Monday, July 03, 2006

Zoom lenses could be killing your creativity

Zoom lenses are by far the most popular choice for photographers using digital SLRs and I don't think any prosumer or consumer digital cameras are made that don't have a zoom lens these days.

How is this affecting creativity? When I studied photography, in the beginning, we had to use a camera fully manual with one standard fixed lens. We were taught to look while moving around the subject.

Having regularly observed other photographers at work I have noticed that when they see something they stop dead in their tracks, zoom to the appropriate focal length to frame the composition and take the shot – without exploring the possibilities that open up by moving closer or further away from the subject and choosing the optimal focal length.

But here's the really interesting thing that photographers seem to be missing, and it is something that could enhance their creative expression. Each focal length has its own unique characteristics which can be explored creatively.

This will sound painfully obvious to some but to others it may come as a bit of a revelation. Let's look at an example, a head shot. Take an extreme wide angle and fill the frame with your subjects face. You will see plenty of distortion. Then move away keeping the persons face full frame by using the zoom. The difference in depth of field, distortion, compression and effect on the person's features and background is phenomenal. This difference obviously also applies to shooting landscapes, still lives and everything else.

Although the effect on subjects like landscapes may appear more subtle in choice between for example a 24mm wide angle and a 17mm wide angle it's there none the less. And this means that it can be used for creative expression.

So next time you're out there zooming away, think about the focal lengths you're using and the creative impact that choice of focal length can have. The joy of a zoom is have a range of focal lengths to choose from but the choice of which one to use should be a conscious creative decision, just like deciding which aperture or shutter speed to use. Keep on moving yourself, not your zoom.

All the best,

Paul
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