Go Long or Go Wide? Variations on a Theme
As photographers, the lenses we choose can dramatically change the subject’s appearance in the finished photograph. I find that much of the time I fall back on my trusty 24-105mm zoom lens, which covers most of the subjects I photograph very well. But when I visited the patch of ‘Flore Pleno’ Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Flore Pleno’) in our woodland-edge garden yesterday evening I left “old trusty” in my bag and picked three different lenses as I explored this spring ephemeral.
The photo above was made with my 300mm lens, which is probably the least-used lens in my bag. In fact, my Lightroom library told me I hadn’t mounted this glass on my camera since 2015. I originally bought it for wildlife, but I don’t photograph much of that so it sat on the shelf.
A long telephoto like the 300mm compresses distance and makes it easy to keep your subject sharp while letting the background go soft. The challenge is that the close focus distance is something like 2.5 meters, which is about the distance from which I made this photo. Yes, that’s a bit over 8 feet away!
At the other end of the scale are wide-angle lenses. I mounted my 16-35mm, brought my tripod down low, and moved in close to the flowers. This photo, above, was made with the lens at 35mm. If you compare with the 300mm version at the top you’ll note that the white flowers themselves are close to the same size while the trilliums in the background are considerably smaller. The wide-angle lens expands space, exaggerating size relationships between elements of the composition that are nearer to or farther from the camera.
Here I’ve zoomed out a bit, to 26mm, and raised the camera slightly to further exaggerate the foreground-background relationship between the bloodroot and the trilliums.
Holy smoke, there’s a lot in this picture made at 16mm. Now we’re looking at more of the environment where these two clumps of plants are growing.
I do a LOT of flower photography with my 100mm macro lens. I like the working distance that 100mm gives me, as well as being a nice trade-off between super-wide and super-long. It also focuses to roughly life size on the sensor (or 35mm film if you still shoot the stuff) so I can get in really close.
The last image I made of the bloodroot, also with the 100mm lens, showcases just a few blossoms themselves.
All of these photos were made in about a 20-minute period yesterday evening, starting about 6 pm. The late afternoon sun was still a little harsh, so I used a one-stop diffuser to soften the light and reduce the contrast just enough to hold detail in both the highlights and the shadows.
Next time you’re out photographing, challenge yourself to use a different lens than the one you normally reach for in your bag. You may be surprised at how different your photos can look.