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Old Aug 26, 2011, 10:37 PM   #1
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Default Zoom or Walk - Staircase

This is a really interesting exercise in relative distances, perspective and focal lengths. I took 3 series of different locations this morning before work and found that it was harder than I had expected to try to match up angles and viewpoints. I highly recommend doing this, it's fascinating and while I had some of the "results" I had expected, what I saw somehow surprised me, at least to see it visually. Looking at someone else's pictures doesn't quite convey the results as well as when you are actually there, shooting the pictures.

I chose to use an outdoor staircase as my subject, rather than a portal. I figured it would work similarly since I had the rails of the ramp before the staircase to "fix" a location. Also, I don't have a zoom lens that goes from wide to medium telephoto, so I somewhat cheated - I used two lenses. The wide angle is only slightly wide (31 mm) while the telephoto was 135mm. I had originally thought of using a 200mm but now think that would have been too long for most practical uses.

Here's the first picture, taken with the wide angle:



Here's the telephoto picture, taken from the same spot as the first one. I ran into some problems with dof, was trying to keep my shutter speeds reasonable for me to hand-hold.



Finally, I walked forward until I was close to the rails of the ramp before the staircase and they more or less matched the telephoto lens picture that I took from across the street.



It's always interesting to see how relative distances (camera to subject to background) will change a scene. In the telephoto case the background (the staircase) and the subject (the rails of the ramp leading to the staircase) are closer to each other than they are to the camera. In the wide angle picture the camera is a whole lot closer to the subject (rails) than they are to the background (stairs) so the stairs look smaller/further away. This was not a surprise to me.

What really struck me most was how that perspective change really changed what the picture was about. In the telephoto picture I looked at the stairs, with the rails being a lead-in (used mostly because I wanted the reference point and portal context). However, in the wide angle shot the picture is much less about the stairs.

A very interesting exercise, one I highly recommend to everyone!
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Old Aug 26, 2011, 10:50 PM   #2
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Very well done. An interesting choice of subject.

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Old Aug 27, 2011, 9:35 AM   #3
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Well done and very ilustrative.
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Old Aug 27, 2011, 10:28 AM   #4
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Very nicely done. I understand your pics better than I understood the written instructions!
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Old Aug 27, 2011, 10:43 AM   #5
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Thank you for sharing your results!

I've always liked how a telephoto lens compresses an image...
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Old Aug 27, 2011, 6:09 PM   #6
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Thanks! This actually wasn't my first choice of a location for this challenge at all. It was an impulsive set while I was heading to where I had thought would be a more interesting, informative site. However, I always find this staircase interesting and it was on my way, so I thought I'd practice on it. It ended up working out best of the 4 locations I used - the other ones had too much perspective/angle etc. issues.

I have another location in mind that I'll try on Monday perhaps. It won't have the relative distances going on - the area behind the "portal" is a flat wall. So it'll be interesting to see if it works or not.

As far as using two lenses - I was probably going to do that anyway. I don't have a kit lens (which I thought would have worked reasonably well for this exercise) and shoot mostly with primes anyway. I know I'm probably in the minority about that.
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Old Aug 30, 2011, 9:52 AM   #7
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My apologies for misleading people with this series of photos. I’ve always thought this challenge was about walking forward and adding elements you wouldn’t get from using a longer lens further back. I thought this series was strong that way – the telephoto lens picture isolated out just the staircase, whereas by stepping forward and bringing in the surrounding buildings, I changed the whole emphasis of the picture (the staircase became incidental). While that was partly created by the change in relative distances and different focal lengths, I thought that aspect of the series incidental to the subject (though interesting). Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job of explaining that and everyone else jumped on the obvious lens perspective differences.

English is such an imprecise language! And I’m not always good about finding the words to say something I instinctively understand. When trying to figure out how to separate “perspective” as in point of view and “perspective” as in the technical lens perspective, I realized they are related to each other – both have to do with changing the relationship of the camera, the subject and its background. And because of that, it’s hard to separate the two when shooting for this challenge, but they are different things. When you “zoom with your feet” you are changing the distance from the camera to the subject and its background, and changing focal lengths will reflect this to a greater or lesser degree (depending on the differences in focal length and differences in distances). Even my second example, the hole in the wall, has a certain amount, though it does a reasonable job of taking it out of the equation.

But as I understand it, this challenge isn’t about showing the affect relative distances has for certain focal lengths. The best series I’ve shot, that really does the best job of why zooming with your feet is often the best idea, was the one I messed up because I took the two distance shots vertical and the close shot horizontal (and that would have been too big of a mistake).

Perhaps someone else can shoot something similar – stand back at the end of a fairly long hallway, with a room at the opposite end. Shoot down the hall toward the room using a kit lens (or equivalent) both the widest focal length and then with a longer focal length so to have the door opening on either side of the picture. Then walk forward with a wider lens, until the door opening is on either side of the frame and see how much more of the room you’ll get in your picture. Too bad I can’t go to Yosemite this weekend – the view from inside the tunnel there, as you approach the end overlooking the valley, would make a spectacular example.

If I haven’t gotten the right end of this challenge, let me know.
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Old Aug 30, 2011, 3:46 PM   #8
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Mtngal, I think you've got it spot on! A number of people have totally misinterpreted the challenge and think it is about showing the distortion introduced by wide-angle lenses. I made a couple of changes in the challenge description and also posted a separate clarification. I thought the concept was very clear. I got the idea from a photography book I've had since "back in the day!". The examples in that book are crystal clear. I suppose, if I give proper credit to the author, I could scan and post those photos. The quality wouldn't be very good but at least everyone could see what I am looking for.

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Old Sep 3, 2011, 12:20 AM   #9
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I agree with cal. Your shots illustrate the objective perfectly. Your telephoto shot is an exact duplication of the wide angle shot, just a portion is "blown up" so it fills the screen. Your third image is very similar to the "blow up" scene but shows the scene from a very different perspective. Notice the railings and how short the distance is between the first vertical pole and the last one. You cant really tell the distance between them. Same for the 3 horizontal brick lines. They look like maybe 3 feet apart. The distance between the closest horizontal brick line and the top of the stairs looks pretty close as compared to the more true version in pic 3 which shows a much greater distance in depth.
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