When I was an adjunct instructor at Texas Tech University a dilemma that always seemed to arise was the students lack of knowledge in the selection of certain lenses to achieve images with a stronger presence. Of course I easily recalled my own years as a college student and the ever present lack of funds to get what I needed so I was understanding when the ownership of multiple lenses was not possible, but continued to stress the positive aspects of having this luxury if at all possible.
Three major category of lenses are basically what I am talking about here and they include the wide angle, normal and the telephoto lenses. Of course there are lots of in betweens but for simplicity sake lets address them under these three headings and what each one of them brings to the table.
Most neophyte photographers visualize that being a pro means a constant diet of standing around the side lines of a football game or in a national park with bazooka sized lenses attached to the camera throughout the day. For some people this can be a major segment of their shooting porfolio as their subjects require the use of great magnification and thus the scenario described above. But for many of us a days shoot might require a much more varied selection of glass hanging at our side and it is important that we be fluent in the application of these lenses to create an image with significant monetary and visual value. Lets take a look at some of this glass and see how they might influence the power of our photos.
Perhaps the most difficult lens to use properly is the wide angle. They don’t look too impressive hanging there on the camera body as most are only a few inches long and for the most part quite diminutive. However, I can assure you that this little fella can be a lens that can make or break a shoot, depending on the photographers knowledge of when to apply its use and the proper use of such.
Lenses of this genre are generally in the 17mm to 35mm range and very useful in my line of work. I use them for landscape, sky scape, ranch work and architecture to name a few and would not dare venture out without a couple of them in my equipment bag. As their name indicates, they are lenses that allow a wide area to be seen in the viewfinder thus enabling the shooter to stand closer to the subject(s) to gain the desired perspective.
Wide angle lenses also require some thought regarding composition as not to create an excess of void within the photo. This is an area that I call “the twilight zone” and effectively reduces the overall impact of the image. Placement of subject elements within the frame is very important when using this genre of lenses. Another feature of wide angle lenses is that some distortion is realized when using these lenses in the extreme. Although sometimes not a negative feature, I for one try to avoid extreme distortion as I prefer to show lines as they are in reality.
Normal lenses are those such as the 45mm to about 60mm and show approximately the angle of view that the naked eye can see. I believe it is established that the 45mm is the one that fits this description the closest. The only time that I use these lens extensively is when I am shooting panoramas and stitching a number of photos to create the old time wide look. Unlike wide angle glass, f stop selection must be controlled carefully as to determine those elements to be properly in focus.
I categorize telephoto lenses into a couple of basic types which are medium and super telephoto. Medium are those in the 100 to 300mm length, super telephoto are 400mm and up. I have had extensive experience in using all lengths up to 1000mm and find a use for all sizes although 99% of my work can be achieved with the 400 or 500mm.
Effective wildlife or sports photography requires the use of these longer lenses although the glass of choice is often dependent on the mobility required by the photographer. As the focal lengths become longer so does the lens length and weight thus minimizing the photographers ability to move effectively for good angles. In sports work where the basketball or football arena provides a confined area in which the photographer will work, mobility is not as important. However, in regard to wildlife work, when going after truly wild animals outside of a controlled environment, mobility is one of the most important factors to consider. Because of this I have found that the Canon 400mm f5.6L lens fits the bill perfectly for me due to its extremely light weight and overall small configuration.
Some neophyte shooters do not realize the importance of long lenses in landscape and sky photography. Although I mostly use the wide angle glass for my sky and landscape work I like long lenses for its characteristic compression effect that causes hills to look larger and closer together. Basically they offer a dramatizing effect on the scene that is often quite powerful. In sky work I often see wonderful skyscapes that offer the best effect through the isolation of only a part of the overall scene. Thus I can slap on a long lens and effectively isolate that portion of the sky for maximum impact.
As I have mentioned earlier in the post, many beginning shooters cannot justify the purchase of multiple lenses but luckily, camera manufacturers today offer a selection of zoom focal lengths that are not targeted at the pro market and can be purchased for a minimal amount. Focal length of 28-300mm and others similar are quite popular and make the choice easy for those shooters working on a smaller budget.