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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Making far apart objects look close - telephoto lens

One objective of travel photography is to take an image that is instantly recognisable geographically. You want people to know where it is without having to read the caption. That's easy to do if you photograph the icons straight up, but you can also do it by photographing other things and placing the icons somewhere unobtrusively in the composition.

In Japanese they call this concept having a 'lead actor' and a 'supporting actor'. The trick is to make sure that your supporting actor is prominent in the picture without overpowering your main subject.

Take the photo above. Our lead actor here is the brightly lit neon statue of the flowers. Taken during the Illumination festival in the middle of January in Sapporo. Just having the statue itself would be a nice photo but having the tourist icon of the TV Tower in the background makes it a travel photo.

The only problem is that TV Tower is about half a kilometre down the road. If I had photographed the statue with a wide-angle lens the tower would be a tiny dot way off on the horizon. So, even though I was standing right next to the statue initially, I actually turned my back to it and walked a long way away and put a telephoto lens on the camera.

As soon as I did this the background tower was brought in nice and close to give me my supporting actor. Now if I had photographed this wide open at f2.8 the background would have been a big blur so I needed to close my aperture all the way down to f16 or so to make sure that my supporting actor tower was clear enough to be recognisable.

The other important thing about this image is the time of day. Yes you read right - 4:14 in the afternoon. And it's already dark. That's what happens when you're so close to Siberia! But more importantly I want you to notice the lovely blue colour in the sky. Most night photography happens before the sky turns completely black. If I had waited another half an hour or so to photograph this the black tower wouldn't have been visible against the pure black sky and all you would be able to see would be the digital number display.

If I had taken it half an hour earlier it would still have been too bright and the lights on the statue wouldn't have been turned on yet. Again, another one of those times when you need to do some research to find out when the sun goes down, when it gets dark and what time they turn the statues on. If you can't find out in advance then it's just a matter of turning up roughly when you think is right and waiting.

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