Educational Failure: The Lens Matters

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[singlepic=246,320,240,,right]This photo has been sitting in my workflow for a little while now.  I think the photo has a lot of merits and I was on the fence about whether or not to add it to my portfolio.  Since it is now the subject of my Educational Failure column, it goes without saying that the image ended up in the rejection pile.  The following is a brief disclosure of what ultimately led to its dismissal.

First and foremost, lets talk about a basic flaw:  Composition.  The original of this image was actually framed fairly well – the building was positioned more to the left and I had some open space to the right.  The trees in the background served as a nice subtle balance to the photo.  Unfortunately, the image was not straight and I had to rotate it a few degrees counter-clockwise to compensate.  This forced me to crop the photo tighter than I would have liked resulting in this image.  I feel that the cropped image places the building too close to the center and too close to the bottom edge.  Now, in my defense…I took this photo while I was conducting a site inspection for work.  I did not have the aid of a tripod, nor did I spend much time shooting the photo.  I honestly never expected this photo to fully make the cut.  If composition were the only issue with this photo, I may have taken some artistic license and let this one slip through.  But as you will see, it’s no my only concern.

The two real issues can be attributed to the type of lens I used.  This is my kit lens, a Nikkor 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom.  It is not the ideal lens of choice for this shot.  The first problem is the bokeh, or lack-thereof.  I would have liked for the background areas to have a nice even bokeh, so I would have liked to have a much narrower depth of field.  At this focal length (27mm), this lens is incapable of achieving an aperture any larger than f/4.5, yielding a much larger depth-of-field than I would have desired.   The other problem is the slight lens flare that is visible where the foremost corner meets the roof (you may need to click to view the full-size image).  With the black-and-white conversion, the flare appears as a discolored circle which is – in my opinion – more displeasing than its full-color counterpart.  The view angle of this lens isn’t that wide, but its enough to be influenced by the sun.  This may have been a simple field correction – the lens came with a lens hood that would’ve blocked most, if not all, of the lateral sunlight.  Something so simple could easily have prevented the flare from occuring. With these two issues in mind, in addition to the composition issue I mentioned above, this image isn’t worthy of inclusion into my portfolio.

The bottom line is that this photo would not have been on the cutting room floor had I used a more appropriate lens.  I certainly should have been using a lens hood.  But the shot would have also benefited from a faster lens capable of a wider aperture.  I don’t have a more appropriate digital lens in my bag right now, but realizing that a need exists is the first step to correcting such problems.  It just so happens that my very next photography purchase will be a lens that will address these issues well.

In closing, I must once again remind you of my old photographic instructor’s advice:  “…you will learn far more from your failures.”  Analyzing your own works, as I did for you today, will only help you to grow.  I would highly encourage you to evaluate your failures regularly.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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