The voice in my head says “Use the 6!”

I’ve always been a wide angle kinda guy mostly because I want to be close to my subject both physically and emotionally. I’d say that 90% of my work with people is done within 7 feet of the subject and often closer than that. Let’s face it that at 3 feet away a moderate wide angle shows a fair amount of detail but keeps the subjects environment in view and I like that. Not many long lenses will focus that far in so I tend to use a fixed mid telephoto like my beloved 85mm f/1.4 on my second body because it will focus down to 3 feet so that I don’t have to move backwards so that I can get a tight shot with, say my 80-200 zoom that only focuses to 5 feet.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well a long time ago I was at the Clarkson "Photography At the Summit" workshop and Kenneth Jarecke of Contact Press was an instructor. During nearly all the end of day image reviews Jarecke kept saying "Use the 6!" and it seemed to confuse many of us students. It took me about 3 years to figure out what he meant. Jarecke meant to use a very long lens to totally isolate the subject from the background. He made his big splash during the Oliver North trials and he used almost exclusively a 600mm lens in the courtroom producing a series of very tight shots of North’s reactions.

This approach was alien to me at the time but now it makes perfect sense. Rather than trying to show a lot in the frame with a wide lens we need to sometimes forgo everything around the subject and just show one little thing: a tear, the hand, some telling detail and let everything else go to heck. I think that we subconsciously want to cram as much into the frame as possible and the idea of only including a minimal amount of information is a little strange. Much like a classical Chinese landscape painting what we don’t show can in a Rorschach blot way allow us to see things in the negative space. I love these kind of paintings and photographs like them and will continue to pursue that kind of seeing.  It means that I will often drag my 400mm lens with me just incase I can find a use for it besides things like sports. I hate to be encumbered by the monster but it produces images that you can’t get with a shorter lens. So from time to time I still hear Jarecke’s voice saying to me loudly in the dark of my mind "Fer cryin out loud … use the 6!" and I try to take it to heart.

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