Tuesday, August 10, 2010

13. A standard view

Changing the view through the objective once again, I finally switch to the "standard" focal length of 50mm.  Strangely this was the most difficult lens to work with, it did not offer the stand off capability of the 200mm or the dramatic all-inclusive perspective of the 24mm.  The view through the lens seemed very ordinary, perhaps because it replicates closely what I see through my own eyes, but still seems very restrictive.  Last night I read a confirmation of what I had always believed to be true, i.e. that the brain evaluates any scene we look at from multiple different images formed by the eye.  An individual glance might approximate to a 50mm photograph, however what we see is many different "frames" pulled together, each with different focus point and effective aperture as the iris contracts to manage the light.  So although 50mm is close to our field of view, a camera can never replicate what the brain actually experiences as an image.

Having said this 50mm is a useful focal length for photographs of people and produces full body images that are correctly proportioned.  When I have used this lens for head and shoulder portraits it actually has more of the quality of a wide angle and distortion is quite visible and undesirable, 85mm or more is really needed.

Around town I tried to capture a few full body images of people:

50mm, 1/45, f/8, ISO 125

50mm, 1/45, f/8, ISO 100

50mm, 1/45, f/8, ISO 125

The focal length was also good for capturing small groups of people, such as this small stand up fast food bar:

50mm, 1/125, f/4, ISO 400

Or this rather surprised pair of girls descending the escalator into a subway station - heading for a good night out

24-70mm, 50mm, 1/180, f/2.8, ISO 3200

In the market this focal length did not permit such wide field of view, but did enable me to get closer to individuals and capture gesture better than the wider angle

50mm, 1/1500, f/2.8, ISO 100

The men in medieval costume that I captured with the 24mm were also far easier to deal with and look more natural at 50mm although again these were very difficult exposures due to the strong sun and reflections all around

50mm, 1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 100

50mm, 1/2000, f/2.8, ISO 100

The second of these images is a good example of the strength of this focal length to capture small groups of people without having to be too close or far away.  In this sense I found the 50 to be the easiest lens to use in a crowded environment.

Such a lens is also a good choice for capturing incidental detail such as the contents of the market stalls.  At 24mm I could capture the whole stall, but at the expense of perspective distortion.  Here the 50mm brings the goods for sales close enough, but without any obvious distortion other than the shallow depth of field in the first image

50mm, 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 100

50mm, 1/1500, f/2.8, ISO 100

Moving out onto the street 50mm is also good for capturing traffic or buildings, here are two examples:

50mm, 1/2000, f/5.6, ISO 100

50mm, 1/1500, f/5.6, ISO 100

I particularly like the second image, it is very reminiscent of a cheap postcard, with the highly saturated colours and the very straight framing.

By combining each shoot into a succession of using 3 fixed length lenses at 24mm, 50mm, and 200mm I have forced myself to look for subjects that work with the focal length, rather than simply twist the zoom ring on a super telephoto.  The constraint was actually quite liberating and rather than limiting creativity it forced me to be more creative in looking for and framing my subject matter.

On balance I think I still prefer the look of images made with telephoto focal lengths, but the ability to use wide angle to get in close to my subjects was exciting and unnerving at the same time.

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