In his recent essay Michael Reichmann presented a compelling case to the newbie for shooting with longer lenses, especially when photographing landscapes. Because he is patently as fond of mankind as he is of the land many of Michael’s most powerful images contain people, thus giving both an added sense of scale to his landscapes as well as an often moving human element for the viewer.
Let us assume for a moment that the newbie asking Michael which wide-angle lens might be best for landscape photography is a young man or woman starting out on the great adventure that is photography. Let me risk a further leap and guess that, like Michael, he might be as moved by the human condition as by the beauty of his surroundings.
It’s at this point that I have to declare, passionately, please use a wide-angle lens. My single strongest reason is that this so closely approximates to how we actually see and experience life and that our photography should be a direct extension of our lives and who we are. When you shoot with a wide lens your images become as complex, and often as untidy, as life itself.
But when they really work and the frame is full of well-composed movement and emotion, well what could be better! And here’s the thing, you are being there, you are committing yourself to what is going on, you are a participant as well as a witness, you can smell and feel the tensions and excitement and passions that surround you. Michael says, “Being able to see closely and capture that which is distant and fleeting is a thrill, and can capture some unique moments”. Well, I have spent the past fifty years agreeing with him and sharing with him that adrenalin rush that comes from capturing precious moments. However, trawling through my own better pictures shows that they were mostly made close in and with wider lenses.
Michael’s magnificent photographs are proof that long lens photographs can be tremendously powerful and moving but I am going to suggest that our newbie, heading out to explore both the world around him and himself, should choose the wide lens, say 28 or 35 mm, as his default position. Any wider and distracting distortion can set in, any longer and he’ll no longer be able to reach out and touch the people, and even the landscapes, he wishes to record. Of course, shooting in close and wide suggests, perhaps even demands that he builds a bond of trust, often unwritten, with those he photographs. The corollary of this is that he has to believe in the essential integrity of his photography and that he deserves to have people let him into their lives, however fleetingly. This could be a rather longer journey than the trip to a camera store to acquire that lens, be it long or short.
Still, photography is a very broad church and that’s good, because it gives the space for Michael to shoot long and for me, and perhaps our newbie, to shoot wide
Photographs were made, over the years, with Leica, Canon, Panasonic and Olympus cameras, Using 28 or 35 mm lenses, or their recent equivalents. Current mainstay in a Olympus EM1 with a 12 to 35 lens.