On laziness, composition and zoom lenses

One of my main gripes about Nikon’s so-called ‘super zoom’ for DX cameras, the 18-200mm lens, used to be the distortion that made curves out of straight lines (mine is the older version, but the new version still has the same levels of distortion, as I understand it).  And then came the fantastic new version of Adobe Lightroom and it was possible to fix all that at the click of a button.  Then Nikon introduced a firmware update to the D90 and other cameras that took care of all this in camera – so you might see a sagging horizon in the viewfinder, but the camera now works out compensatory adjustments to remove this distortion, and you would see straight horizons directly on the camera’s screen (by the way, that link is to the Mac version, but if you haven’t yet upgraded to a Mac, there is a Windoze link somewhere too).  Both fixes work for dozens of lenses.

So: on a recent excursion through a woodland outside Edinburgh, I thought I’d just take this zoom and leave the primes at home: exactly the opposite of what I’d been doing for quite a while now (I was only really using the zoom for portraits).

But I’d forgotten how lazy a zoom like this makes me!  Here are two tree images from that walk.

Trees

Trees

The first is not particularly great, but it sort of works.  The four dark trees are offset by the dried out white wood at the bottom of the image, and there is a kind of lead-in through the trees framed on either side by the differently toned greens of the trees on both left and right from just above the white wood.  Shot at 95mm (i.e. about 142mm in 35mm format), it still has just about enough depth to make it look like an interesting woodland.  I’m not going to be framing this and putting it on my wall, but it is vaguely passable.

More trees

More trees

But this image really doesn’t work.  I was initially attracted by the white cross/plus at the top of the image – an interesting feature that I wanted to set in the wider context of the trees around it.  It was only visible from a particular angle, which I happen to have found.  But this image is a victim of my laziness brought on my using the zoom: shot at the full length of 200mm (300mm in 35mm terms!), it is completely flat and totally boring, as all the detail of the surrounding trees just blends into one amorphous mess.  I should have walked towards it, used a much shorter focal length (that cross would still have been visible) and shot it then – but somehow, when composing, I completely ignored/forgot that wide-angle lenses increase the illusion of depth, whilst telephoto lenses diminish it.

At least this little exercise ensures I’ll take my prime lenses with me next time and just work a bit harder at the composition, including using the zoom facility known as ‘walking’ – and then this kind of silliness is less likely to occur… I hope!

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