Sunday, December 19, 2010

The "Wrong" Lens

Red-eyed Tree Frog, Costa Rica 
I am often asked what lenses to take for a particular journey.  My standard answer?  All of them.  Seriously... I find that I need everything in my arsenal nearly everywhere I go, which explains why my backpack is so unbelievably heavy.  In almost every shooting situation, you can be sure that whatever lens you leave behind will be the one you need.

The truth is, however, that not having the "right" lens can force you to get pictures you might not otherwise have seen.  Consider, for example, my red-eyed tree frog (taken, by the way, on Kodachrome -  more than 25 years ago).  When I found this frog, sitting on a palm frond, I didn't have any of my macro gear with me.  In fact, all I had a was a telephoto lens, without any macro capability.  Although I wanted to a close-up, the lens simply did not focus any closer....and the picture above is the result. Instead of an in-your-face portrait (of which I have hundreds already) I was forced by my equipment to create a composition with what I had on hand.

I liked the design, of course;  the balance between the off-center frog and the black areas on the left. It worked for me, despite the fact that it was not the picture I wanted to take at the time. But less than a year later, it was published as a wrap-around cover on Audubon Magazine -  a picture I only took because my equipment forced me to look beyond my initial instincts.

The lesson? No, it's probably not a good idea to intentionally leave a useful lens behind as a way to force you to see differently.  But it is worth trying a different lens that you might not  use normally, one that changes your perspective and allows you to see a picture you might not see otherwise.

Then there is our obsession with big glass. In the Arctic this summer, I shot polar bears next to a guy who had a 600mm lens on his Canon  - all the time. By contrast, I went back and forth between my 300mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm, occasionbally throwing on a TC1.4 when needed.  Did I lose some great close-ups when the bear was a long way away? You bet I did.   But the shorter lenses forced me to get something BESIDES a close-up - like this environmental shot of a bear on a vast sheet of drifting ice. Like the frog picture, the "wrong" lens gave me access to a picture I would never have taken if I'd been using a mega-telephoto.

Polar Bear on Pack Ice,  Svalbard 
But when the bear came closer to the ship, as I knew it would, I was ready - and got some of the best pictures of the trip.

Nikon D300, 300mm f2.8 lens


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  2. Superb images, at times we have to make use of the situation, to our advantage. These photographs illustrate the point perfectly.

  3. Wow, a great reminder that you don't have to have the best equipment! Being as I am just starting out, my lens selection isn't huge, just 3 lenses and a few filters and attachments. Thanks for the reminder that it's not all in the zoom and close up. :)

  4. The truth is, I still carry too much!. But it is always important to remember to look for different points of view, to mix it up and try something unexpected. Thanks for commenting Chandira. Have a great Christmas!

  5. Manjeet & Yograj - Thanks for commenting! Terrific picture of the crow and vultures, by the way. I wish you both all the best in your photo-adventures. I'm off to Sri Lanka next week.

  6. Have a great time in Sri Lanka! I am off to see the Skagit River bald Eagles this weekend, I hope! Got a new 300mm lens for Christmas. :-)

  7. Wow - nice present... Have fun with it! I will try and post from Sri Lanka this month, but I don't know how it will work...
    Happy New Year!