I Wish I'd Known More About Lenses Years Ago
Monte Zucker• Posted Aug 1, 1999
I still have lots to learn about the technical side of the many lenses that exist, but I figured out something a while back that I'd like to share with you. Wide angle lenses aren't just for when you can't squeeze everything into your picture. Telephoto lenses aren't just for when you need to get closer to your subject. There's another characteristic of lenses that I consider one of the most important aspects of them, and a great reason to have a camera on which you can change the lenses.
The portrait of Rev. Fr. F. Kirlangitis, for instance, (Photo 1) was made during a recent class at the St. Barbara Church, Sarasota, Florida. When I work in front of a painted background I have to contain the angle of view to just the 6' wide surface behind the subject. A 150mm lens is most appropriate for almost all of the portraits that I make like this.
Outside the church (Photo 2) I wanted to show its beautiful, sprawling architecture. At the same time, I wanted to feature the bride and groom in front it. Rather than pose them close to the church and have them "lost" in the background, I put a 40mm wide angle lens on my camera and brought them up close to the lens. They're standing a mere 6' away from me. The church, on the other hand, was as far back from them as I could get without posing them on the driveway and including it in the foreground.
For Photo 3 I came underneath the covered area of the front of the church and used the depth of the repeating arches for the background. My 150mm lens seemed to bring the space between the arches closer together, while at the same time it confined the field of view to just within the arches.
Inside the sanctuary of the church (Photo 4) there is bright, diffused light coming in on both sides from large windows. There is an overhead skylight that brings in a lot of light, too. The church is so intricately and ornately decorated that to place the bride and groom close to the background would be a disaster. It would be hard to find them among such beautiful and meaningful religious artifacts.
Backgrounds are everywhere. You just need to look for them--and know what you're looking for. Outside, I first look for a light background with a lot of depth. Photo 5 is a great example of a perfect background for me. It has tremendous depth and has sunlight falling onto it. I don't want my backgrounds to go dark.
The large f/stop of the lens kept the focus to just the bride and groom--exactly as I had intended. By changing the f/stop of each lens you can keep the focus to just the people or to the entire scene.
Photo 6, for instance, needed to have a stopped-down lens for the bright sun on the background and for my desire to have the scene behind them a sharp, intricate part of the portrait. Choosing the building behind them for the background, I first tried my 40mm lens. It showed the whole parking lot to my right. A 60mm lens was perfect for me here. It included just as much of the scene as I wanted. Again, I was close to my subjects, so that they would dominate the scene. I was careful to pose them against a simple part of the background, of course.
Once in a while, I use an 80mm lens. I know that this is supposed to be the "normal" lens for a 21/4 camera, but I use this lens less frequently than any of my others. Here, for Photo 7, the lens seemed to include exactly what I wanted around and behind the bride. Lighting was just as in the previous pictures. That is, split-lighting from the ambient light, a bare-bulb flash two f/stops less coming from camera left--and a flash in the room behind her to add depth and backlight her veil.
When I find a lens and a lighting technique that works for me, I use it whenever I come across a similar situation. Why not? It's the only thing that makes sense. Why bother with experimenting all the time? Profit from past experience. Hopefully, you can profit from mine, too.
The last two photographs of this series, Photos 9 and 10 were made with all natural light. Can you pick the lenses without my telling you? Maybe.
The silhouette of the couple in Photo 10 was made with--I'll surprise you here--my 350mm lens. I was almost a block away from them. He had a walkie-talkie on his belt, so that I could give them directions from that far away. Not a bad idea, huh?
But just look at the way that telephoto lens zoomed right in on them and how it brought all those layers of depth together. It just wouldn't have worked nearly as effectively with a shorter lens.
Of course, your choice of lenses depends on what your pocketbook can afford. Just thought I'd give you, perhaps, a different point of view. Select the amount of background that you want to show and use the lens that will accomplish that for you. Couldn't be simpler, could it?
Now, all you have to do is to be able to afford the lenses. Hey, there are bargains to be had out there. I do have my favorite sources for equipment, new and used. You can find out more about them by checking out my web site, www.montezucker.com. Hope you'll visit me there and learn more about lenses, lighting, and loving (at least in pictures, that is).