I’ve been experimenting lately with restricting myself to just one lens on my 20D, the cheapest, lightest, most basic one I have, namely the 50mm 1.8 prime that you can pick up for next to nothing. The reason I’ve been doing this is not just for greater portability; after all, a larger zoom isn’t really that big a difference when you’re carrying it in a bag. What I really wanted to do was see what happens when I purposely limit myself to a single focal length. The last time I did such a thing was when I had my first camera, a fully manual Pentax K1000 with only the basic 50mm lens, back in the 80’s, and it seems to me as if I have been relying too much on varying focal lengths, especially wide-angle shots. Sure, my popularity on Flickr will probably drop, but hopefully I’ll learn something useful in the process.
Of course, with the cropped sensor on my 20D, the 50mm is actually an 80mm lens, but this is perfect for people photography, another area where I need more practice. Most of my photos feature dark empty streets with maybe a person or two in the frame as a kind of punctuation rather than the subject. It’s not that I don’t see people photo possibilities when I’m walking around; rather, I’m too slow and too self-conscious to actually capture them. It seems to me that as soon as someone catches me eye, they are somehow automatically alerted to my presence. I am seen as a threat, and they retreat in fear.
Part of this, of course, is probably due to my appearance, as I’ve been told that I can come across as a bit menacing to people who don’t know me (and even people who do know me). I think, however, that my attitude and reaction to the situation also has a lot to do with it. When I see a photo possibility, someone with an interesting face, for example, in a visually interesting environment, I have an internal reaction that translates into some external signs that the subject senses. They feel my attention and react to it. I need to find a way past this (or through it) if I am going to improve my people photography. For now, I have to work in crowded areas like political events and bus stations to get such shots. Wayne showed me some tricks for faster focusing, but the 50 1.8 is not a fast focuser; usually by the time I get a focus lock, be it on auto or manually, the would-be subject has already fled in terror. Wayne also recommended the Sigma 30mm 1.4, and if I were sure that I would be staying with the 20D I would definitely consider it, but I’m not going to buy any new glass until I find out just what’s going on with Canon’s lineup over the next few months.
Speaking of new cameras, Mike Johnson is wondering just why nobody’s making a “Decisive Moment Digital” camera, i.e. a simple, portable point-and-shoot camera with a large sensor and a fast prime lens. “a small, light, unobtrusive carry-around camera with great handling and world-class responsiveness, capable of being used in all manner of lighting conditions and yielding DSLR-quality results on the gallery wall,” he writes. “The 21st-century equivalent of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s stealthy street-shootin’ Leica.” I completely agree. I’d much rather have the kind of camera he’s talking about than the postage-stamp-sized sensors current p/s cameras have. I don’t need most of the bells and whistles like face detection or in-camera color processing and 14 gazillion megapixels that the manufacturers are feeding the masses.
I suspect the reason camera makers aren’t doing this is because they feel that “real” photographers already have huge DSLRs and wouldn’t go for them, while most people are happy to have a camera that captures the kids playing soccer and don’t care about image quality. I think, however, that “real” photographers would go for such a DMDC in droves, just to have it on them during the day when they don’t have their huge 1D or D3 or whatever weighing them down. Instead, ironically, they’ve been taking the point-and-shoot out of the running for such a demographic by actually worsening performance and image quality by cramming more and more “features” and megapixels onto smaller sensors with substandard glass, counting on in-camera processing to make them look semi-ok on the little LCD screen. As a result, photographers are combing through e-bay looking for p/s cameras from a few years ago, before these trends got so utterly ridiculous.
David sent me a link to an article that maybe explains why I like to go walking around, particularly with a camera. I don’t feel comfortable looking for pictures so much when I’m with a group of people, or in a social scene. I feel (even more) like some kind of misfit because I’d rather interrupt the conversation to take a shot than miss it. It sounds overly dramatic, but it’s like I’m seeing another dimension that most other people don’t, in a Sixth Sense creepy kind of way, except I don’t see dead people; I see pictures. Everywhere. And yes, they don’t even know they’re pictures.
When I first went digital, however, I thought I could shoot everything, but I was wrong; it has a real cost: time. I need to engage in more self-censoring, instead of just shooting everything that I see. Combing through so many mediocre shots just takes too long, and I already spend too much time each day staring at a screen. I know I can take a decent shot. Flickr and other sites are stuffed with millions of such shots. I need to see what else I can do.