decades ago and it came with a 40mm lens. I loved the coverage it gaveā€¦suited me better than a 35mm lens and could also sub for a 50mm. It was only later that I connected 40mm with "slightly shorter than the format diagonal." Since the CL also has a 90mm frameline I eventually bought a used 90 and found the two lenses complemented each other very well. With other camera systems & formats the same formula always works for me re. a two-lens outfit.

I also like to pick just one focal length for a particular photo outing and make it work. With the 135 format this usually means a 50 or 85/90mm lens, though sometimes I'll go with a 28mm to exercise my wider eye (so to speak).   :)

-Dave-
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melchiorpavone

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #24 on: September 15, 2014, 08:21:57 pm »

Can you post some of your very best work so we can see how it works for you?    

All made with 90mm Summicron-R. I would not necessarily call these my 'best' work, but these are some of my favorites.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ornello/5613947768

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ornello/5613370203

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ornello/5613942946

In the last one, the artist is trying to interest the woman in his painting, of which he is very proud (see his hand on his chest), whereas she is thinking "What else you got?" The 90mm isolates the artist and prospective customer, with the painting slightly out of focus. The distant background is far out of focus. The fact that it is sunny in the background is unfortunate, but you cannot control everything.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2014, 08:41:32 pm by melchiorpavone »
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Alan Klein

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #25 on: September 15, 2014, 10:26:00 pm »

Those are nice pictures.  But I don't understand how selecting and taking one specific lens helped you.  Had you selected a telephoto to use that day, you would not have been able to get the third shot.  While having only one lens forces you to look for shots that work with that lens, you could be passing up very interesting shots that require a lens you didn't have.  Of course, if you're shooting people, a normal or wide angle lens works most of the time.    If had a choice of only one lens to walk around with, I think it would be normal or slightly wide angle.  I seem to shoot more that way even when I have a zoom on the camera. 

melchiorpavone

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #26 on: September 15, 2014, 10:40:42 pm »

Those are nice pictures.  But I don't understand how selecting and taking one specific lens helped you.  Had you selected a telephoto to use that day, you would not have been able to get the third shot.  While having only one lens forces you to look for shots that work with that lens, you could be passing up very interesting shots that require a lens you didn't have.  Of course, if you're shooting people, a normal or wide angle lens works most of the time.    If had a choice of only one lens to walk around with, I think it would be normal or slightly wide angle.  I seem to shoot more that way even when I have a zoom on the camera.  

It helped me by forcing me to crop out the useless crap, and to find scenes that best fit that lens. All three were taken with a 90mm telephoto. Are you unfamiliar with Leica lens terminology? Here is the lens:

http://www.l-camera-forum.com/leica-wiki.en/index.php/90mm_f/2_Summicron-R



A normal or wide-angle lens is the last choice for photographing people, as I have just shown you. Why do you say the opposite?
« Last Edit: September 15, 2014, 10:45:47 pm by melchiorpavone »
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Alan Klein

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #27 on: September 15, 2014, 10:58:15 pm »

I was thinking about walk-around street photography.   I think a moderate 35mm or maybe normal 50mm would be more useful most of the time.  However, if you want close-up for portraiture, then yes you're correct that a medium zoom is preferable especially to isolate the subject from the background.

Jim Pascoe

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #28 on: September 16, 2014, 04:16:21 am »

I was thinking about walk-around street photography.   I think a moderate 35mm or maybe normal 50mm would be more useful most of the time.  However, if you want close-up for portraiture, then yes you're correct that a medium zoom is preferable especially to isolate the subject from the background.

I think what would be more useful most of the time is beside the point here.  The photographer is saying that he likes to shoot at 90mm because it excludes perhaps distracting objects.  One might choose a 35mm lens to encompass much more - though of course by careful observation and framing it is also quite possible to keep a wider angle shot clutter free.

One day on a beach in North Devon i spent a couple of hours with my wife when the tide was right out photographing the beach and surfers walking around.  My camera was a Panasonic GH2 and I just had the 14mm (28mm equivalent) fitted.  With no choice on lens it required a bit of running around sometimes to get in the right place rather than standing still and zooming in and out.  Here is one example -   
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Nick Walt

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #29 on: September 16, 2014, 04:56:48 am »

@Jim Pascoe:  Hi Jim, I'm finding that, particularly with landscape, I am seeing compositions that require a significantly longer focal length and no amount of relocation has helped. Cropping in post has confirmed the need for a longer focal length. Actually, it is probably my experimentation with cropping in post that has caused me to start seeing tighter compositions within a much broader field of view. Even when on the street I find I need a longer focal length, unless I want to capture that larger environment.

My question arises when I try to rationalise this against the point that you made about relocating and re-framing with a wider lens. Is this me discovering my natural view of the world and should I consider choosing a lens to match this? Have other people gone through the same process and have they confirmed that their photography improved or evolved after they began shooting with a lens that better suited them? Did time with this lens also help them make the most of other, perhaps wider, lenses?

Cheers
« Last Edit: September 16, 2014, 05:01:34 am by Nick Walt »
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Jim Pascoe

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #30 on: September 16, 2014, 05:16:16 am »

@Jim Pascoe:  Hi Jim, I'm finding that, particularly with landscape, I am seeing compositions that require a significantly longer focal length and no amount of relocation has helped. Cropping in post has confirmed the need for a longer focal length. Actually, it is probably my experimentation with cropping in post that has caused me to start seeing tighter compositions within a much broader field of view. Even when on the street I find I need a longer focal length.

My question arises when I try to rationalise this against the point that you made about relocating and re-framing with a wider lens. Is this me discovering my natural view of the world and should I consider choosing a lens to match this? Have other people gone through the same process and have they confirmed that their photography improved or evolved after they began shooting with a lens that better suited them? Did time with this lens also help them make the most of other, perhaps wider, lenses?

Cheers

Nick - you definitely need to choose lenses that suit YOU and nobody else.  Too many people slavishly follow what others have done before.  They see a really superb picture and note it was made with so and so lens at a particular f-stop and shutter speed and with a certain camera-lens combination.  They then mistakenly think that if they replicate all that they too will produce the same excellent picture.  Photography is not like that and the best photography has little to do with the equipment. 

I think the discipline of using one focal length teaches you to use the the lens to it's maximum potential - what focal length to use is your choice.  But whatever you choose you will get better if you practise a lot with it.  This does not preclude of course eventually having a number of lenses - each could be you favourite for a particular kind of photography.  If you just photographed snails with a 50mm macro lens and nothing else for many months you would become a really superb snail photographer.  Not suggesting that should be your subject - but trying to be a jack-of-all-trades is not the best way to improve in my opinion.  The picture I posted was with a 28mm (equivalent) - not saying that is my favourite - just on that day that's what I decided to use.

Excel at one thing and then you can move on to the next.  Learn one lens really well and then acquire another if you need it.  You don't have to be able to shoot everything all the time.  Regarding landscapes it's probably much easier to make a really good picture with a longer lens than a wide one.  With wide angle you really do have to
Jim
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Hans Kruse

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #31 on: September 16, 2014, 06:39:45 am »

Hi Everyone,

I'm getting to the point where I'm finding that the 12-40mm f2.8 PRO (24-80mm equivalent) for the E-M1 doesn't have enough reach for many of the compositions I see (landscape or street).

I either crop a lot (non-optimal framing) or simply don't get the shot because it is just too far away. Often I see a particular pattern in the landscape and only want to frame that spot and not include everything around it. Walking closer is not an option as most of the time the composition is lost or is obscured, or getting too close to the person or scene changes things.

For example, this image is a significant crop:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/123872290@N05/15225025241/in/photostream/

When you found a focal length that matched your way of seeing did you experience a revelation? Obviously, this is about shooting for yourself and not for commercial requirements.

Cheers,
Nick

I read through the comments and let me give you my perspective on this. I shoot mostly landscapes and I instruct landscape photography workshops. I also shoot wild life on occasion, street, people, etc.

For landscape I use 35mm full frame cameras only and the focal lengths I use are from 14mm to 200mm and a few times longer using a teleconverter. In my opinion there is not a single focal length or a small range of focal lengths that is right. It all depends on what you shoot and where you are and what interests you. In some locations a 14mm lens is right but for me this is not very often. Many landscapes do lend themselves very well to ultra wide lenses simply because there is not a good composition to be made. There is simply too much that does not fit into a single frame. Personally my workhorse lenses are the 24-70 and 70-200 zoom lenses. I will typically have each lens on a separate body so I can switch between them as needed. Some days I will shoot mostly with the 70-200 to pick out details of the landscape. Other days I will shoot a lot with the 24-70 to have the broader view. It depends a lot on the weather. If there are interesting clouds in the sky the wider focal lengths will be used and if there is a blank sky the longer focal lengths are more useful. Other factors are interesting foregrounds that fit with a larger scene. Sometimes there isn't.

What I'm trying to say is: When shooting landscapes it's all about seeing the picture and then frame it using a lens that fits that given where you have positioned yourself or can position yourself. Not the other way around. I think you will get a better idea of what I'm saying by seeing my pictures here http://www.hanskrusephotography.com/ and if you go into the galleries there is exif info on focal lengths.

Alan Klein

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #32 on: September 16, 2014, 06:52:58 am »

I was poorly trying to make the point that Hans has described so eloquently.  You don't use the lens to see the shot.  You see the shot and then pick the lens that best captures it.

Hans Kruse

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #33 on: September 16, 2014, 07:18:04 am »

I was poorly trying to make the point that Hans has described so eloquently.  You don't use the lens to see the shot.  You see the shot and then pick the lens that best captures it.

Thanks Alan :)

Maybe one more thing to add to the OP: I often find that some landscape shooters, especially in the beginning, have a great difficulty in seeing the shot other than the obvious big landscape. To help to accomplish that a zoom lens is greatly helpful in  seeing the shot through the viewfinder by zooming in and out thought the zoom range (with patience...). It's more difficult to mentally exclude all the irrelevant stuff from the essential shot with the naked eyes even for more experienced shooters. That's what I have found from meeting lots of landscape shooters in my workshops.

Jim Pascoe

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #34 on: September 16, 2014, 07:29:28 am »

Thanks Alan :)

Maybe one more thing to add to the OP: I often find that some landscape shooters, especially in the beginning, have a great difficulty in seeing the shot other than the obvious big landscape. To help to accomplish that a zoom lens is greatly helpful in  seeing the shot through the viewfinder by zooming in and out thought the zoom range (with patience...). It's more difficult to mentally exclude all the irrelevant stuff from the essential shot with the naked eyes even for more experienced shooters. That's what I have found from meeting lots of landscape shooters in my workshops.

And to the OP I should add that this a perfectly valid way of working which I cannot argue with.  Personally I prefer the 'restriction' of one lens and focal length at a time.  It's all a personal thing of course.  In fact as I said earlier - it is quite reasonable to have a variety of favourite lenses too!  

Jim

Just to add - Hans, you have some incredibly beautiful images on your website!
« Last Edit: September 16, 2014, 07:32:54 am by Jim Pascoe »
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Manoli

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #35 on: September 16, 2014, 08:03:38 am »

I often find that some landscape shooters, especially in the beginning, have a great difficulty in seeing the shot other than the obvious big landscape. To help to accomplish that a zoom lens is greatly helpful in  seeing the shot through the viewfinder by zooming in and out

Alternatively, and arguably preferably, use DIRE Studio's MII Artist's Viewfinder - full details here
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Hans Kruse

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #36 on: September 16, 2014, 08:54:47 am »

Alternatively, and arguably preferably, use DIRE Studio's MII Artist's Viewfinder - full details here

I tried it, but would not recommend it. The best approach is to use the camera in my opinion and zoom in and out while composing. Either in the view finder or in live view. My preference is the view finder.

Hans Kruse

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #37 on: September 16, 2014, 08:57:40 am »

And to the OP I should add that this a perfectly valid way of working which I cannot argue with.  Personally I prefer the 'restriction' of one lens and focal length at a time.  It's all a personal thing of course.  In fact as I said earlier - it is quite reasonable to have a variety of favourite lenses too!  

Jim

Just to add - Hans, you have some incredibly beautiful images on your website!

Jim, I can see your point and I would go as far as to say it's a good exercise. However in my view it is a bit opposite what you really want as the focal length determines compositions possible. Zoom with the feet is possible within limits but in many cases for landscapes this is not really possible. Of course, there is much more to making an image than "just" composition.

And thanks :)

melchiorpavone

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #38 on: September 16, 2014, 10:41:36 am »

I was poorly trying to make the point that Hans has described so eloquently.  You don't use the lens to see the shot.  You see the shot and then pick the lens that best captures it.

No, I do not. I do both. Sometimes I put on a given lens and then go out and find scenes to shoot with it, often because I do not want to carry all of them with me. I can't!

My experience is that Americans tend to try to cram too much into one shot, instead of making each photo tell part of the story and using a succession of images to tell the whole story. This is what's known as a 'photo story', and is ultimately derived from cinema. Sometimes l deliberately crop "too tight" and leave the viewer in the dark to some extent about the context. Here is an example:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ornello/14375474170/

The fellow on the left is applying make-up to the one on the right. When they saw me, they stopped and reacted as you see in the photo. By placing the faces near the edges, a certain 'tension' is created. You don't need to see the whole head of either man. The viewer is immediately drawn to the eyes of the one in the upper left first. Only then do you realize the one on the right is also looking at the camera. His head is slightly in front of the plane of focus, whereas the one in the upper left is in focus, so that also leads the eye to the one in the upper left.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2014, 12:01:32 pm by melchiorpavone »
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melchiorpavone

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #39 on: September 16, 2014, 11:13:18 am »

I was thinking about walk-around street photography.   I think a moderate 35mm or maybe normal 50mm would be more useful most of the time. 

I totally disagree. My experience is the complete opposite.
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