THE BEST KIND OF SECOND-GUESSING
By MICHAEL PERKINS
I TRY MY BEST TO ANTICIPATE EXACTLY WHAT KINDS OF SHOTS I will be taking in a given photo situation. This helps minimize the delay and hassle of changing gear in the field by heading out with a single lens that will do most of what I want. It saves me lugging along every hunk of glass I own on a project (trying vainly to be ready for anything), and makes me far more familiar with the real limits of whatever lens I decide will be my primary go-to for the day. Not a perfect plan…still, a loose plan is better than totally trusting to instinct or luck.
You can, of course, plan too generally and accidentally limit yourself. For example, on a day in which you’re to shoot a ton of landscapes, it’s easy to assume you’ll want an ultra-wide lens to capture those vast vistas. However, if something amazing appears on a far horizon and you can’t zoom any closer than, say, 55mm, you’ve suddenly got the wrong lens. Moreover, if your day takes you inside a dark cave, and your ultra-wide can’t shoot any faster than f/3.5, you’re likewise hamstrung to some degree.
In the above image, I decided, as I often do, to spend the entire day with a 35mm prime, a lens which affords me more latitude in more situations than any other glass I own. Of course, I can’t zoom with that lens, so I have to be reasonably sure that anything I want to shoot with it can be framed by simply walking closer or farther away. The 35 can open up to f/1.8, so it’s great in the shade, or where I want a shallow depth of field, and that can make it a viable, if modest, close-up lens…not true macro, but a good tool for selective subjects just a short distance away (in this case, about five feet). Also, shooting with the biggest image file setting available allowed me to crop away up to 75% of my original, as I did here, and still maintain good resolution. However, is the 35 of any value if I suddenly spy a bald eagle on the wing 300 yards away? Not so much.
But it’s not about finding a universal, one-lens-fits-all solution. It is about anticipating. The most valuable habit you can develop before every sustained shoot is to mentally rehearse (a) what kind of situations you’re likely to encounter and (b) what you want to be able to do about it. That sounds absurdly simple, but it really is about taking as many obstacles out of your own path before they even appear as obstacles. In other words, practice getting out of your own way.