Panasonic 7-14 - Usage tips for UWA neophyte

Started Apr 19, 2014 | Discussions thread
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Advice not critique
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, Apr 20, 2014

I am a wide angle junkie.  So bad that if there was a 12 step program for wide angle junkies, I'd hide out from the recruiters.  My first trip to Cuba, I shot probably a third of my images with the 7-14.  Not all at 14mm (advice #1... the lens isn't a 7mm, it's a 7-14, sometimes the right answer is to back up a bit and shoot at 12mm, or back up a lot and shoot at 45mm with a different lens.)

I learned years ago, through several street photography classes that were really hard for me, to get close, closer, closest.  (Advice #2... it's hard to be close enough.) Once I learned to photograph people up close, everything started to fall into place for me in terms of my own style.  I suddenly realized that the reason I didn't like a lot of my images up until then is that they had a voyeuristic, distant shooting perspective, instead of being up close and engaged with the subject.  That led me to a Nikkor 17-35 that I loved dearly until the 14-24 came out which I love even more.  I wouldn't have bought m4/3 if it wasn't for seeing a 7-14 on the roadmap.

This lens will be a cruel mistress.  You need to drop a lot of conventional thinking.  I took a landscape photography workshop once with a very famous landscape photographer, and we spent the entire week walking AWAY from subjects so we could shoot them with telephoto or even long telephoto.  Why?  Focal length isn't about reach, it's about your point of view on the subject, and your perspective.  (advice #3 - resist the urge to use lenses to fill the frame or empty it, that's what feet are for.)  Think about what you're feeling or want your viewer to feel, and use a lens that provides the perspective you need.

Composition is VERY HARD at UWA focal lengths. I'm so exhausted by seeing pictures with massive amounts of dull foreground (a quarter of the frame landscape, gravel driveway...), or with lots of distracting stuff in the frame that, when the photographer shows you the picture, they begin with "but...".  It's hard work to have every bit of the frame relevant at less wide ranges, but at 7-14mm, it's a blood sweat and tears struggle.  You paid for that angle of view, use it! (advice #4 - no "but" photos, make sure everything in the frame adds to the image, or choose an angle of view that removes the irrelevancies.)

If you DO begin to get the hang of composing at these UWA focal lengths, here's what you'll find you're doing - you're layering compositions.  (advice #5 - UWA is all about layering compositions for increased impact.) There's a difference between having three photographs in a frame (meaning, they'd all work better as individual photographs, and they fight with each other when in one frame) and having three layers.  It's worth reading up on.  I started to get the hang of it after taking three workshops in a row with long time National Geographic photographers.  That magazine is obsessive about layered compositions, and every evening those photographers picked apart my "three photos in a frame" attempts, and patiently explained why I got it right once in awhile.  Layering lets you tell a story in one frame.

Finally, don't go too Photoshop crazy correcting perspective.  (advice #6 - fix an image when shooting, not in post, and that goes for perspective too.)  It will very often look highly artificial, even vertiginous, if you do significant perspective correction on an ultra-wide shot.  Sometimes that's EXACTLY what you want - when I shot this picture, I already knew I was going to correct the daylights out of it, which would make the buildings tall and looming and ominous and make the viewer feel uncertain... which is what the image is about, where's Havana and Cuba headed?

When printed, I crop the bottom up to the manhole cover...

You CAN correct a lot of perspective issues when shooting.  Articulate that screen and get the camera up over your head, and you can take out an enormous amount of perspective craziness. (advice #7 - nothing says the camera needs to be at your eye, at your height...)  I've gotten very skilled at talking my way into homes and businesses that are up off the ground so I can shoot with the perspective control I want.  Sometimes I'm on the ground shooting up so I can get things REALLY mad looking.

Read up on layering, and shoot 10 really different attempts of each image you shoot with the lens for awhile - different focal lengths, different camera altitudes, then correct some and don't correct some.  You'll start to see it... but if you take one or two shots from the same place at the same focal length, of most subjects, you won't give your brain enough info to work with to figure it out. (advice #8 - and 8 is a lucky number - shoot 10 or more different concepts of every subject, even if you think your first shot nailed it... and you'll be surprised at how seldom your first shot nailed it.)

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