Exercise: Focal lengths and different viewpoints – for cameras with variable focal lengths

The brief:

Find a scene that has enough space in front of it to allow you a choice of viewpoint, from near to far. Avoid a flat subject, it must have some depth. Start with the telephoto lens and make a tightly framed composition with the subject filling the frame. Study the view through the viewfinder very carefully, and remember the limits at the edges of the frame. Take your shot. Change lenses to the wide-angle. Then, in a straight line, walk forward, looking through the viewfinder until the same subject fills the frame. Take the second shot and compare the results.

For this exercise I used my 18 – 55mm kit lens and headed down to the beach to see if I could get some interesting shots. After just having had my sensor cleaned due to a lot of dust that I got on one of the previous exercises I did not want to take the chance of swopping lenses at the beach. (Note to self: buy a sensor cleaning kit). We have some interesting sculptures near Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver, but unfortunately nothing that would have been viable from the beach for the exercise. As I was leaving the beach area I notice a maple tree on the open field near the parking lot and decided to try the exercise on the tree.

Figure 01 - 55mm

Figure 01 – 55mm

One can see the road in front of the tree and just on the right hand side one of the posts of the Lions Gate bridge and in the distance a soccer field and baseball diamond.

Figure 02 - 18mm

Figure 02 – 18mm

The perspective changes quite dramatically at 18mm as can be seen in Figure 02. The bridge is quite visible now and the soccer field and baseball diamond looks as if they are very far away indeed. The expanse of grass looks like it has tripled in depth. Some houses and a fence can also be seen on the left of the frame, which were not visible at 55mm. The tree’s appearance to my eye has also changed a bit – it is almost as if the branches have all been drawn upwards more.

The following day I headed downtown and repeated this exercise with a sculpture of one of the lions that flank the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Figure 03 - 55mm

Figure 03 – 55mm

I was standing on the opposite end of the staircase in front of the other lion when I made this image at 55mm (figure 03). I then walked forward and stopped almost at the edge of the pedestal (when my frame was filled).

Figure 04 - 18mm

Figure 04 – 18mm

The change in perspective is more prominent in this image (figure 04) because of the linear perspective of the inward convergence of the building behind the sculpture and the tree on the right hand side. Fewer stairs are visible, but more detail is visible from the front of the pedestal. Even though this image would probably look better taken with a tilt-shift lens to straighten out the converging lines, I like this image best because it has more of a 3D feel to it than the one in figure 03 which is a bit flat. There is also more a sense of power from this perspective. One could say that the building and tree are may well be paying homage to the lion.

This exercise has made me more aware of the different effects telephoto and wide-angle lenses can have and I will work future scenarios more with various focal lengths to diversify my compositions.