SoCo neon and focal length experiments
My newest and most underused lens is the Olympus 40 – 150mm f4 – 5.6. I bought it before I went to Japan, just in case I did some nature photography and wanted its range and its telephoto abilities. I didn’t use it much. Last weekend I took the zoom on a photowalk to get to know it better. I posted More Abstract Agaves of SoCo where I did some closeups with the lens and I also captured some nice looking cloud formations too. During the SoCo outing, we congregated at a corner of Congress Avenue and Nellie Street, where we socialized and waited for the blue hour. I started playing with my 40-150 zoom and my wide-angle 14mm; switching between the two and experimenting.
I’ve shot a lot with my 14mm (28mm equivalent). Of the 10,000 images I took in Japan, up to 80% were shot with this lens. Previous to this, I used the Lumix 20mm (40mm equivalent) as my only lens for 10 months. So I’m quite familiar with lenses from a moderate wide-angle to normal point of view. I find telephotos a lot more of challenging. The image above was shot with the 14mm. I managed to exclude all the visual clutter and created a simple composition. The telephoto versions of the Heritage Boot Neon sign are my experiments with this 40-150 zoom. I didn’t shoot these all from the exact same position so this is not a focal length comparison. Rather, I was attempting to make interesting compositions, from different angles, using various focal lengths.
After shooting so much with the 14mm, I now see compositions very easily at this focal length. That is one of the advantages of non-zooming prime lenses. You are locked into a certain way of seeing things and that helps you to create compositions before you shoot them. Being “locked into seeing things” seems like a bad thing in photography, where you want to be creative and flexible. However, the irony is the constraint of using a prime strengthens the eye and the brain. Counterintuitive I’m sure but it’s helped me. I think the 28mm focal length works nicely for architecture in these urban environments. Wide enough to be inclusive but not so wide that objects become too distant. That’s the challenge when using super-wide lenses such as the 16mm to 18mm. The distance between you and the subject looks so far away that the point of interest looks tiny. For super-wides, you need to have foreground and mid-ground elements to make a balanced photograph. This is not not the case with the 28mm. I also found using the Lumix 20mm (40mm equivalent) often times feels a bit constraining for architecture, especially when shooting on the diagonal.
But there are disadvantages to a moderately wide lens too. There are always disadvantages. If I wanted to include the Blackmail and Heritage Boot Neons signs together, it may not be possible to exclude unwanted elements. While the lone neon sign at the top of the post works well because of a simple, uncluttered composition, the one below with the two signs does not work as well. There is too much clutter and other distracting elements that weakens the image. You can tell that the first image up top is obviously about the neon sign even if it was taken with the same 14mm lens as the image below. The cluttered image below has two neon signs, another sign cut off, and a window among other things. To me it’s not clear what the focal point is. Compare that image to the last one on the post. The 80mm equivalent on the zoom lens allowed me to exclude more elements and concentrate on the neon signs. Clearly the photo is about the two neon signs and their interplay.
I certainly need more hands on time with this telephoto zoom. I don’t think as easily in telephoto but perhaps with more practice I will get better. I may think more in wide-angle but there are always advantages for each focal length. Perhaps some walks in downtown Austin, pointing my zoom as the new high rises would be a good way to start.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.