Tuesday, August 10, 2010

12. Close and involved

Swapping my 200mm lens for a 24mm prime, the world through the viewfinder changed utterly.  Instead of standing off and portraying people against an almost abstract background, I was now seeing a landscape with massive depth of field in which people appeared small and distant, even when a few meters away.  The difference in approach is immense.  With the 200mm lens a full body portrait could be taken from 10m away, with the 24mm lens I needed to almost stand shoulder to shoulder with the person I was photographing.  This felt intrusive, however, the fact that the lens is both very much smaller and with huge DoF meant that I could raise the camera focus and shoot in a fraction of the time taken by the longer lens.  I was moving from the world of Beat Streuli into that of Garry Winogrand!

The biggest difference visually was the change caused by the depth of field, the people I was photographing were now a part of the scene, the difference between foreground and background was massively diminished.  although this was an uncomfortable experience at first, it began to draw me in and getting in close and shooting fast became fun.  What the shorter focal length offered to the experience of photography was spontaneity, with the 200mm lens each image had to be carefully considered and it took time to focus and track a subject, with the 24 it was click, move on, click again!

I started relatively safely with a small group of people out to save our souls

24mm, 1/180, f/5.6, ISO 100

This photograph was taken up close, however, his proportions have not become distorted as I had to keep enough distance to capture the banner.

The other property of the wide lens, as mentioned in the course notes is the ability to point the lens away from the subject but still capture the action on the edge of the frame.  In the following photograph the girls father had given her a piece of string with a magnet on the end so that she could fish for coins thrown into the fountain.  I suspected that a direct photo could lead to confrontation, as this was quasi-legal and there was a good chance that the father might not want his or his daughters activity recorded:

24mm, 1/90, f/8, ISO 100
I went for a narrower aperture on this shot as I wanted to ensure that the fountain and the girl were in focus.

One great use for the wider angle is working in relatively tight spaces such as small shops.  The following 3 photographs were all taken in and around Munich's market:

24mm, 1/45, f/8, ISO 100

24mm, 1/125, f/4, ISO 400

24mm, 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 400

In each of these photographs I had to move in extremely close, no more than a couple of feet from the shoppers.  As they were engrossed in their shopping I was unobserved.  I like this angle for what are effectively room interiors, there is a real sense of the environment of the shop.  In each of these images there are no major straight lines and the perspective is cluttered, otherwise the images would be visibly distorted.  This can be fixed in software or with a tilt shift lens, however, it is more satisfying not to need the corrections. A tilt shift lens is great for these environments, but the complex metering and manual focus really need a tripod for successful use, such a lens would be hard to use for street photography.

Moving onto photographs of people, one of the key challenges of using a 24mm wide angle becomes very visible.  Any close up shot of a person is going to distort their shape.  My first two shots are taken from a reasonable distance and again serve well to place the individuals into their environment:

24mm, 1/2000, f/2.8, ISO 100

24mm, 1/2000, f/4, ISO 400

The first shot is spoiled by the woman in grey in the foreground, I would normally crop this photo, however, it illustrates the challenge of working in heavy traffic even with a wide angle.  The other image works better, the perspective is a little strong, but that adds drama to the image.

However, as the two guys in armor passed by I took a couple of portraits and the perspective distortion of a 24mm lens used close up becomes very apparent as their upper bodies appear to dwarf their legs

24mm, 1/2000, f/4, ISO 400

24mm, 1/1000, f/4, ISO 400

In both cases they are interesting photographs, but far too distorted.  Another challenge here was the strong overhead sun, which was to the other side of the subjects.

The 24mm can create dramatic photo's of individuals, but really comes into its own when working with a group of people that benefit from being placed into the environment they occupy. Add to that a very confined busy environment such as a market:

24mm, 1/125, f/4, ISO 400

24mm, 1/180, f/4, ISO 400

24mm, 1/90, f/4, ISO 400

24mm, 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 100

In the final image the people are almost an afterthought, the picture is really the stand they are running and the hats.  The wide angle lens is also great for shots in which there is a huge amount of colour and detail, where the goal is to show all of it!  Such as:

24mm, 1/250, f/4, ISO 400

24mm, 1/250, f/4, ISO 400

OK, in the final shot I did manage to get some people included, albeit very small.  

My final 24mm shot is very different and I am including it as  a link to the next chapters on people interacting with buildings.  A few days ago heading home from the beer garden, I was waiting for a subway train at the Max Weber Platz U-Bahn station and when this train pulled in I had my camera in my hand so took a couple of shots.  This station is architecturally very interesting as unlike most underground stations it is open and from the platforms it is possible to look up around 4 stories into the entrance.  This means that the stairways and structural supports are all exposed.  This photograph illustrates that well and combines multiple elements.  The two guys on the train are visibly bored waiting to get home, whilst in the background a hint of red is a person heading down the stairs into the station.

24-70mm, 24mm, 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 3200

This is one of the locations that I plan to use for Assignment 3 and I suspect that this image or one very much like it will be part of my assignment submission.

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