Bad Light Long Lens
You know those times when the ‘Muses’ are upon you and you are just itching to shoot some photos? But it’s mid day and you’re on your lunch break, the sun’s high in the sky and the areas where you work can’t be called ‘pretty’.
Photography is all about finding ways to do things and make them work. It’s about really looking at what’s around you and seeing the details, the light, the shapes and colours. Figuring out what shot to take and matching the lens to that.
My buddy Jurgen Zarske in Switzerland showed me some great shots he’d taken of some poppies a few days earlier and offered to show me where they were. So off we go round the back of town to find… it was too late. The flowers were well past their prime.
So lets make it more of a challenge and do some pics when the sun’s high in the sky too. Flowers usually work best in softer light. Notice I said softer not flat. Personally I like light to be directional so it brings out shapes and textures.
Step one is to think about the surroundings. All those plastic tunnels, sheds and nursery equipment won’t help will they, so that tells us which kind of focal length lens will probably work best in this location. So into the bag and pop it on the camera.
Next, get the eyes working and really look at the flowers and light falling onto them. Remember light is everything. Get that right and the rest will probably fall into place behind it. In this case light was difficult because strong sunshine from high overhead kinda bashes into the subject, which isn’t ideal.
The edge of a patch of shade would be perfect because the light would be soft and directional, but hey ho, can't have it the way we want it all the time.
Composition and focal length of the lens are best mates. They hold hands all day long and dance together. Even a tiny change on zoom can make a difference, just as a tiny change on position or viewpoint will.
Look at these photos from 5:00 and 5:07 in the video. See the red poppies in the background top left corner? They're slightly cropped and touching the edge of the image, which I don’t much like.
Just a tiny movement to my right fixed it.
A slight widening of the lens by just a couple of mm would have included them too, though that would increase separation from the subject a bit more. It’s all choices choices choices..
As the creative director of your photos these choices are down to you. They are not camera settings. Ask yourself if you need to adjust the lens, your position or both?
There isn’t a ‘best’ lens for shooting flowers or anything else just as there aren’t best camera settings either. As light changes moment by moment so do your settings. As you make creative choices about how much depth of field you want and move closer or further away, you have to adjust the lens zoom or aperture to compensate.
And you don’t have to use a long lens like I did. If you have a wide aperture prime 50 or 80 you could still be creative and get the shot. It’d be different to these, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work. They might be way better…
Light, lens, composition and settings are a continually moving feast for every shot we take. If you’re just starting to see the world in a new way through photography and fins all this confusing, I know – I and everyone else have been there too. It’s why I made my Masterclass in Photography to guide you through only the things you need right now and don’t get overwhelmed with stuff you don’t yet need.
If you know what your lenses can do, how to recognise light and manage settings, The 7 Building Blocks of Photography is the thought process I use to string these things together in the correct order for every photo.
So next time the light is bad and location less that scenic, pop out and challenge yourself to find a lens / focal length combination that will get you the photo you want to take.
A sincere thank you, Mike. 7 Steps to Perfect Pictures has helped my understand my creative options. A true story - The great jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong was walking down Kensington High Street in London when a man stopped him in the street and said, 'How can I get to the Royal Albert Hall?' Louis replied, 'Practice, man, practice!' Like him, I'm off to practice, man.