Homework: Prime Advice

Homework: Prime Advice

Every so often I like to challenge my readers with a photo assignment; not a meaningless exercise  to fill blog space, but one based on a photographic experience that I recently had. That was the case with this next assignment. My hope is that you will find it as challenging as I did.

The back story is that I was in Iceland recently and found myself at the famous iceberg beach, an experience to which I had looked forward for years. Unfortunately, the photo gods had a good laugh that day and presented us with hurricane force winds. So, once out of the car I knew that I would be unable to change lenses. I had to choose only one lens, a terrible predicament for a professional photographer. Should I shoot long or short, zoom or prime?

Your Assignment Beckons

This assignment runs the risk of driving even the most able photographer crazy. Pick only one lens, preferably a wide-angle prime lens (meaning a lens with only one focal length). Now go out and shoot with it. There are many lessons to learn with this exercise, probably the most important of all how to crop your scene in the camera. Instead of zooming in and out you’ll have to haul your butt back and forth to capture the scene you envision. Some of my best shots have been taken when I’ve left a needed lens home and am forced to shoot with the “wrong” lens. In the case of my Iceland iceberg experience, I chose a prime (my 28mm Hasselblad lens, fitted with a tilt-shift mechanism, making it effectively a 42mm lens... in 35mm format that would be equivalent to a 33mm lens) and came away with some images I liked. If I had the luxury of choices that evening, I most probably would have chosen my 50-110mm Hasselblad zoom, focused on the icebergs themselves and missed the wider beach shots that gave my images context, texture and mood.

Variation. If you do not own a prime lens, restrict yourself to one zoom lens, BUT keep it on ONE zoom setting.

Telephoto Only

Now, on a separate outing, try just the opposite. Go with a telephoto only. In the image below I shot the Grand Canyon with a telephoto lens, rather than the standard wide-angle lens that most everyone else uses there. The back story is that I was exhausted after a day of climbing and frankly did not have the energy to take off my pack, change lenses or camera bodies, reframe and shoot. Still, I was happy with this image, which is fundamentally the opposite of what most people try to capture at the Grand Canyon.