Saturday, November 9, 2013

Shooting with a 50

                              A work of art occurs when imaginative energy is successfully contained 
                              within a structure.

                                                                   -- Michael Spiller

                              True freedom must be won within the confines of the rules.

                                                                   -- Jean Cocteau

Back in the days before there were zoom and interchangeable lenses, cameras had only lenses with a fixed focal length.  The most common fixed-length lens was a 50mm.  Renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson used a Leica camera with a 50mm lens for almost all his images.  (Learn more about him here.)

Until recently, I had never owned or used a fixed-length lens with my SLR cameras; I had always used some sort of zoom lens.  But I was interested in seeing what discipline a fixed-length lens would bring to my photography, so I bought a used 50mm; removed the big 18-135mm wide-angle zoom lens from my camera body; and put on the 50.  After a few trial shots in the back yard, it was time to take it out for a spin.

I headed out last Sunday (Nov. 3) for Albuquerque's South Valley neighborhood, home of the annual Dia de los Muertos y Marigolds parade and celebration.   

It's a wonderful event, tailor-made for photography . . . especially people photography.  (See last year's post with images here.) 

AAAACK ! ! !

With the zoom lens, my eye and my hand were an unconscious and smoothly functioning duo, framing shots with a flick of my wrist.  But with the 50mm, I couldn't frame a shot by just twisting the lens.  It's a fixed length; it doesn't zoom!

If I wanted to get a close-up, I had to really move in, to the point where my presence was obvious and I had to engage the subject, either verbally or by gesture, and indicate that I'd like to take their picture . . . no lurking and zooming in with the lens from afar.

And if I wanted a wide shot, I had to step back . . . and keep stepping back . . . which was a challenge, since I was operating in a crowded space with people constantly moving around and through the shot -- lots of photo-bomb opportunities.

In any case,  with the fixed-length lens, I had to move my entire body: compose with my feet.  It was an unsettling physical experience, and it took me a while to get used to it.  

I've got lots of shots where heads or hands are out of the frame:

At first, it was maddening.  But eventually I began to get the hang of it:


What I learned:  the 50mm is good for close-ups and/or portraits, not wide shots in a visually busy environment (with a few exceptions; see below).  So with a little practice, things got better.

Solo shots . . .

 Pairs . . . 

And, with a little creative positioning on my part (sitting on the ground, as I frequently do!), even a threesome . . .

By the end of the day, I understood the close-up "rules" of the 50mm lens and was winning my freedom to create some images I liked (as above).

I also learned that rules can be broken under certain circumstances . . . as with these wide shot exceptions (and a little help from Lightroom):

If you would like to see these images (and more) in a larger format, you can visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.


1 comment:

  1. Lance, remember that your Canon cropped sensor camera is an effective 80mm in 35mm land so you were actually using a short telephoto. For a real 50mm (in 35mm perspective...forgive the pun), you'd have to shot a 38mm fixed focal lens. That would better match the perspective that Henri Cartier-Bresson was using.