How Different Lenses can Help You See Creatively
Watching Zack Ariasâ€™ video blog for the Kelby site inspired me yesterday. One of the questions Zack asked in the introduction of the video is, â€œWhat do I bring to the table that countless others have not already served up on this massive platter of visual pollution that we create each and every day?â€
Zackâ€™s question is probably something we ask ourselves as we try, each and every day, to get better at our craft. How do we interpret a vision with the tools we have? There is no button that says, â€œJoe McNallyâ€ on our dSLR that we can push if we want a photo worthy of a National Geographic feature.
A teacher once told me, When youâ€™re in doubt about something abstract, go back to the concrete. Iâ€™m still trying to follow that advice; itâ€™s helped me learn daily.
When we think about seeing creatively, and creating from that vision, itâ€™s such an overwhelmingly large topic that we need to break it down into concrete modules, things we can do today that adds to and strengthens that vision.
We can begin with our tools.
The lens you have attached to your dSLR is an extension of your vision. Through that lens, you can create an interpretation of what you see before you. This interpretation is your vision, the way you say things that you see. How does the lens you use affect that vision?
1. Your lens determines how you frame an image.
Your lens can help you include things in the frame, or exclude things from it. Try going out with a couple of lenses to photograph a single scene. How does a wide angleâ€™s inclusiveness change the story? How does the story change when you photograph the scene with a telephoto? The differences between what we can include or exclude using different focal lengths of lenses determines a lot of the story we present in a resulting frame.
2. Lenses change your point of view.
Because the focal length of lenses can include or exclude, using a different lens to take a photo changes your point of view. A lens that sees the same way the eye can see, namely the 50mm â€˜normalâ€™ lens, allows you to take photographs that echo what you see without the camera pressed to your face. A wide angle, say a 24mm lens, gives you a wider view; you can see more background, more foreground. The environmental details around your subject that you capture with a wide angle lens changes your point of view because you now have the ability to use these environmental details to add to the story.
3. Different lenses affect an image in different ways.
At the different edges of the spectrum of focal length effects, different things happen in your frame.
A wide angle lens like the 24-70mm can distort the subject. For instance, if you use a wide angle lens for a portrait where the subject leans toward you, their face shows up much bigger than their hands. Wide lenses can â€˜seeâ€™ whatâ€™s closer as bigger, and what is farther as smaller.
Telephoto lenses, such as a 70-200mm, tend to â€˜flattenâ€™ elements in the frame against each other. When youâ€™re stacking elements in a frame deliberately, this helps you to create planes that the viewer can easily identify, and with good light, you can create a photo that has depth.
4. Some lenses can render tilt better than others.
Tilting lenses while taking photos is a great way to discover what happens to the image when you change the way you point your camera.
Some tilt can be done on the same plane. What this means is, tilting the camera left or right, but keeping the lens pointed on a plane parallel to your subject. In the photo below, I tilted the camera to change the background, but the camera lens is parallel to the model.
Other tilting can use distortion to effect. Here, with a wide angle lens, the camera was tilted to change its plane relative to the subject. I tilted the camera lens down and produced the effect of the clouds â€˜marchingâ€™ across the sky. This sort of tilt helps you create perspective and depth in a shot.
Note on tilt: if you are using a normal lens, or a long telephoto like a 70-200mm, tilt doesnâ€™t work for effect that well, since the focal length gives you a very narrow field of vision.
5. Lenses can help you use depth of field creatively.
Weâ€™ve all seen stunning images that use depth of field creatively. Lenses with large apertures (f/1.2 all the way to f/2.8 for example) produce very shallow depth of field in the images. Portrait photographers love to use very wide apertures because of the â€˜creamyâ€™ effect it produces in the background. If you use a very wide depth of field on a portrait with a forest as background, the background is rendered a blurred blob of soft green without much detail. This de-clutters the background and gives a pleasant dreamy quality to a portrait.
You can also use this effect for the foreground.
Seeing creativelyâ€”an abstract conceptâ€”can be made concrete if you begin practicing it through a concrete tool, like the lens you have on your camera right now. With these simple tips, you can build a visual collection that hopefully, doesnâ€™t â€œpolluteâ€ but beautifies your portfolio.
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