By MICHAEL PERKINS
ONE OF MY PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENTS AS A PHOTOGRAPHER has little to do with the power or technical precision of this image or that, but rather in any success I may experience in trying, over time, to do more with less. Fewer procedural steps per shot. Fewer cameras per piece of baggage. And, mounted on said cameras, fewer lenses to do nearly everything, or as close to that holy state that I can get.
It’s not just a case of lessening the strain on my aching back/neck, although that is a helluva motivator. No, it’s more about the time lost switching between cameras, camera bodies, lenses, attachments, etc., which must inevitably lead to lost shots. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. If only I hadn’t been fiddling for that other optic, I tearfully whine, I’d already have produced a masterpiece today, or some other such delusion. There is also the cold, hard fact of my own innate sloth. I’d like to have my hands freer for more of the time, especially if someone might be inclined to proffer a ham sandwich or, Lord bless me, an I.P.A.
That said, I now choose lenses based on the breadth of their traits, glass that I can just stick on a single camera with a reasonable expectation of being able to get 90% of what I want simply because the lens is not a one-trick pony. For example, that might mean, say, looking for a prime lens that has a wide aperture range, allowing me to do portraits, landscapes, and even a few handheld night shots all with one set-up. In my younger days, I thought nothing of doing this by taking three separate lenses along, all of them delivering just one specialized effect. Homey don’t play that no more.
This “faux macro” was actually shot with a zoom lens from about twenty feet away.
As an example: I am often on birdwatching walks with my friends for which someone forgot to memo the birds to, you know, actually show up. That used to mean being stuck all day with just “the bird camera”, a fairly adequate bridge model with decent zoom, but a small sensor that makes it lousy on scenic work. In recent years, I have repurposed the thing as a faux macro lens, merely by zooming in, not on distant mountains or eagles on trees, but flowers, insects, and other mini-subjects, mostly from a distance of about twenty feet. It takes a little getting used to, framing up a shot of something that tiny from that far away, but, on mornings that the birds have decided to sleep in, I can at least find something to do to avoid moaning and pouting, two behaviours that birders specifically frown upon.
The other thing I do to isolate things even further is to zoom in at the shortest focal length that the lens will allow and under-expose by about a stop and a half. If I can’t de-emphasize the background with bokeh, then I’ll just surround my subject with inky black. Either way, instead of spending the day grousing that I don’t have the correct tool, I’ve become more comfortable with asking what I do have to work a little counter-intuitively. Because, after all, excusing oneself for not getting the picture “because I brought the wrong gear” is, well, for the birds.