Wind-blown grassesWind-blown grassesDry grass blowing in the wind near Canberra.

The zoom ring does more than you think

July 18, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

In my previous blog, I described my recent excursion to photograph the sunrise over the Swan River in Perth. After I'd finished that shoot, I set out to photograph what seems to have become a bit of an icon among the selfie fraternity in Perth: the Crawley boat shed.

When I was a kid, the shore along Mounts Bay Road had a number of such sheds, not to mention the "Crawley Baths", where you could swim safe from bull sharks – if not jelly fish. Now, the baths are long gone, and the boat shed is the only survivor from that era.

Anyway, pretty much from dawn till dusk, you'll see people on the walkway to the shed with or without selfie sticks, photographing themselves or their friends. I had hoped that by being there at 07:30 on a Saturday morning, I'd avoid that demographic. I was wrong, but I didn't have to wait too long before I had my chance.

I arrived with my 24-120mm f/4 lens fitted to my D800, but decided as soon as I arrived to go wider: my Nikon 14-24 f/2.8. This is a beautiful lens, although you have to be careful at 14mm to keep your toes out of the shot. (No, that's not hyperbole.)

There was plenty of light, so there was no need for a tripod and I got right into it. One of my first shots, made at 14mm was this image, which I consider the pick of the morning.

Boatshed on the Swan River at Crawley, Western Australia.Boatshed on the Swan River at Crawley, Western Australia.Boatshed on the Swan River at Crawley, near the University of Western Australia.

 

I then decided to go "long" (everything's relative) and zoomed to 24mm and made this image:

The Crawley boat shed on the Swan River, photographed at 24mm focal length.Crawley boat shed - at 24mmThe Crawley boat shed on the Swan River, photographed at 24mm focal length.

 

Not bad, but not as good as the first image, in my opinion.

Hopefully, you're now thinking what a talented photographer I am (that's a joke, by the way) – but that's not why I'm showing you these images. Compare the two images. They were made within a few seconds of each other from the same spot, with the same lens and settings. What's different is the focal length – and now I'm getting to my point.

When I've been teaching photography to people new to the craft, I've always stressed that zooming does more than make the object seem closer or further away – it changes the perspective. Most people with cameras with zoom lenses (and some zooms have huge zoom ratios) stay glued to the spot and just zoom. I've done it myself. Sometimes, you have no choice. Getting close to that tiger at the zoo is best done with focal length, rather than jumping the rail. Similarly, if you're trying to photograph a bird, it's easier on the bird and you if you twist that zoom ring.

Inquisitive rainbow lorikeet, South Durras, NSW.Inquisitive rainbow lorikeet, South Durras, NSW.Inquisitive rainbow lorikeet, South Durras, NSW.

 

A long lens can be used to "compress" the image and change the whole look of the shot. This image of mine brings the waves and the headland much closer together for a more dramatic shot than would be achieved with say, a 50mm lens.

Sunrise at South DurrasSunrise at South Durras

 

While this shot made with a wide angle emphasises the sky.

Cloudscape, near Canberra.Cloudscape, near Canberra.

 

My point is that zooming does a lot more than just changing the apparent distance to your subject – it changes the perspective. You may not always have a choice, but if you do, consider "zooming with your feet", rather than twisting the zoom ring.

Good shooting.

Shane Baker
shanebakerphotos@iinet.net.au


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