Project 1 The distorting lens

My learning points from Project 1

That focal length combined with viewpoint can distort perspective. Therefore I must be careful when taking street photography portraits, when possible to move towards the subject, rather than zooming in to give the truest image (exercise 2.2).

When using a wide angle lens at a low viewpoint (I usually do this when I want to accentuate a subject) I should try to shoot without lines in the background, or blur them with a large aperture, to ensure that the distortion is not obvious (exercise 2.3).

For portrait shooting I should be aware that using a wide aperture (shallow depth of field), from a distance of about one and a half metres away with a medium focal length is useful for lifting the subject from the background and should add intensity to the eyes (exercise 2.4).

When using a wide aperture, long focal length and close viewpoint to isolate a subject, I should consider the background carefully; the background in the composition is important, even if it will appear blurred. Also I am aware that including a reasonable amount of blurred background, often with some form or lines, may add interest to the image (exercise 2.6).

When using a tripod I must not let it limit or restrict my natural choice of viewpoint, and must challenge myself to use it more often so that I become more accomplished and less impeded by it. I must also ensure that I review the images critically whilst shooting to improve the quality of my tripod shooting output.

These were extremely worthwhile learning exercises for me.


Project 1 The distorting lens

Exercise 2.7

Use a combination of small apertures and wide lens to take a number of photographs exploring deep depth of field. Because of the small apertures you’ll be working with slow shutter speeds and may need to use a tripod or rest the camera on a stable surface to prevent ‘camera shake’ at low ISOs. Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to your learning log.

I used this as an opportunity to experiment with my new tripod and shutter speeds. These shots were all at a focal length of 16mm, in hindsight I should have taken the opportunity to use my wide angle Tamron 10-24mm lens to further accentuate the effect on perspective.

_MG_4256 enh 100 no tripod   _MG_4301 enh 200

1/25 f22 ISO 100 with tripod                        1/60 f22 ISO 200 handheld

_MG_4286 enh 100   _MG_4287 enh 200 best

1/25 f22 ISO 100 with tripod                         1/50 f22 ISO 200 with tripod

_MG_4310 enh 100   _MG_4311 enh 200

1/40 f22 ISO 100 with tripod                     1/85 f22 ISO 200 with tripod

_MG_4244 320 no tripod   _MG_4266 enh 200 no tripod

1/50 f22 ISO 320 handheld                       1/25 f22 ISO 100 handheld

_MG_4260 enh 100 no tripod   _MG_4280 100 tripod

1/50 f22 ISO 200  handheld                       1/25 f22 ISO 100 with Tripod

On reviewing these images it is certainly easy to achieve a deep depth of field, however they are generally uninteresting unless they have foreground interest or a leading line. I think that the leading line in particular draws the viewer inside of the picture whilst foreground detail adds depth.

What was interesting for me to see was that whilst I would usually use foreground interest or leading lines when shooting a wide angle shot with a small aperture, I am doing this less often when using a tripod. I think that I am still developing my ease of movement with a tripod and must therefore make a conscious effort to place it and manipulate it to obtain the viewpoint/perspective that I would naturally without it.



Project 1 The distorting lens

Exercise 2.6

Use a combination of wide apertures, long focal lengths and close viewpoints to take a number of photographs with shallow depth of field. Try to compose the out-of-focus parts of the picture together with the main subject. Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to your learning log. Don’t forget that the camera’s viewfinder image is obtained at maximum aperture for maximum brightness and therefore at the shallowest depth of field. Use the depth of field preview button to see the actual depth of field at any particular aperture. It’s surprising to see the effect that a single f stop can have on the appearance of an image.

I shot these outdoors at 200mm focal length with the widest aperture that my lens would allow at that length. On reviewing the data I was surprised at the different shutter speeds that the camera choose to meet the aperture that I set, the light conditions were obviously constantly changing.

_MG_4369 enh      _MG_4387 enh1/400 f6.3 ISO 400                                               1/2700 f6.3 ISO 400

_MG_4374 enh       _MG_4383 enh1/800 f6.3 ISO 400                                                1/640 f6.3 ISO 400

    _MG_4398 enh     _MG_4410 enh     1/1300 f6.3 ISO 400                                                 1/1600 f6.3 ISO 400

The last shot incidentally was very experimental and not something that I would have attempted that day as there were high wind conditions; as I expected only a small part of the flower was in focus and in my attempt to capture it in a moment of lulled wind (and avoid falling over canoes) I had inadvertently stepped back to a focal length of 300mm.

Whilst I was obviously aware that wide apertures create a shallow depth of field, I was not aware that this combined with a long focal length and a close viewpoint accentuates the effect. Although I do enjoy using this technique I believe I have never paid much attention to the blurred background (whether it is composed or not, or how vague/indistinct it is), I will now try to be conscious of this depending on what I want to achieve. I see now that this out of focus part of the shot does need to be handled with just as much care as the main subject as the most successful images are those with a reasonable amount of background (images 1, 2, 3 and 5).


Project 1 The distorting lens

Exercise 2.5

Find a subject in front of a background with depth. Take a close viewpoint and zoom in; you’ll need to be aware of the minimum focusing distance of your lens. Focus on the subject and take a single shot. Then, without changing the focal length, set the focus to infinity and take a second shot.

_MG_4365 enh     _MG_4366 enh

F10 ISO 200 1/200                                 F10 ISO 200 1/160

As you review the two shots, how does the point of focus structure the composition? With a shallow depth of field the point of focus naturally draws the eye, which goes first of all to the part of the image that’s sharp. It generally feels more comfortable if the point of focus is in the foreground, although there’s nothing wrong with placing the point of focus in the background.

The different points of focus are obvious in these two shots and yes the eye is drawn first to the sharp part of the image. I think where the point of focus is comfortable is controlled by the photographer and their objective. I have often used this technique and vary the focal point between foreground and background depending on my objective.

These two shots were taken when I was collecting for One Square Mile assignment, it may be subjective, but for me the most comfortable focus point is in the first image, the foreground.

_MG_2557 enh    _MG_2558 enh

However in the next two shots the most comfortable focus point by far was the second image, the background; this was one of my final images and my intention was for the viewer to see the courts and the net, so I guess I shot it to achieve that balance.

_MG_2568 enh    _MG_2572 enh

I am finding it interesting to contemplate on some techniques that I instinctively use,  learning about why and how I use them and how I can improve them.


Project 1 The distorting lens

Exercise 2.4

Find a location with good light for a portrait shot. Place your subject some distance in front of a simple background and select a wide aperture together with a moderately long focal length such as 100mm on a 35mm full-frame camera (about 65mm on a cropped-frame camera). Take a viewpoint about one and a half metres from your subject, allowing you to compose a headshot comfortably within the frame. Focus on the eyes and take the shot.

_MG_4444 enh

I took this shot as instructed with a wide aperture, F 5.6, at 100mm focal length, one and half metres away and as the light was fading and the rain beginning, selected ISO 400. It was a fast shoot due to the rain, however I do like the way that the shallow depth of field emphasises the subjects face and blurs the background. I would like to experiment with this more for portraiture, to learn more about how the shallow depth of field slightly compresses the features and see how it can add intensity to the eyes, whilst lifting the subject from the background.



Project 1 The distorting lens

Exercise 2.3

Choose a subject in front of a background with depth. Select your shortest focal length and take a close low viewpoint, below your subject. Find a natural point of focus and take the shot.

You’ll see that a very wide lens together with a close viewpoint creates extreme perspective distortion. Gently receding lines become extreme diagonals and rounded forms bulge towards the camera. Space appears to expand. The low viewpoint adds a sense of monumentality, making the subject seem larger than it is, and tilting the camera adds to the effect as vertical lines dramatically converge. Not the ideal combination for a portrait shot!

_MG_4333 enh       _MG_4430 enh

These images were taken with my telephoto 16-300mm, at its shortest focal length. The perspective distortion that it produces is obvious. The lines next to the boat and the cone in particular show distortion in the background.

I have often used this technique when photographing hulls of boats as I like the way that the form then bulges towards the camera.

_MG_2966 enh

I use this technique when I want to emphasise the size of an object such as these super yachts’ at the Boat Show. On reviewing other images shot in this way, I find that I generally shoot without lines in the background, probably using my instinct to avoid the distortion of background lines.

_MG_3929 enh

I also include this “snap” I took on my I phone a few days ago of a particularly humungous hot chocolate. I remember deliberately using the low shooting technique to emphasis the size of the object and my subject also remarked when I shared it with her that I had “cheated” and had made it look bigger.

IMG_1280 i phone enh

I guess the learning points are that it is a useful technique should you want to distort a subject but to be aware of its limitations, he effect on the background in particular, and yes its definitely not a technique to use for portraits!

Project 1 The distorting lens

Exercise 2.2

Select your longest focal length and compose a portrait shot fairly tightly within the frame in front of a background with depth. Take one photograph. Then walk towards your subject while zooming out to your shortest focal length. Take care to frame the subject in precisely the same way in the viewfinder and take a second shot. Compare the two images and make notes in your learning log.

I wanted to see the effect of different focal lengths so took four shots with my 300 – 16 mm zoom lens:

_MG_4457 enh  1/50 f8 ISO 800 100mm

_MG_4458 enh   1/50 f8 ISO 640 44mm

_MG_4459 enh   1/ 40 F8 ISO 500 35mm

_MG_4460 enh   1/40 f8 ISO 400 16mm

Perspective distortion is actually a normal effect of viewing an object, for example where parallel train tracks appear to meet at the horizon. A ‘standard lens’ – traditionally a 50mm fixed focal length lens for a full-frame camera (about 33mm in a cropped-frame camera) – approximates the perspective distortion of human vision (not the angle of view, which is much wider). A standard lens is therefore the lens of choice for ‘straight’ photography, which aims to make an accurate record of the visual world.

Certainly the focal length combined with viewpoint distorts perspective, this is apparent in both the background and the subject (especially of course at 16mm). I had not appreciated the amount of distortion that occurs with a change in focal length and will be careful not to zoom too much from a distance when photographing portraits, something that I may be inclined to do when taking “street photography” shots to avoid getting too close to unknown subjects. I will have to learn to be bolder as I can see that moving closer to the subject will give a truer image.