The Key Question

On my travels I usually carry two key lenses, or in other words two focal lengths: GF 45mm (35mm in ff terms) and GF 110 (85mm in ff terms). By carrying just two lenses, not only do I eliminate the tyranny of “perceived choice” but most importantly I focus on two different perspectives. 

In other words, when assessing a scene, I consider wider framing (GF 45mm or similar) or tighter framing (GF 110 or similar). Even when reduced to just two focal lengths, it is always a monumental task. This, on top of the already demanding evaluation of the environment.  

On the recent trip photographing rural Alberta and Saskatchewan (two Canadian provinces) I noticed I was more prone to using my GF 110 (tight framing) than usual. It doesn’t necessarily mean the scenes I encountered warranted such choices, but I found that such focused seeing allowed me to produce more compelling imagery. 

Here is the key question: When arriving at a scene which interests you, do you keep switching lenses or do you photograph the scene with one focal length (let’s say a wider perspective) and then re-examine the scene with the other (tight framing). Have you ever thought about how you examine the scene and make compositional choices? Do you switch lenses frequently? Do you exhaust all visual opportunities before you switch? How is your seeing tuned to the lenses you have?  

Next time…

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8 thoughts on “The Key Question

  1. If I’m using my X-T2 I will typically take my 23mm and 50mm lenses. But I find it quite tiresome trying to change lenses especially if it’s wet and windy (which is quite often). So I’ve treated myself to a x100v and with it’s fixed 23mm lens I find I’m much happier, even if I do miss the odd shot.

  2. I work with primes for several reasons, I usually choose one depending on the basic features of each focal length accordingly to what I foresee will happen. For instance in a family journey I would take the Fujinon 16 mm f1.4 (around the table, all the kids together in tight spaces…) and the 90 mm f2 (outside far in the park, face close-up…). In street photo I would get the 23 mm f2, and the 35 mm f1.4 for very very dim environments. Anyway, what I try to do if I can:
    a. find the primary element that sustains the image
    b. imagine how I want to see it
    c. look for the secondary elements and how them must be related to the main
    d. move myself in order to exclude all the distracting stuff
    e. then I look at the final composition, and try do adjustments to get as close as possible to the desired thing.

    The ideal thing would be to choose the right lens between steps b. and c. Many times this is not possible or advisable, so I go ahead and try get it with my current lens, and I only change it when after step e. I am far away from what I want. Maybe this is one point I should improve as a photographer.

    Best regards.

  3. Way back in the film days, Olaf, my go to lenses for “out and about” shooting were my 24 and 85 lenses, albeit with two (small) SLR’s, a Pentax MX and ME Super. Also, for a few years, my walk around lens was my 85mm 🙂

  4. When using my xpro3 then I just go out with one lens and see what comes my way either the 23, 35 or 50. If I pick my pen f then I normally put the 12/100 zoom on for flexibility although I do have a set of primes for it. In a prime mood ? Then the 17 or the 25 will be the choice I’m not to keen on the 45.
    Nice article and as always interesting photography from you.

  5. Very helpful information and reminder to take the time to evaluate the scene, Olaf. The images of Canada are beautifully rendered. You certainly captured the open spaces evoking desolation in some areas.

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