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

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Know what your lenses do and what you want to say


One of the aims of any aspiring travel photographer is to get to the stage where composition, exposure and focus are all instinctual. But before you get to that stage you need to become instinctual in your choice of lens.

In order of things I think about focal length is definitely first. Just by changing your lens you can completely change your image and what you want to say about the subject in front of you.

Take this image here. It was shot with a wide-angle lens. How can you tell? Because the wide-angle increases the apparent distance between objects. How far away does the tip of the peninsula look? A long way away. And that's the feeling I wanted to impart. To show how long and thin this peninsula of land extending from the coastline is. And by placing some people in the foreground I wanted to show that this is a place where people come to enjoy the view.

But if you look really closely you can see a path leading out along that peninsula all the way to the very end. And at the very end there is a lighthouse, stuck in a very precarious position all the way at the end. The wide-angle lens doesn't show either of those things very well at all. So if you wanted to say 'wow look at this amazing path that goes all the way to the end of a peninsula where there's a groovy lighthouse' well this picture has failed at that.

To do that you need to change lenses. The telephoto compresses the perspective, making things look a lot closer to each other than they really are. So our peninsula no longer looks long and thin. In fact you can't really tell it's length at all because everything is so squashed together.

What you can see now though is that meandering path and how it wanders up and down and over hill and down dale to get you to that lighthouse at the other end. So this is a photo that tells you if you want to go and see the lighthouse at the end of Kamui Peninsula in Hokkaido, Japan - well you're gonna have to be pretty darn fit and like walking a lot.

So if you imagine your pictures in a magazine layout they both have different captions. The first picture says ' Kamui Peninsula is a long, thin finger of land that extends from the rugged Hokkaido coastline and is a popular place for tourists to sit and take in the view.' The caption for the second picture reads something like 'The walk to the end of Hokkaido's Kamui Peninsula is not for the faint of heart. It's steep, long and will test even the fittest of day trippers who have to make it there and back before the tour bus leaves them behind.'

Different thing you're trying to say, totally different lens choice. Oh and did I do the walk? Unfortunately it was closed that day because of strong winds so I never got to. Would I have? I'll leave that to your imagination - but just one point about travel photography. If you want something new and original you have to go where not many people do.

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