Your choice of lens helps to define your photographic style, as Michael Freeman explains
Think you know all about lenses? You’ll know a lot more after reading this!
Choice of lens is a matter of personal vision and
comfort”. Those are the words of American photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark, and pretty well echo the way in which most experienced photographers feel about their lenses. And I do mean ‘feel’: the glass in front of the camera has more to do with defining a photographic style than it does with simply being convenient for a type of subject. It’s true that there are practical considerations in needing a wide angle for an interior view or a telephoto for wildlife, but for the vast majority of regular shooting, your choice of focal length depends on the visual effect it gives, and on what you feel comfortable with.
Most of us have some sort of relationship with particular lenses, and in some cases the lens has become very much a part of a photographer’s distinct style. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the master of street photography, used a selection of lenses when he was on paid assignments for clients, but for his own work, which consists of his defining pictures, he used only a 50mm, for the simple reason that he firmly believed that his camera was “the extension of my eye”, and that 50mm gave him the view that he considered eye-like.
Other photographers have different styles. For instance, Annie Leibovitz said, “I look for images that are a bit different – a little surreal. The normal lens is a challenge to me. I have to work to avoid getting normal-looking pictures. My favourite lens is the 28mm because it gives me a different perspective with a minimum of distortions.” Others go longer, and as we’ll see this month, lenses are personal.
Camera models come and go, but your choice of lenses is a part of your own particular way of making photographs. Focal length is usually the decision-maker, though as we’ll see in a later issue, there are also different designs of lens that can make the difference.
This cormorant close-up was captured at the wide end of a 12-24mm lens on a Nikon full-frame camera