One Reality, Multiple Perspectives

Lenses, lenses and more lenses! Why do you need more than one? Why can't you use one lens for everything? Theoretically you could, but then, why would a painter paint with several brushes and a chef uses more than one knife? The short answer is simple- lenses are like brushes to a painter and knives to a chef, it allows you to craft your photos the way you envision it. However, the reason for having more than one lens is deeper than that. It allows you to capture certain subjects you would otherwise not able to, for example capturing a small bird perched on a branch, admiring details of insects and small objects, capturing a tall building or the interior of a small room. All these require a certain type of lens to capture successfully. However, one very important factor is usually overlooked the "look" of an image. The "look" I am referring to is the lens perspective which can be used to change the reality of space and size by either stretching or compressing the subject.

 

FE 16-35mm lens at 16mm - "stretching" the bridge

Alpha 7R III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS | 16 mm | 1/250 sec | F8 | ISO 250

 

FE 70-200mm lens at 80mm - "compressing" the bridge

Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS| 80 mm | 1/250 sec | F8 | ISO 320

 

More examples of lens perspective and compression works below. Take note of the composition which shows all images starting at the beginning of the bridge. Even though they are composed similarly, the outcome is very different due to the different focal lengths used. It's not about which image is "better" but how you envision the bridge to look like even before taking out your camera. Note: You should spend some time discerning the images below before reading further.

 

Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS| 200 mm | 1/250 sec | F5.6 | ISO 160

 

Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS| 70 mm | 1/250 sec | F5.6 | ISO 160

 

Alpha 7R III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS | 35 mm | 1/250 sec | F5.6 | ISO 200

Alpha 7R III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS| 16 mm | 1/250 sec | F5.6 | ISO 100

 

Now that you have a good grasp of what lens perspectives are from the previous examples, let's look at the three most popular sets of zoom lenses - the wide-angle 16-35mm, mid 24-70mm/105mm and telephoto 70-200mm, which are known as the "trinity" zoom lens (for full-frame sensor cameras).

These three zoom lenses are the bare minimum of lenses that I will bring for every assignment as they represent the foundation for all my work.

Each lens has its purpose. Wide-angle lenses are extremely useful for shooting in tight confines, capturing vast landscapes with foreground and the sky within frame. Or it can exaggerate space, like turning a small puddle into a lake to capture reflections. When using a wide-angle lens it is important to understand that any object that is nearest to your lens will look larger while objects that are further away will look smaller. Hence the space and perspectives are exaggerated and no longer look true to our eye's perspectives.

 

Alpha 7R III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS| 16 mm | 1/250 sec | F11 | ISO 500

 

Alpha 7R III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS| 16 mm | 1/125 sec | F16 | ISO 320

 

The FE 16-35mm at 16mm. In the foreground, the road and shadows have been exaggerated to look wide and long while the cyclist has been "pushed" into the distance and appears small.

 

FE16-35mm at 16mm, with foreground interest.

Alpha 7R III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS| 16 mm | 1/125 sec | F16 | ISO 320

 

The mid-angle lenses, such as the FE 24-70mm and 24-105mm, are the most versatile because on a full frame camera body they are usually sufficient for most situations. The 24mm is generally considered wide and the longer end of 70mm or 105mm should cover most of your needs including portraits and travel subjects. However, I did not have that lens with me when I did this article because with the 16-35mm and 70-200mm, I can easily simulate the results and effects as they are fully covered within the range of a mid-angle lens.

 

At 28mm, it is still fairly wide on FF camera

Alpha 7R III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS| 28 mm | 1/160 sec | F8 | ISO 100

 

Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS | 80 mm | 1/640 sec | F5.6 | ISO 100

 

The third category is the telephoto lens which is used for shooting sports, action, or wildlife subjects that are far away or simply used to isolate details from a messy scene. Similar to but unlike a wide-angle lens, telephoto lenses compress the scene instead of stretching it. It makes subjects that are further away appear closer than they actually are and to the extent of making near and far objects look as if they were close together.

 

FE 70-200mm at 200mm to pull the subject nearer and compress the scene

FE 70-200mm at 200mm to pull the subject nearer and compress the scene

Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS | 200 mm | 1/250 sec | F5.6 | ISO 250

 

FE 70-200mm at 200mm to pick up details of a small object

FE 70-200mm at 200mm to pick up details of a small object

Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS | 200 mm | 1/800 sec | F4| ISO 100

 

The challenge for every photographer is to practice identifying the range of focal lengths used to capture an image. Naturally, it's impossible to pinpoint the exact focal length but you should at least be able to narrow down the range of focal lengths used e.g., 35-50mm or 16-20mm,etc. The reason for this practice and its importance, is because when you are trying to compose a shot or create an image based on your inner vision (previsualization), you must know which focal length you should start with in order to get the results that you previsualized! Throughout my 15 years of teaching, I found that this is the biggest weakness of many beginner and intermediate photographers of not knowing the effect and "look" of a certain focal length and hence which lens to use.

Guess which focal length was used to capture these 3 images below?

 

 

 

 

Answer: All were taken with the FE70-200mm lens at 200mm. If you are experienced enough, you would have easily spotted the compression effect from the longer focal length.

Another interesting approach to elevate your composition and photography is to use different lenses with opposite focal length for the same subject e.g., a wide-angle and a telephoto lens. When you are "forced" to shoot the same subject with two opposite focal lengths, your mind will start to think and see things differently and compose your shots differently too. Try walking down a street or visit a park with only one lens, then visit the same location but this time with a different lens. When you try this, you will be amazed at how you start to look at things so drastically differently.

A classic example (below) is when you are at a location with a beautiful scenery. The obvious choice would be to use a wide-angle lens; however, you can pull off different perspectives from the same location by zooming into a partial scene. The two red squares represent the potential composition when I switch to a longer lens for a different perspective of the same place.

 

Alpha 7R III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS| 16 mm | 1/250 sec | F11 | ISO 640

 

Here's the result (red square on the right) taken with FE70-200mm lens at 70mm.

Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS | 70 mm | 1/250 sec | F8 | ISO 160

 

Here's another (red square on the left), taken with FE70-200mm at 75mm.

Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS | 75 mm | 1/250 sec | F8 | ISO 3200

 

Last but not least, as a photographer we all have a favorite lens. We like to shoot at a certain focal length because of the nature of the subject or simply because we like the “look” of a certain focal length. I strongly recommend you to try different focal lengths on the same subject to discover the possibilities and multiple perspectives from one reality.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Sony Digital Workshop

 

 

Explore the gears used to create this article
COPYRIGHT © 2017 SONY SINGAPORE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.