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

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wide angle vs telephoto portrait in the Himalayas

OK here's a portrait shot taken with a wide angle lens. Or is it a landscape shot with a person in it? Most likely the latter. You can see what I mean about how small everything is if you don't get nice and close?

Compared to yesterday's shot where I was up close and personal with my subjects, and so the people are quite large and prominent in the frame, here my wife has been reduced to a speck.

But the wide angle lens does what it's supposed to. It shows the space between objects. The lake looks a lot bigger than it really is. I mean it's quite large but if you look at the tiny little village on the other side (middle LHS of the frame) you would think it was a couple of kilometres across whereas it's probably 4 or 500 metres or so.

The mountains themselves look reasonably big but they're certainly not the dominant features in the picture that they are in real life. The reason? They're the farthest thing away from the camera. And the little puddle at my feet looks like a large lake because it's the closest thing to the camera.

OK, well it's all fine and dandy to talk about how a wide angle lens does this and it does that, but what would happen if you shot this picture with a telephoto lens?


SHAZAM!


As you can see it's not longer an environmental portrait. Well there is some environment there but it's mostly just a big rock face - the side of Gokyo Peak .

Now the angle I shot this from is slightly different from the above picture. I've moved slightly to the right to frame my wife in front of the mountain (which is to camera left in the wide angle shot)

But you can see what I mean about the focal length having such a vivid effect on your images. Same relative position between camera and subject, could have been taken in a completely different place for all that they are different.

As you can see, the telephoto has a very narrow point of view. You can't really see much around my wife at all (handy if your subject is surrounded by rubbish bins!). Another thing you'll notice is that the background looks very close - in actual fact it's about 300 metres away. This was taken with a 400mm lens on a tripod.

So if you want to make two objects look like they're a long way away from each other - go for the wide angle lens. Just don't forget that you're going to have to get up nice and close or else everything in the frame will be a speck. If you want to make two objects look really close to each other (even though they may be miles apart) the longer the telephoto the better. But the trade off is that you can't see much of anything around your subject because of the narrow field of view.

Next week I'll show you some more telephoto shots and how they are so different from the wide angle images. Then hopefully you'll have a pretty good idea which focal length lens to reach for to create the image in your mind.

Have a great weekend everybody.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wide angle lens meets the portrait

Often we're told that portrait images need to be taken with a short telephoto lens - somewhere in the 85-135mm range. But that's for portraits where your subject is the only thing in the frame.

There's a second type of portrait called an environmental portrait, and this is where the wide angle lens comes into its own.

The idea of the environmental portrait is to show the area around your subject, where they live and work. What makes them tick.

In a regular portrait a wide angle lens tends to do horrible things to people. Remember yesterday when I talked about how it makes things close to the camera look big, and faraway things look small. Well when you photograph a person the nose is the closest thing to the camera (can you say giant schnoz?) and the ears are the farthest thing away and the distortion created by the lens won't endear you to anybody - particularly your subject.

But when the subject of your photo is near the centre of the image and not too close to the camera, they look quite normal. And you get to include a lot of space around them which shows their environment. But again, just like our lanscape yesterday, you need to be reasonably close to something to get that feeling of intimacy. Stand too far back and everything will be too small in the frame and you'll lose impact.

For this shot here of Kelly, my guide on a tour to Arnhemland in the Northern Territory, I had already shot some short telephoto portraits of her at work but really wanted to show the amazing landscape she worked in. I also wanted to show how she managed to interest the people on her tour.

So whenI figured out that I needed her, her 'office' and a whole bunch of other people as well...well I reached for the wide angle and moved in close. Now the trick with using a wide angle lens to shoot more than one person spread randomly throughout the frame is something called separation.

What separation means is that one person's head isn't sticking out of another's, rocks aren't sticking out of people's skulls and everybody (as much as possible) is separated from each other. You can see I've done that here by having a slightly lower angle and making sure people are framed against a blue sky. I've also moved around to the left a bit so that that small man in the background (well he looks small because it's a wide angle lens!) is clearly separated from the lady and the gentleman in the right hand foreground.

So you can use a wide angle lens for portraits as well - environmental portraits that is. Just remember, you have to be reasonably close for that feeling of intimacy. That means you can't get sneaky photos of people when you're using this lens, but you will get some really great results.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wide angle lens meets the Himalayas

I love my wide angle lens. In fact when I first considered swapping to digital (and at that time there were only crop dSLRs) I was worried about losing my widest angle so I bought an extra lens as well.

Here you can see what the wide angle does so well. Gives a sense of depth. All the way from the foreground rocks to the background mountains it's so clear and crisp that you feel like you're actually there.

Used well in landscape photography wide angle lenses really enhance this feeling of space (when held horizontally) and depth (when held vertically). But there's a couple of things you need to do to maximise this impression.

The first thing is that you need to have 3 important elements - a foreground, a middle ground and a background. In other words you have to get up close to something so that it's nice and close to the camera.

Hence the problem with a lot of images taken with wide angle lenses from famous lookouts. Often there's no foreground. Why? Because often the thing closest to the lens is a crummy car park full of rubbish! So you tend to take that wide angle lens and focus it out on the horizon. Bad move.

To use a wide angle lens effectively you really do need to get down low and up close and personal with something. Otherwise you'll end up with just a middle ground and background. And what's the problem with that?

The farther something is from a wide angle lens the smaller it looks. Look at those mountains there. Sure they're higher than everything else but they don't appear very big in the frame. How many lookout photos of really big mountains do you have where you've used a wide angle lens and the mountains look really small. Wide angle lenses are not the way to make distant objects look big.

So here you can see we've got the rocks and river in the foreground, leading the eye to the lower slopes in the middle ground and then up to the peaks in the background. All three elements leading your eye through the whole frame. Because the river is closest to the lens it appears largest and most prominent in the frame. But by having the three 'grounds' you end up looking at everything.

The other good thing about wide angle lenses is they have an inherently big depth of field. So just by closing down your aperture a bit everything is razor sharp and clear, which is just what you usually want in sweeping vista images.

Tomorrow I'll pull out a different wide angle shot and show you some other uses for this handy lens.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wide-angle vs telephoto

Judging by the questions I get every week and the number of people that tend to stumble across my blog after typing the words 'telephoto vs wide angle' or the other way round into a Search Engine - well it seems that lenses can be a bit confusing.

So I want to spend a bit of time this week talking about different lenses and what they do. For today's post I want to point you in the direction of some posts I've made in the past highlighting different uses for lenses.

Of course you can always try this yourself by just typing lenses into the Search engine on your right there. Or you could type telephoto, or wide angle. You'll come across a whole heap of posts showing lots of examples. In the meantime here's some of my favourites.

This one shows you how to work the different lenses in a big crowd of people and the mindset behind choosing different focal lengths.

This one will show you how to clean up a messy scene by using a telephoto lens. It's also a really good one for showing you how you can bring two distant objects and have them really close in the final composition.

This one will show you how telephoto lenses help to make things look really big!

This one will show you how to train your eye to see like a telephoto lens.

And that should keep you busy for a little while! As I said there's others here on the blog, just type in your favourite search word and they'll all come up. Starting from tomorrow I'll post some images based on the focal length and talk a little bit about them.

Brownie points for guessing that the shot above was taken with a wide angle lens. This is author and TV personality Kathy Lette who I photographed when she was out here in Australia a couple of years ago.

And just word of thanks to those people who have booked to come along to my photography course from interstate. I am truly humbled and honoured that people would come so far to listen to me waffle for two days! Thanks guys and I'm looking forward to a great weekend.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday's Link

Hi everybody,

hope you had a great weekend. Mine was full of photography books I got from Amazon. I'll tell you more about them when I've had a chance to take them all in.

Well today's link is to a brand new blog from my former teacher Rob Walls. Back when I started doing this for a living I really didn't have much of an idea of how the business of photography worked. I had read some books but they were mostly US based and seeing as I am living all the way down here in Australia they weren't always relevant.

So I came across a correspondence course run by a school out of Sydney called the Australian College of Journalism. I don't think they exist anymore, or maybe they do under a different name, I'm not sure.

Anyway my tutor was a guy named Rob Walls, a veteran newspaper and magazine photographer who was fantastic. I found the materials in the course to be quite outdated but Rob was right up with the times. He would answer email questions promptly and set up a group for students online to get together and talk things photography.

Anyway we've stayed in touch over the years and he still gives me advice - like the fact that there is life after children! haha He's shooting a lot of stock for Alamy these days and still enjoying his photography to the full.

Anyway he has a new blog where he promises to entertain us all with stories of all the famous and not-so famous people he's photographed over the years. I'm sure he's going to have lots of interesting stories to tell so it's definitely one to add to your reader.