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Time for different focal lengths?
Old 09-04-2015   #1
Peter David Grant
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Time for different focal lengths?

Hey guys and gals,

I’ve got a bit of a problem, or feeling, that I’d like some help on. I feel like my compositions are a little cold, and repetitive, and I’m wondering if I should consider some different focal lengths.

For some background, I shot an M6 with a 35mm lens exclusively for a year and a half, followed by an X100T. When I got the Monochrom, I got a 35mm and 50mm. At this point I started to transition into documentary, away from street.

I sold the 50mm, and got a Sony A7s and 35mm, along with the Mono and 35mm, which is my current hit, and his been for 6 months or so. In that time I’ve ramped up my documentary, which is vastly different from my street. I’m now wondering if I should be looking at different focal lengths to spice up my compositions.

Below I’ve put a selection of photographs from my street photography, to my recent documentary. All at 35mm focal length.

For some examples of the style of photographers I tend to like are, Koudelkas Gypsies, Salgado’s Workers, David Alan Harvey’s recent B&W stuff (Beach Games) and the compositions of Alex Webb (but not the colour…)

Love to know what do you think? Am I barking up the wrong tree, trying to blame focal length on being crap, or should I consider a wider range of focal lengths?


Old Street Street




Documentary - 6 months or so ago




Documentary - More recently








Best place to see my older documentary stuff is here: https://peterdavidgrant.com/an-unseen-oxford/ & more recent: https://peterdavidgrant.com/category/an-unseen-oxford/

Thanks,
Peter
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Work In Progress: An Unseen Oxford is an ongoing a documentary photography project based in and around the City of Oxford that aims to look behind the known or seen and find people and activities which most residents and visitors wouldn’t notice or realise they were there. Its goal is to remind us of the things we so easily take for granted.
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Old 09-04-2015   #2
AlexBG
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I like your photos, everyone is their own worst critic. Stick with what you have, you have a good thing going.

Can't stop looking at the second one. Love that shot.
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Old 09-04-2015   #3
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I don't think your work is as boring as you do, but maybe too many of your pictures are shot from around five feet or so away, and often contain one to three people and not a whole lot of outside context. The violin shop pix, in particular, would have benefited from an overall view or two showing the layout of the whole shop, and some very tight closeups , neither of which are the territory of a 35mm lens on a RF camera. When I decided I wanted to be a journalist, the first thing I bought was an SLR with a macro and a 21mm lens for it, so I could cover the range my M3/50/28 couldn't. Mid-range lenses aren't real good at giving a good sense of space, and journalism/documentary demands context and a feeling of presence. Generally, you might try for as wide of a spread of picture type as possible, just to get into the habit, which is why something like 21/50 is better than 35/50 as a working pair.

These days, when I would have, in the past, reached for a wide angle for that one "establishing" shot, I find myself pulling out my cell phone and putting it in panorama mode, camera framing vertical, and I'm delighted with the possibilities of that. Shame to say it, but almost everything on our new web pages that's not a setup shot was shot with a cell phone. This series is 100% cell: http://darntonhersh.com/about/
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Thanks, but I'd rather just watch:
Mostly 35mm: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdarnton
Large format: http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeldarnton
What? You want digital, color, etc?: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stradofear
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Old 09-04-2015   #4
jsrockit
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I'm more of a fan of matching a focal length to a specific need, but it can certainly change things up. Try a 50mm again or a 28mm... each can still be used for general every day photography.
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Old 09-04-2015   #5
it'sawhat?
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What John said. I like what you're doing with the 35 but there are times going a little wider or tighter changes everything. The big question is do you feel something is missing or is it maybe just feeling a bit of boredom with your gear?
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Old 09-04-2015   #6
traveler_101
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Hi

Your photos are good but quite different. The first two represent the sort of photography I find most appealing: you have found interesting spaces and have even managed to locate people in relation to those spaces. These sorts of photo opportunities are hard to find but very rewarding. The other photographs are of documentary nature - showing people in their everyday lives. This could be the source of your boredom.

I don't see any problems with your FL or technical skills. Very nice work. In terms of photographing space you might try to acquire a super-wide - a CV 15mm F/4.5, for example.
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Old 09-04-2015   #7
Godfrey
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Nothing wrong with your photos .. Of the ones posted in this thread, the first two are radically different from the others. But all are good.

You want to try a different FL? Just do it, and see where it leads you. Don't expect revelation, just see what it can see and use it. I'm finding myself working unusual pairings now and then, like 35+180 and 18+50. It's all good.

G
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Old 09-04-2015   #8
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35mm is basically a compromise. The real lens is 50mm, then you have 28mm, you take 35mm when you don't want to carry two bodies.
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Old 09-04-2015   #9
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Keep going with the 35mm and keep looking for more interesting STORIES to tell. Capa's admonition, "If your pictures aren't strong enough, you're not close enough" applies here. Don't obsess about gear, but about pictures!
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Old 09-04-2015   #10
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For me 35mm is the perfect focal length.
I always prefer it to both 50mm and 28mm.

I also happen to like the pictures you posted above.
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Old 09-04-2015   #11
Roger Hicks
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mfogiel View Post
35mm is basically a compromise. The real lens is 50mm, then you have 28mm, you take 35mm when you don't want to carry two bodies.
Nah. The real lens is 35mm, with 50mm if you're too old or too frightened to get close enough. The 28mm is a worthless lens for wimps. If you want a real wide angle, use 24mm or better still 21mm.

Does this sound like nonsense? That's because it is. Re-read what you wrote and see if it makes even as much sense as the paragraph above. .

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2015   #12
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Peter: I like your work, especially the first two, "Old Street Street." I think the 35mm focal length suits you well, I would not abandon it. From the way you compose, I seem to think you might put a wider lens to good use, along with the 35. Do you feel ready for a 24mm? That would open up some new vistas for you, I think. It opens up space and gives a "you are there" feeling. Just a thought. I bet you'd find a use for a somewhat longer lens as well.
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Old 09-04-2015   #13
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As others have said, your work is solid. Adding another focal length can be the kick in the pants you need to look at things differently and inject some excitement again. But you can also do that by trying to find different angles and framing from what you're comfortable with. All of your images are taken at standing height at around five or six feet. Try moving in closer or moving back. Get lower or higher. Try to frame the main subject with something in the environment. An example: step around the work bench and shoot the violin maker so we can see his face and the intricate work he is doing. Get close. Let us see the fine detail of the work being done. You may also be able to lean back and capture him working and get some of the workshop behind him to provide context to the story.
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Old 09-04-2015   #14
Peter David Grant
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AlexBG, Thanks for the reply and letting me know!

Quote:
Originally Posted by mdarnton View Post
I don't think your work is as boring as you do, but maybe too many of your pictures are shot from around five feet or so away, and often contain one to three people and not a whole lot of outside context. The violin shop pix, in particular, would have benefited from an overall view or two showing the layout of the whole shop, and some very tight closeups , neither of which are the territory of a 35mm lens on a RF camera.
Yes, I know what you mean about the distance. I didn't want to want to spam everyone with all the photographs, so made a selection on what I thought was my photography of the moment. If you are interested, the rest are here: https://peterdavidgrant.com/an-unsee...d/#x-section-5

Quote:
Originally Posted by mdarnton View Post
When I decided I wanted to be a journalist, the first thing I bought was an SLR with a macro and a 21mm lens for it, so I could cover the range my M3/50/28 couldn't. Mid-range lenses aren't real good at giving a good sense of space, and journalism/documentary demands context and a feeling of presence. Generally, you might try for as wide of a spread of picture type as possible, just to get into the habit, which is why something like 21/50 is better than 35/50 as a working pair.

These days, when I would have, in the past, reached for a wide angle for that one "establishing" shot, I find myself pulling out my cell phone and putting it in panorama mode, camera framing vertical, and I'm delighted with the possibilities of that. Shame to say it, but almost everything on our new web pages that's not a setup shot was shot with a cell phone. This series is 100% cell: http://darntonhersh.com/about/
I feel like context and presence is missing, but then given Koudelka's Gypsies is full of both, and it was shot on 28mm, I wonder if I should preserve more.

Also wow about your company. I've saved your URL, to have a good look when I get a moment!

Thanks for the reply!

jsrockit, thanks, yeah I'm more tempted by the 28mm rather than 50mm again.

Quote:
Originally Posted by it'sawhat? View Post
What John said. I like what you're doing with the 35 but there are times going a little wider or tighter changes everything. The big question is do you feel something is missing or is it maybe just feeling a bit of boredom with your gear?
Interesting, I felt like I was taking very similar pictures all the time, and was asking in relation to an compositional point of view, but now you mention it, yes sometimes I do feel like I'm missing something.

Everyone else - thank you for taking the time for replying - really appreciate it. I've got a Cambridge to explore today, so best go! I'll respond to everyone hopefully over lunch or tomorrow. Thanks again.

Peter
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Work In Progress: An Unseen Oxford is an ongoing a documentary photography project based in and around the City of Oxford that aims to look behind the known or seen and find people and activities which most residents and visitors wouldn’t notice or realise they were there. Its goal is to remind us of the things we so easily take for granted.
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Old 09-05-2015   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Nah. The real lens is 35mm, with 50mm if you're too old or too frightened to get close enough. The 28mm is a worthless lens for wimps. If you want a real wide angle, use 24mm or better still 21mm.

Does this sound like nonsense? That's because it is. Re-read what you wrote and see if it makes even as much sense as the paragraph above. .
But you actually do prefer 35 and 21mm. I just re-read "The lens book"
I agree with the manufacturers of various compacts over the decades: 35mm is a handy standard length that gives the chance of getting stuff in the frame and looking natural at typical viewing sizes and distances. I would be quite frustrated if I only had a 50mm lens, put it that way.
(Am currently looking for a tolerable wideangle slr zoom to cover anywhere between 15 and 35mm)
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Old 09-05-2015   #16
Roger Hicks
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nikkor-watching View Post
But you actually do prefer 35 and 21mm. I just re-read "The lens book" . . .
Quite true. I just don't pretend that any lens is "the lens". And, now I'm older, I do tend to use the 50 (C-Sonnar) as much as the 35 (Summilux).

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-06-2015   #17
Peter David Grant
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Quote:
Originally Posted by traveler_101 View Post
Hi

Your photos are good but quite different. The first two represent the sort of photography I find most appealing: you have found interesting spaces and have even managed to locate people in relation to those spaces. These sorts of photo opportunities are hard to find but very rewarding. The other photographs are of documentary nature - showing people in their everyday lives. This could be the source of your boredom.

I don't see any problems with your FL or technical skills. Very nice work. In terms of photographing space you might try to acquire a super-wide - a CV 15mm F/4.5, for example.
Yes I definitely find the first two more atheistically pleasing, but I enjoy shooting documentary much more, talking to people and capturing their everyday lives.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
You want to try a different FL? Just do it, and see where it leads you. Don't expect revelation, just see what it can see and use it. I'm finding myself working unusual pairings now and then, like 35+180 and 18+50. It's all good.

G
I'm tempted by a Zoom for the A7s, something like a 24-70, giving me a good working range.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vics View Post
Keep going with the 35mm and keep looking for more interesting STORIES to tell. Capa's admonition, "If your pictures aren't strong enough, you're not close enough" applies here. Don't obsess about gear, but about pictures!
I think this is the biggest takeaway really, I need to look at getting closer, that said, sometimes that is easier said than done, for instance in this one:



I'd have been getting in the way of what was going on.

Quote:
Originally Posted by shadowfox View Post
For me 35mm is the perfect focal length.
I always prefer it to both 50mm and 28mm.

I also happen to like the pictures you posted above.
Thanks

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob-F View Post
Peter: I like your work, especially the first two, "Old Street Street." I think the 35mm focal length suits you well, I would not abandon it. From the way you compose, I seem to think you might put a wider lens to good use, along with the 35. Do you feel ready for a 24mm? That would open up some new vistas for you, I think. It opens up space and gives a "you are there" feeling. Just a thought. I bet you'd find a use for a somewhat longer lens as well.
Ooops, no idea why I called it Street Street!

I have no idea if I'm ready - I shot with the equivalent along time ago, but that was way before having any sort of style. I'm wondering if a Zoom might suit me best if I'm going to make a change. The likes of Paolo Pellegrin makes phenomenal photography with a 24-70mm.

Quote:
Originally Posted by codester80 View Post
As others have said, your work is solid. Adding another focal length can be the kick in the pants you need to look at things differently and inject some excitement again. But you can also do that by trying to find different angles and framing from what you're comfortable with. All of your images are taken at standing height at around five or six feet. Try moving in closer or moving back. Get lower or higher. Try to frame the main subject with something in the environment. An example: step around the work bench and shoot the violin maker so we can see his face and the intricate work he is doing. Get close. Let us see the fine detail of the work being done. You may also be able to lean back and capture him working and get some of the workshop behind him to provide context to the story.
Yeah, before trying another lens, I do believe I need to start thinking to try different positions, and moving around. Sometimes physical limitations do, well get in the way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Quite true. I just don't pretend that any lens is "the lens". And, now I'm older, I do tend to use the 50 (C-Sonnar) as much as the 35 (Summilux).

Cheers,

R.
Roger, yes, I'm wondering if I need to try some other focal lengths, just to get a feeling, I've basically only used 35mm for two years, and since I got into documentary I've only used it.

Thanks all for feedback.
Peter
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Work In Progress: An Unseen Oxford is an ongoing a documentary photography project based in and around the City of Oxford that aims to look behind the known or seen and find people and activities which most residents and visitors wouldn’t notice or realise they were there. Its goal is to remind us of the things we so easily take for granted.
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Old 09-06-2015   #18
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Why not go a bit wider. The Voigtlander wide lenses are good and affordable. I often use the 4.5/15 Super Wide Heliar and also the Voigtlander 21 and 25mm lenses. I also often use the Zeiss Biogon 2.8/28 which gives very good results.
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Old 09-06-2015   #19
DominikDUK
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I wouldn't go wider or longer the images look good
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Old 09-06-2015   #20
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Nice work, I especially like #1.

50mm seems to be the classic choice for street photography, but I think 35mm gives you a little more room and the flexibility to shoot fast and crop later if you need to.

Randy
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Old 09-06-2015   #21
David Hughes
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Hi,

Nothing wrong with your photo's or the lens. 35mm gives background and shows things in context but doesn't distract with too much on show.

Why not think about an 85 or 90mm to pick out detail? Can't think of any other move and stepping back with a portrait lens often means you can see more and concentrate on it.

Nothing truer than the taker being the harshest critic...

Regards, David
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Old 09-06-2015   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
Nothing wrong with your photos .. Of the ones posted in this thread, the first two are radically different from the others. But all are good.

You want to try a different FL? Just do it, and see where it leads you. Don't expect revelation, just see what it can see and use it. I'm finding myself working unusual pairings now and then, like 35+180 and 18+50. It's all good.

G
This is how I am nowadays. I have developed a fondness for the wide stuff which I didn't have before. So I do stuff like a 28 and 85 or 28 and 135. My next lens purchase will be a 20.
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