Friday, March 9, 2012

P31: telephoto views - compressing planes

A city is an interesting place to explore with a telephoto, it is a landscape that favors the compression of planes that a tele can produce.  As with the last project, I kept this one in mind as I walked around New York always thinking about opportunities to use a longer focal length.  The tighter angle of view is a benefit rather than a restriction in a space that is dominated by long narrow streets.

Modern telephotos have pretty good image stabilization these days, obviating the need of a tripod, although the 50-200mm zoom tele that I carried with me is not the best performing in its class.  Some of the images I captured were a little soft, but only when looking very close at the 100% enlargement of the images.  When using a larger lens on my FF SLR I often use a monopod which provides a good balance between portability and stability.

My first shots were taken from the window of my 37th floor hotel room, a vantage point that proved ideal (apart from very dirty exterior windows).  This enabled long shots that compressed many city blocks into what look like almost flat planes.  This is not ideal from a visual separation standpoint, but does create interesting patterns:

Angling the lens across the building tops creates a far more 3 dimensional, although still very compressed.  The Hudson river appears narrow but at this point in the city is very wide indeed.

Waiting until nightfall, the telephoto creates a very abstract collage of lights from the brightly lit buildings contrasting with the darkness of the night.  This would have been something I could have explored for many hours, each shot creating new juxtapositions of colour and pattern, but without the form of the buildings being clear.

Returning to street level the telephoto creates a much more claustrophobic feel to the city streets, a better parallel to the experience of being there than is delivered by a wider angle lens.  The tele also brings foreground and background together, I used this approach for this shot of a man walking near the Flatiron building.

Another compression of planes can be achieved by looking at the overlap between buildings at the long end of the lens.  In my first example I have omitted the sky again to retain the claustrophobia of the densely packed city.

My final example takes a low rise of no more than 10 stories against the massive height of the empire state building.  The tele and clear weather makes them appear very close, however, there are many blocks between these two buildings.

One aspect of walking the streets of a large city is the joy of looking for the sudden revelation of a unique viewpoint, the overlap of shape and forms and trying to construct an eye catching composition out of these elements.  A telephoto delivers the tool needed to make these shots work.  At 200mm the world looks very different than at 16mm.

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