Exercise: Focal lengths (with zoom or interchangeable lenses)

The brief:

Find a view that is open and at the same time has some details in the distance, in the middle of the view. Then, without moving, using a tripod if you have one, take a sequence of photographs, all aimed in the same direction, with whatever range of lenses you have been able to assemble or with different settings on a zoom lens.

For this assignment I headed up Cypress Mountain, one of the local mountains which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics just four years ago. The mountain is about 1,200 metres in height and I stopped off at the main viewpoint which is about three-quarters of the way up the mountain. Unfortunately it was a very hazy day. I was using 70-300mm and 18-55 mm zoom lenses.

Figure 1 - 300mm

Figure 1 – 300mm

My aim was to have the Lions’ Gate Bridge as my middle ground, but as you can see at 300mm (full compression) the bridge does not fit the frame. The bridge is about 2 kilometres from end to end. As there is no other viewpoint higher up, I had to make do with this scenario.

Figure 2 - 200mm

Figure 2 – 200mm

At 200mm more of the foreground comes into view, showing the sandbanks and Stanley Park (the city rain forest) and the city just begins to emerge behind this, the white structure being Canada Place.

Figure 3 - 135mm

Figure 3 – 135mm

At 135mm the bridge is almost entirely in view. The downtown core is showing about 6 city blocks and the container docks with their cranes can be seen in the upper left part of the frame. One can also see Ambleside beach at the bottom right of the frame. At the bottom of the frame the tips of the fir trees on the mountain side start to show.

Figure 4 - 98mm

Figure 4 – 98mm

In figure 4 we can now see that the cypress trees are beginning to form a frame around the bottom of the photograph. The view has widened significantly. About half of the downtown core is showing and a bit more of bridge is revealed – still on supports. The compression of the distant view of the mountains and island is very pronounced and it seems as if the peninsula in front of the mountains is quite close, when in actual fact that area is approximately two hours drive time away.

Figure 5 - 70mm

Figure 5 – 70mm

At 70mm the hazy horizon is in view, with some snow capped mountain ranges and islands in the far distance. The bridge is almost in full view now. The framing at the bottom and sides of the photograph has increased adding a further depth to the image.

Figure 6 - 55mm

Figure 6 – 55mm

In figure 6 the bridge finally is in the whole frame. Most of Stanley Park is now showing as is the downtown core. The highrises of the neighbouring city of Burnaby, left on the horizon, are in view. From 55mm to 18mm the atmospheric haze becomes more pronounced.

Figure 7 - 45mm

Figure 7 – 45mm

At 45mm the trees in the foreground tend to dominate the photograph. The downtown core as well as the West End residential area are now in the frame.

Figure 8 - 35mm

Figure 8 – 35mm

At 35 mm more of the working harbour is showing and more foreground trees come into the frame. There is far less compression of the mountains and island. They are clearly very far away.

Figure 9 - 24mm

Figure 9 – 24mm

At 24mm the wild grass and shrubs in front of the trees come into view. I think the intended focal point (namely the bridge) is lost with the increased foreground. One’s eye skims over the bridge and harbour and comes back to the dominant foreground.

Figure 10 - 18mm

Figure 10 – 18mm

In the final image (figure 10) the barrier wall at the view point now appears in the lower left corner of the frame. The wide angle has flattened out the mountain ranges on the horizon, blending them together with the suburban horizon lines.