When in doubt – use the wrong lens

Photographer Dave Black has been a huge inspiration to me from the moment that I met him. I was at a photo conference and had some time to kill and saw that this guy who works for Sports Illustrated and Newsweek was going to talk about freelancing. About 35 of us showed up to the hour long talk and in walks this tall thin dude who walks up the the podium and promptly does a hand stand. "Now that I have your attention – let's talk about photography!" That was my introduction to Dave. His energy is amazing and he has always pushed his artistic boundaries. He's visually fearless. I picked up a lot of things from him and one was "Don't assume that you have to photograph anything in a particular way. If you are used to using a 400mm lens to shoot baseball, try using an 85mm instead. You will be forced to find different images than the ones that you expect to see. It will be hard at first but they are there."

So even though we all have a comfortable zone of approaching subject visually sometimes it's good to force yourself into something that is going to throw a variable into the mix. If you tend to use your 70-200 lens most of the time, shoot some with a fixed 35mm. If you typically bring out 4 lights to do a portrait, do some with just ambient and a reflector. Sometimes the "wrong" tool for the job is better.

For my news/documentary work I tend to stay in the 28-85mm range for a number of reasons. Mostly because it allows me to be physically close to my subjects and show an intimacy both personally and visually. Also at the 3-5 foot "conversation" range any lens longer than an 85 is very tight and won't focus close enough. Anything wider than a 24mm gets quite distorted when hands or feet get so close to the lens. So for those kind of shoots I tend to either have two bodies (one with a 24/28mm fixed and another body with my 85mm f/1.4) or one body with my 28-70mm f/2.8.

I was assigned to make images for a story about an aerial dance studio and decided to bring with me the wrong lens for the job: my 14mm. I initially got that lens when I was shooting my Nikon D200's with their 1.5x crop so that I would have a very wide 21mm equivalent for things like architectural shots. Since I've been using the full frame D700's though the 14mm has become the "insanely wide lens" that hasn't really been used because it's soooo wide. But I thought "What the heck!"

After getting what I knew would satisfy the client I put on the 14mm and started doing what you are not supposed to do: stick it very close to people. Why? The foreshortening becomes extreme and very distorted/odd looking. So what?! It could be cool. Also rather than framing things through the viewfinder I blind shot nearly everything.  I did use Live View for some initial rough lining up of shots but since they were moving about I couldn't really "compose" in a normal sense. End result? I loved the 14mm shots more than the other ones done with less lens induced weirdness.

Trap 1

Trap 2

Now this approach doesn't work very often, or it becomes boring, but here it was a load of fun. Sometimes talking the wrong approach is just the thing to do.

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