35mm: Focal Length Series

So this is the challenge I have given myself: to head out on a series of Photomissions where I am only allowed to use one focal length per session. I will walk the same route each time; between Waterloo Station and Oxford Circus Underground and shoot using only one prime lens along the route to see what I can catch, and report back the experience and challenges of shooting with that particular focal length. I'm hoping to cover 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm.


This time it's my

35mm f2 prime.


NOTE: I am shooting on a full frame camera. If you're shooting on a cropped sensor camera (APS-C sensor) then these comments will apply more to a 24mm prime.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when I set off from Waterloo, maybe a little too sunny. I was a bit early for the 'golden hour', which is only arriving about 7:30pm in the UK at the moment, but I decide to make the most of it anyway. 

The first thing I noticed, not having shot on this lens for while, is how wide true 35mm is. I was instantly faced with a problem when shooting on the street; if I wanted to capture subjects I would have to get right in their face to do it. I couldn't stand off at a distance and shoot without people noticing. I would have to make myself obvious. Some photographers are good at this, but I'm not one of them, yet. In fact it got me thinking at one point that good photographers are really half technique, and then half sheer balls to get themselves in a postion to get the interesting shots. I think I'm still too self conscious, which is something I have to work on.

So I ended up shooting more 'scenes' than 'subjects', which is maybe the point of this focal length.

I know many photojournalists swear by the 35mm focal length. They suggest that shooting an event with a long focal length, from across the street, will give your viewer a sense of separation from the action, because, perhaps subconciously, they know the shot was taken far from the action. If you chose to use a 35mm to capture the action there is no choice but to get in it's face, and you carry your viewer into the midst of the action with you.

What I did love about this focal length is the context it gives you. It allows you to place your subject in it's surroundings. I am most used to shooting portraits close up at 50mm or 85mm, which means that my background usually becomes insignficant bokeh, rather than meaningful context. I enjoyed getting the shots back home and looking around the corners of the image and seeing faces and details I didn't notice in the second I snapped the shutter. 

I was concerned that I would be stuck with a lot of image distortion with the extra width, but it really wasn't bad. I didn't end up correcting any of it, and 35mm seems to be the last prime on the way down to wide that gives you a relatively pleasing persective which isn't distracting.

The 35mm f2 I was using is one of the 'cheap plastic' primes from Canon, but I was really surprised by how sharp it was. It performed very well in different light conditions, and there was a lot of high contrast 'light and shade'. If you're thinking about rushing out and buying one I really would recommend it, but just note that you do have to 'baby' these lenses a bit to get them to last the years, because the build quality isn't that great, but if you're willing to love it, it will give you some great shots at a really affordable price.

This is a focal length I definitely want to play with more, although I will have to strap on a pair to do it well.

Challenge accepted.

Here are some more of the shots:


...and a selfie:)