Monday, 18 April 2016

366 Project Second Month - Ultrawide

When I started my 366 project, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stick to the same camera and lens for the whole year, so I instead decided to take it month by month. In January, I often felt there were many cool shots I could have gotten if only I had a wider lens so in February I wanted to try shooting with an ultra-wide. I was expecting to be able to use the ‘gimmick’ of the wide to make taking a daily photo much easier. I was wrong.

Though it did come in handy sometimes.

Camera choice

I still wanted to keep the camera and lens combo on the lighter side, so I opted for the Panasonic GM5 with the 7-14mm f/4 lens – with an extra requirement that it should be at 7-8mm at all times which roughly equates to a 14-16mm in full frame terms. In fact, the camera and lens combination comes in at 511g, effectively the same as the 507g Sony RX1RII I used in January.

Camera limitations

What became apparent very early on is just how limiting the camera and lens combination were. Shortly beforehand, I had been in Docklands with a Sony a7RII and the Sony 16-35mm f/4 zoom and was impressed with the results. The first day of February I went back there with the Panasonic and was shocked how badly it did in comparison. This was from a combination of much lower dynamic range capable sensor; worse handling of long exposure noise; and a lens that flares in an incredibly unsightly way.

The ugly flare (see the lights at the top of the bridge) would continue to plague me for any night shot for the rest of the month
Another early sign that I was in trouble is that I kept wanting to push the lens to the 14mm mark. There were also several times I took a picture, that I later found felt would have been better with a longer lens. Of course, that wasn't the camera's fault.

Restrictions force you to consider new possibilities

In the photo above, I originally felt a longer lens would have resulted in a better photo. However, when I was editing the photo I tried cropping it to emulate taking it with a 35mm equivalent lens, and it lost all the feeling of isolation of the sole figure. If I hadn’t been self-enforcing a rule of using the lens at its widest, I would have zoomed it to 28mm equivalent and:
  1. Walked away with a weaker photo.
  2. Not personally experienced and had the revelation of using a wide angle shot to make an element feel lonely within a frame.

Muscle memory adapts fast

I’ve read others suggest sticking to a single camera and lens for a year, and that it’ll make you a better photographer and let you hone your craft. They say that it’ll let you see the frame before even bringing the camera to your eye.

What they often neglect to mention is the impact of how much you’re shooting. I found that if taking a photo every day (where you’re taking the time to find a photo you’re happy with) it was only a matter of days before I had a good, and relatively accurate idea, what I would see through the camera before I looked through the viewfinder. Similarly, it was a very short time before my hands and fingers were adjusted properly to using the different camera.

It’s hard to predict reaction to your photos

I was really happy with the above photo. I had earlier taken a photo that day I liked, but when I saw this scene unfolding in front of me, I knew I had to snap it. I loved the strong light and saturated colours. In my mind it reminded me of a Martin Parr photo (with apologies to Martin Parr for my vanity).

However, it got very few likes compared to some other photos I took.

Meanwhile, I felt the photo above was just a rather ordinary scene you often see in Melbourne, yet was one of my more popular photos. For me, the lesson here is just photograph what you want to photograph, and not be too concerned on what the response may be.

Patience pays off

The original photo I had taken before snapping the protest above was somewhat similar to the above. I was tempted to return the next day to take this, but the sky was never quite right. So I kept waiting for a partially cloudy day for over a week! Nine days later, the clouds finally returned and I got the shot I wanted. It was one of my favourite photos month – but I don’t think it would have been if I hadn’t been patient and waited for the right conditions.

Final lesson for February

I hate the Panasonic 7-14mm lens – hate it, hate it, hate it! Yes, the size is great, but the flare makes it almost unusable for night or any scene with a strong light source in the image. Using a piece of gear every day for a month will really let you see its strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve learned this lens has no space in my kit anymore.

But it still has its uses if you know its limitations
You can read about my experiences in January here.

P.S. If you want to follow along in my journey, you can see how my 366 project is progressing on Instagram: @andrew366

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