85mm: 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.

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This week it's the

85mm f1.8 prime.

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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 50mm prime.

This is one of my favourite lenses at the moment.

I use it a great deal in the portrait shoots I do and love the way it separates the subject from the background, with beautiful bokeh and compression. With this in mind I knew I would be looking for individual subjects, and that this lens would give me the ability to pull them out of their surroundings.

Walking out of Waterloo this time I had to immediately adjust my viewpoint. I had last shot this route on the 24mm and was now on the other end of the spectrum. I stopped in the station for a little while and looked around through the viewfinder so I could lock the focal length into my minds eye. No point in jamming the camera up to my eye every few seconds for shots I would never be able to get at this focal length. I needed to be walking around with that 85mm frame in my mind to know what was possible, and to react to the right things.

I headed out and began looking for interesting people doing interesting things. It's something I am learning a lot at the moment: I would rather take a bad photo of an interesting subject, than take a slick photo of a boring subject. Learning to find those moments, or create them, and then capture them is really more than half the photographers job. We all focus so much on gear and techniques, but too few of us work on creating or finding great subjects which compel. We also have to come to terms with the fact that some days you'll find those subjects, and some you won't, and the only way to 'up' your chances is with perseverance, or "Tenacity!!", as my Grandfather would yell when giving his secret to life and success.

With street photography, you have to invest time. Be patient. Stay out as long as you can.

The other great thing about this lens is it allowed me stand off at a distance more often, and grab unguarded moments without being detected and altering the scene. I know that sounds voyeuristic, but it really is the nature of street photography. The moment someone notices you they will 'pose' or 'run', and you will have lost the opportunity to catch a real moment with a real human being. It's the constant battle of the reportage photographer: how to capture human beings without changing them. I know the arguments about shooting wider and being closer, but this longer focal length does have the payoff of anonymity, and right now that suits my non-confrontational style of photography well.

This Canon 85mm f1.8 is a fantastic lens. I only bought it recently and could kick myself for not buying it sooner. It's super sharp, with beautiful Bokeh. As a portrait lens it really is one of the best affordable primes and will give you professional results every time. Well worth a look.

Here are some more of the shots I got:

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24mm: 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.

Google+Maps.jpg

This week it's the

24mm f2.8 prime.

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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 15mm prime.

24mm was always going to be the difficult one. Usually when you shoot with this width you have a strong idea of the vista you want to capture, so it's not really suited to run-and-gun street photography. 

That said I did learn some things.

I set off from Waterloo about 7pm again to try and catch some 'golden hour' light. The moment I stepped out of the station I started shooting buildings because of the extra width. The problem I experieced immediately was the distortion I got with the lens. I had to be very careful about framing because, obviously, with a lens this wide I was getting the most distortion closest to the edges of my frame (barrel distortion) so it meant I was going to have to frame my subjects closer to the clean center and ignore the rule of thirds for the day. 

I haven't corrected the distortion in the images below so you can a feel for what I'm talking about.

You do get super wide prime lens which correct for this distortion, like the Canon 14mm rectilinear, but they are very expensive. You can also correct in post, but I find that the more you pull the image around, the more detail you lose.

After sticking to shooting buildings and wide scenes I decided to mix it up a bit so at one point I set myself the challenge of shooting a person with this focal length. To be surreptitious about it I found myself having to shoot from the hip. I almost bumped into the subject to get close enough without simply walking up and sticking the camera right in his face. You'll see below that he was busy dancing so didn't really notice me, but I was less than two paces away from him when I took the shot, so this obviously isn't a great lens for people unless you are looking for something more stylised and you are able to get right in your subjects face. Don't forget they will distort like crazy too so watch the shape, although you can get some pretty cool effects shooting portraits at this focal length, like this one  I shot a while ago.

The 24mm f2.8 I was using is another of the 'cheap plastic' primes from Canon. It performed ok. I'm not sure if I'm being harsh on it because I was grumpy about being stuck with such a wide focal length, but I found there wasn't as much latitude in the light and shade during the edit, and I really had to work at the sharpness of some of the images. It's still worth it as an inexpensive lens, but if you are a fellow pixel-peeper there are annoying little traits that may bug you.

I used to shoot a lot more landscapes than I do currently and I felt myself out-of-practice with this width. Nowadays I shoot mostly in the high rise confines of a city, or up close and personal with portraits and products. My 24mm doesn't come out of the bag much, but this little exercise made me want to get out into open space again and rekindle an old love for wide angle photography. 

Here are some of the shots:

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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.

Google+Maps.jpg

This time it's my

35mm f2 prime.

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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:

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...and a selfie:)

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