What is the best lens for scenic photography?    

With all its colours fall is creeping into onto the hills in my part of British Columbia photographers are grabbing their cameras, tripods and jackets to wander out to record the beauty.

This past week a young couple visiting my Kamloops shop asked my opinion of the best lens to take along on their next excursion to photograph BC’s inspiring landscapes.

That’s a good question, especially from those new to photography that are spending hard earned money on pricy modern lenses. Personally, I like versatility and convenience, and there are a lot of great zoom lenses available for someone that doesn’t want to carry a heavy bag.

I might suggest lenses like 16-85mm, 24-70mm, or even 18-200mm. Gosh, there are so many lightweight and easy to carry choices. However, instead of recommending a particular lens for scenic photography, I’d rather think about perspective.

My decision after stepping out of the car to photograph some grand vista would be whether I wanted a wide angel or a telephoto. A wide-angle lens has a curved front surface allowing for a wider view. A telephoto has a flatter front surface and a narrower view.

For example, using a 18mm focal length lens when photographing along a fence will make the first post big and the succeeding posts smaller and smaller. Whereas, a 200mm focal length will give a tightly compressed view, and distances between the fencepost in the foreground and those further back won’t seem as distant as with the wider lens.

In a more practical example, when one is photographing a boat on the lake shore with mountains in the background a long focal length like the 200mm will be compress everything in the final image with no subject gaining significance over another. Yet, an18mm lens will make the boat large, and mountains in the background small and distant. Both may be good photographs of that scene, just different interpretations.

The most appropriate lens depends on the perspective and how the photographer wants to interpret the final image, and because the focal length adjusts the visual relationships of the objects within the picture, one must think about the image front to back and how much of the scenic is important as a wide, or a narrow final image.

It comes down to the personal vision of the photographer and what he or she wants to say about the landscape. Famous photographer, Ansel Adams said, “problem solve for the final photograph”.

Like Adams, photographers should be thinking about how the final photograph will be used and how to accomplish that.

If one thinks of a photograph as a series of problems to be solved there will be a smooth transition from initial idea to final print. For example one could begin by thinking about the subject and its environment. What is the background and how will that affect the subject? What is in the foreground that will interfere with that subject?

I don’t believe that there is one lens that can be termed a “scenic or landscape” lens. Any lens might be used as long as it meets the photographer’s vision. That might be to include a wide vista with a wide-angle lens, or on the other hand, a tighter cropped image created with a telephoto lens might be visually more powerful. The choice of lens for scenics comes down to what the photographer wants the viewer to feel and see.

 

 

 

 

Shooting infrared on a quiet spring evening.     

This week had one of those nice quiet evenings that are all so common here in British Columbia. By 7:30PM the sun was starting to go down giving the landscape dramatic shadows and a day’s end glowing light.

I’ll admit I was feeling pretty lazy after tearing the tile out of our shower wall so I could fix the tub taps, but there wasn’t anything interesting on the TV so I decided a short drive around my wooded neighbourhood might clear the tile dust out of my eyes and hair.

Over the many years I have been shooting with first, infrared film, and then for the past 10 plus years, a digital camera converted to only capture infrared, I have found that late afternoons give me the most impressive effects.

So, I grabbed my old IR modified Nikon D100, mounted a 24-70mm lens on it and set off along the winding roads that make up the wooded and hilly location I live in.

That old 6MP camera has served me well, I purchased it new when digital cameras were finally making images with enough quality to compete with film. I photographed weddings, scenics and everything else that I once shot with film. Then when Nikon began offering better sensors with more megapixels I sat it aside. For a while I called it my “car-trunk” camera because I just left it in the car all the time.

Then I read about infrared conversions. I had always shot black and white infrared film, but it was such a hassle. Loading and unloading the camera in the dark and even waiting till late in the evening to process it in metal tanks because I worried there might be some stray light creeping into my home photo lab. I sent that camera away and a few hundred bucks, and about a month later I had an infrared camera.

The images I get are a fun change from the colourful pictures or the sharp black and whites I am used to. Infrared is always a crowd pleaser.

I have a book by William Reedy titled, “Impact–Photography for Advertising”. It begins with the words, “To stop the eye… To set the mood… To start the sale…”

Those are great words for any photographer hoping to create visual impact with his or her photography. I think there is no doubt about it that those words ring true when one looks at the surreal effect of an infrared photograph. So I set off on that quite evening with my camera waiting on the empty seat beside me and made stop after stop to create infrared photographs of the rural neighbourhood that I know so well.

I have written about infrared photography before, so I’ll just end this by repeating myself, “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

Trying Street Photography   

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Last week I wrote about my short adventure wandering Denman Street and the Stanley Park area of Vancouver, BC, with my camera.

Each morning I got up early so I could stroll Denman Street before the sidewalks filled with too many people. I wanted to try to find the kind of people some street photographers do find, but I’ll admit that I am not very comfortable with that invasive type of photography.

I am sure there are some street photographers that might laugh at my reticence at photographing people going about their life in any area, be it city street or a back alley, with their various paraphernalia of shopping carts, back packs, box houses, or bicycles. I really like the genre of street photography; I mean to say I really enjoy looking at photographs made by photographers that are good at street photography.

I think that successful street photography captures a moment from the society around us. It’s a moment in time that is an important for the present and future.

I am sure some photographers shoot for the challenge, and there are some that wander the city with their cameras as a release of stress from everyday existence, while others have a need to make some statement about the world in which they live.

I try to do a bit but I expect it will take me more preparation than a few early morning walks to get my head in the correct creative space it takes to do street photography.

I searched for some street photography tips and here are a few I found.

  1. Use a wide-angle lens.
  2. Get close.
  3. Look for juxtaposition.
  4. Focus on the essential.
  5. Look for the light and shadows
  6. Look at the foreground and the background.
  7. Tell a story.

I read that in a good street photograph it is possible for a viewer to see and maybe imagine more than the original photographer intended. Practicing street photographers capture fleeting moments, interpreting life around them, and challenging our perceptions of the world.

I have had some limited success at country fairs and city festivals in the past. This time I intended to get pictures of people going about their daily life on Denman. There is so much happening on a city street, or even within a small neighborhood, that it takes a good eye, and a fast camera, to capture it all.

Most of the street photographers I follow online shoot with small mirrorless cameras and are good at getting up close, but, personally, I would have been more comfortable with a mid-range telephoto. However, attaching a big lens on big DSLRs makes a photographer stand out. When I pointed my camera along the walk people would actually stop and wait for me, or change course to walk around me. Oh well, there will be another time and I can plan on trying again.

Wikipedia defines Street photography as ”Photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places”.

The genre of street photography is an old one and since the early days of photography there are those that have left us with their own styles of street photography that affects each viewer on an emotional level.

I welcome the comments of street photographers.