Cell phone cameras are compact and convenient, and they deliver better image quality than ever.
But what phone cameras aren’t is versatile. For example, their tiny, fixed-focal-length lenses usually can’t focus very close. Several companies have come out with close-up attachments that let you shoot macro photos with a phone. But most have two disadvantages. They can be on the pricey side—$60 and up is a lot to pay for a tiny lens that you may not use all that often. And they tend to be designed for a specific model of phone. If you switch brands or upgrade—or if your family mixes and matches models and brands—you’re out of luck.
Sometimes the world seems so small. With some clever shooting and Adobe Photoshop techniques, you can make it seem even smaller. I’m referring to what’s often called the “tiny world” or “tiny planet” effect, and Ben Long explores it in this week’s two-part installment of The Practicing Photographer.
The zoom lens was patented in 1902, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that zoom lenses became increasingly popular on the 35 mm cameras of that era. The zooms of the ’70s were expensive and often lacked the sharpness and contrast of fixed focal length, or prime, lenses.
Today, thanks to advancements in optical design, zoom lenses are common and often inexpensive. Indeed, the “kit lens” that comes with a typical digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera includes a zoom. And the images from a high-quality zoom can stack up against photos taken with a prime lens any day.
Reflections are something you often don’t want in photography. If you’re shooting through a window, for example, you might attach a polarizing filter to your lens to reduce the glare and reflections of the world behind you (see Chapter 2 in Foundations of Photography: Specialized Lenses).
At other times, though, reflections can add a striking element to a photo. And that’s the subject of this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, wherein Ben Long reflects on the value of reflections.
Freedom can be overwhelming. When you’re free to photograph anything you want, whenever you want, it’s easy to end up not photographing much of anything at all. Psychologists use terms like choice overload to describe the paralysis that can accompany a world of unlimited options.
In this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long offers one solution to the overload: Give yourself a year-long assignment. Choose a time interval: daily, weekly, monthly. Choose a scope: your city, your street, your chair. And choose a subject: an object, a color, an emotion, an event.
It’s the classic movie depiction of writer’s block: a frustrated writer sits at a typewriter, occasionally tearing a page out, crumpling it, and throwing it into an overflowing wastebasket. Every writer has been there—and now and then, every photographer experiences its equivalent. You go out with your camera and just can’t seem to shoot anything that feels fresh or original. Your inner photo editor reminds you that you shot a similar photo last year. Or saw a similar shot in a book. Or on a website. It’s enough to make you want to crumple a sheet of photo paper and throw it in a wastebasket.
In this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long shares your pain and suggests a remedy: spend an afternoon shooting without a memory card in your camera. Go through the mechanics of photography—compose, adjust metering, zoom, or change lenses—but without using any digital film to record the results.
Crazy? Maybe. But it’s an exercise worth trying. As Ben points out, it’s easy to overthink your photography—to obsess so much on the need to Make Great Art that you affect your ability to see photographically.
Expanding your collection of lens filters is a relatively inexpensive way to expand your creative options. A polarizer reduces glare and adds pop to clouds and skies. A neutral density filter reduces light so you can use slower shutter speeds to add blur to waterfalls and waves. An infrared filter lets you explore the surreal world of invisible light. And a close-up attachment lets you get closer without having to buy an expensive macro lens.
In the ideal world, you’d be able to buy each type of attachment and use it with all of your lenses. But that world doesn’t exist, at least not in this universe. The problem is that lenses often have different-sized threads for screwing filters into place. Some lenses have larger diameters than others, and that means they also have larger filter-thread diameters.
For example, my walk-around zoom lens has 72mm filter threads. My macro lens has a thread size of 62mm. My 50mm prime uses 52mm filters. And my ultra-wide zoom lens uses 77mm filters. So if I want the flexibility to shoot with a neutral density filter on each of the lenses I use most, I need to buy four ND filters—at about $75 apiece.