Friday, 18 February 2011

Project 11: Standing back

Use of a telephoto length lens has played at least some part in most of the ‘unaware’ sessions that I have had over the last few weeks, but yesterday I spent another three hours on a ‘street’ shoot in Central Manchester, with three aims – to principally concentrate on creating images at longer focal lengths for this project; to also take photographs at ‘standard’ length; and to further explore the idea of ‘eating in public’ as a possible ‘activity’ for Assignment Two.  (On the latter issue, I have also discussed it with my tutor and have definitely decided to go that way.  Planning the approach needs to be done soon.)  It was a successful session, and I think that I have now spent enough time trying out the three focal length variants and intend to bring that work together in here over the next few days.
Beginning with Project 11, I am going to present some results in the context of the question that appears at the end of the brief.  ‘... what creative opportunities do you find that a long focal length and distant position have given you?’
The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that it enables you to record, almost at an intimate level in some cases, what you can only reasonably observe at a distance.  Comparing that to the results from a wide angle lens that will follow later, the latter really makes the viewer feel close and involved in the action, with a sense of movement and the wide angle distortion giving the image a life of its own, whilst the telephoto lens does give you a close view of the interactions between people, for example, but in a more detached, observational, non-intrusive, but somewhat calmer manner.  For example in these images:
In both cases, we are able to observe the interaction in a way that normally, without the camera, could only be achieved by standing close to these people.  Standing that close with the camera could be even more difficult in some cases.  So another advantage of working with the long lens is that it opens up the opportunity to create images that would probably be otherwise impossible.  These next two are good examples of that circumstance.

The second of these also introduces another significant creative benefit of the telephoto lens in ‘street’ situations.  As well as keeping the photographer away from potentially intimidating situations, it also, because of the flattening of three dimensional space, enables one to juxtapose subjects that are, in reality, some distance from each other and not in fact either related or interacting – in this case the character with the bottle of Lambrini and the newspaper hoarding.  These images illustrate the same principle.  In the first case, the image creates a relationship between the watchers in the crowd and the two figures looking out of the window.  In the second, which could be much better composed if time and circumstances had been more favourable, a relationship is created between the shop sign, the girl outside the shop and her blue check jacket, the man in the blue check sweater, the flower stall, and the woman in the foreground.

Working with a wide aperture and a telephoto length lens offers another creative variation on this theme.  As well as enabling image creation in indifferent light (this was shot with an 85mm lens at F1.8, on a late, dull winter afternoon), by use of the differential focus and the shallow depth of field, it is possible to particularly draw the viewers’ attention to a key subject that one is trying to present.  The young man in the background is almost obscured by the figure in the foreground, yet the eye is drawn specifically to him by the difference of focus (plus the colour, and the highlighting of his face).
This project is entitled ‘Standing back’, of course, and the following images, some of them using principles already discussed, demonstrate how the telephoto length will give the viewer the sense that they are ‘standing back’ from what is being presented.
I particularly like the way in which the flattening of the planes of the final image almost give the feeling of a tableau or stage set situation.
This has been a really useful exercise.  I have taken a lot more photographs than the ones illustrated here, and many have failed because someone has walked between me and the subject, or the moment has passed whilst I’m waiting for the scene to clear of people, etc, but I think that I have emerged with a much better appreciation of the possibilities with longer focal lengths.

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