Sometimes we get stuck in a rut. We feel lethargic and uninspired. We feel the urge to blow a bunch of money on a new lens or a new camera, in hopes that it would somehow reinvigorate our passions. But what if we already have what we need to overcome photographer’s block? Here are 5 simple experiments to try to expand our photographic horizons.
5. Shoot with Your Least Used Lens
We’ve all been there. A late night Craigslist session, an impulse BUY IT NOW! on eBay, or a well commissioned salesperson at a camera store. We all have lenses that we sparingly use.
Mine used to be the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro. Fantastic lens. Brilliantly sharp. But I’m not gifted with the patience to shoot macrophotography and I also bought it as a portrait lens. I found it to be slightly too long, too slow to use in dim light without stabilization, and too inexpensive to part with. So I kept it. For years. In a closet.
Right now, it’s my Holga 25mm Pinhole lens. Super fun lens. Incredibly inexpensive. However, a plastic meniscus lens at f/8 has limited usability at night or indoors. But rather than dwelling on limitations, a lens’ unique character could force you to think outside the box and be creative.
A fast 85mm has long been a favorite among the portrait photographer’s toolbox. Slightly telephoto, this particular focal length lightly compresses the image so that models are comfortably nestled within the background. From a design perspective, large apertures like f/1.8 or even f/1.2 remain cost effective and practical because at longer focal lengths, glass elements necessarily become prohibitively expensive and oversized. Lastly, the 85mm’s working distance lets you stay close enough to the model yet provide a lot more depth-of-field (and bokeh) than your fast 50mm or 35mm.
So what do we look for when choosing a 85mm portrait lens? Three things spring to mind. First, it has to be easy to handle because the last thing you’d want is a lens encumbering you after the models are made up and the studio is paid for. Try shooting with an EF 85mm f/1.2 all day and you’ll see what I mean.
Next, of course, is image quality but that is often a broad and nebulous term, and 85mms, in general, have been great performers. More specifically, a defining feature of the 85mm is its ability to throw the background out of focus, isolating the subject in a cocoon of soft blurriness. So a good portrait lens should have its own character.
Finally, since for large aperture primes we’ll be working with a narrow depth-of-field, fast and accurate autofocus is absolutely essential, much more so than for shorter focal lengths. I defy you to eye-focus with a manual lens, on a non-split prism focusing screen, at variable light and working distances. You just can’t do it, consistently, so professionals rely on quality AF at longer focal lengths.
So for this hands-on review, we are using the latest and greatest from Zeiss, their Batis 85mm f/1.8. We briefly looked at its technical specs when we first laid our hands on it, so rather than doing that again here, we’re going to jump straight into the good stuff. We called up Peyton and Mikaila, they drove to Newport Beach from Hollywood and San Diego respectively, and we rented a few bikes along the beach boardwalk. A fun Sunday afternoon in California.
Why do we still shoot in black and white? Nobody really shoots film anymore. When do we decide to throw away beautiful skin tones, luscious blonde colors, and late afternoon sunlight? Why would we want to go grayscale?
If you’ve been following my photography, you’ll notice that I rarely shoot black and white portraits, and this is on purpose. Not because I prefer one over the other aesthetically, but I personally feel shooting color is more difficult and challenging, and it is something I constantly strive to practice.
I’m ambivalent about b&w portraits and b&w photography in general. I’m very confident in b&w. Some of my best published works are monochrome. It is striking, it is clean, and it is minimalistic, all qualities in which I love. But a part of me also feels it’s cheating. Continue reading Why Do We Still Shoot Black & White Portraits?→
Los Angeles is not so much a unified city as a massive conglomeration of smaller cities. To outsiders, you come from Los Angeles. To locals, you are from Santa Monica, Hollywood, Pasadena, KTown, Van Nuys, Inglewood, Beverley Hills, or etc. It is a tapestry of neighborhoods that flow into one another with undefined visual or geographic borders. There is no Los Angeles and everywhere is Los Angeles.
“Which part of the city are you from” is of chief concern among new friends, business partners, and potential lovers because your answer will dictate your socioeconomic status, your cultural heritage, and your commute. When Lorde sang about post code envy, she was probably referring to Los Angeles.
Sandwiched between Marina Del Rey, Santa Monica, and the Pacific Ocean is a neighborhood unlike any other in LA. The Venice Canal Historic District was an early twentieth century attempt at recreating the Italian romanticism in the heart of sunny California. The area has had its cycle of prosperity and disrepair and the houses lining those canals reflect those periods of change.
I took a stroll through this neighborhood on a crisp winter evening. With the neck strap of my Sony A7 loosely wrapped around my right wrist, here’s what I saw through a Leica Summaron 35mm f/2.8.