These are a few of the results from a day-trip to Kiryu, Japan a few weekends ago:
I would’ve reflexively shot a scene like this with a wide-angle, however I think it works much better at 50mm. A wide-angle would’ve taken a picture of a forest, but at 50mm, I took a picture of a few trees with nice visible texture. 50mm also keeps the composition cleaner. Taking pictures of trees is usually messy business, especially if the ground and the tops are included, but this photo only shows the mid-section and is thus left relatively clean.
Me, Standing / Nikon F4 / Kodak Max 400
This is a portrait of myself that a friend took for me. My usual focal length for portraits is a standard ~90mm. This length allows me to take a head shot while maintaining a comfortable distance away from the subject, however it’s only good for head shots. For full body shots, 90mm would be too much tele. I’d have to back up an inconvenient amount and risk unwanted objects in the foreground. Wide-angle lenses distort and make your subject look funny, so wides aren’t optimal either. Turns out, 50mm is a great focal length for full body portraits. My friend who took this picture was at an ideal distance away of about 15 feet.
The windy roads leading out of Kiryu’s zoo and amusement park had a lot of photogenic potential, especially with the concrete landslide walls. This shot is pleasant but bordering on bland. Here I really wished I had my wide-angle with me. I wanted to get more of the winding road to get more curves in, but I would’ve walked back into a cliff. An exaggerating wide perspective would’ve captured this scene better.
These deer were feeding at the perfect distance away from me. I stuck my lens in between the bars to take this shot. Any wider and I wouldn’t have been able to get the detail I have in this shot, any closer and I wouldn’t have been able to frame enough context.
50mm is a great focal length for taking snap shots. You don’t need to back up to take a portrait while sitting around with a group of friends as with a larger tele. You don’t need to get right in the subjects’ faces as with anything wider.
Bamboo Grove, Kiryu Foothills / Nikon F4 / Kodak Max 400
On another note, I no longer use filters. This is the second time I’ve taken a shot of a lush bamboo grove, only to have the shot ruined by a flare. I first thought my 50mm lens was susceptible to flares and ghosts, but after some research online, it turns out the problem was my shite filter. I’ve kept a filter on it for protection and because I had (have) an irrational fear or anything touching my front lens element. Well those days are gone and now I go filterless on every lens. I’m buying hoods for all my lenses to reduce flares and for protection. It appears that the vast majority of experienced photographers have more stories about dropping a lens and having the filter scratch the front lens element than the filter protecting the front lens element. Unless I’m shooting in a dust storm or sticking my camera out of a car window, the only thing my lens will have on it is a lens hood. Lens hoods are much more solid way to protect a lens. UV lenses are also useless for film cameras anyways since modern negative film hasn’t been sensitive to UV light for quite some time now. The only filters I would ever use in the future are polarizers and ND grads (and only when I have to).
Forcing myself to stick with one focal length has forced me to rethink my old composition habits and taught me to see a different way. I use to mount different lenses based on preconceived notions of what focal lengths are good for what subjects, but this little project has begun to break them down. 50mm, often referred to as the nifty fifty, is the standard focal length and frequently used as most photographers’ walk-around lens. While I’m much more comfortable using my 50mm lens as my walk-around after this project, I still think 35mm better suits this purpose. Unfortunately Nikon doesn’t make a 35mm f/1.4 at the same price as their 50mm, so 50mm it is.
More to come…