“With the attempt to represent an idea, photography transgresses the borders
marked out for it.” — Albert Renger-Patzsch
When I brought my camera and a Sigma Art zoom lens back to my hometown in China, Changzhou, the idea of distance and objectivity came to my head. The first phase was purely technical: it’s the equation between focal length, sensor size, aperture, and depth of field. The focal length determines the angle of view, the aperture controls the amount of light, and they together yield a number for depth of field for the image confined in the size of the sensor. The process seems to be complicated but it’s actually short and, for a skillful photographer, very intuitive. A normal lens, for example a 50mm lens, is considered to have a similar view as human eyes, but it does not necessarily share a similar visual experience in terms of objectivity.
Nowadays, digital cameras have become very popular and available to consumers. The speed of auto-focusing and frame rates on many DSLRs and even mirrorless cameras have impressed us a lot. Smartphones with high-resolution cameras also significantly extended the population of “street photographers”. Unlike a large-format film camera, these cameras have reduced the time for focusing and metering down to 0.01s, and they are highly portable. Therefore, a street photographer with a modern DSLR or a smartphone is able to quickly find a spot and take a snap. The question is how he finds the spot and takes the snap.
My friend who works for the New York Times used to share me with a useful tip: use a prime lens. When the variable of the focal length is fixed, it is easy to move around to find the right distance, angle, composition, balance, and directionality. It’s also easier to obtain a sense of uniformity within a series of photos capture by a single prime lens. I agree with him. The experience of shooting with large-format cameras always fascinates me and I enjoy the process of slowly developing the connection between me and the object. While zoom lenses, such as my Sigma Art 18-35 mm, could possibly make a non-professional photographer “lazy”. They are perfect tools for a photojournalist to cover an event, where his position and movement might be very limited.
A space, a city or the countryside, has its unique distance between the human beings living within it. For Changzhou, the distance is fairly small. People cluster together to form a unity of the modern Chinese society,. While the suburbs have larger distances, and I would be able to stay a little behind and capture more surroundings. For city centers, I would like to move closer to the objects to capture the main object in the middle of the crowd. But it depends…because a faithful interpretation is sometimes more than what I see; it is my understanding of the relationship between all the elements within the frame.