Using Lens Limitations to Your Advantage
Blog readers, I am still traveling out west. I haven’t had much time to write or even do much shooting. For those of you waiting for news of my recovery from my last disastrous post, suffice it to say, I am ok and the gear is recovered. On with the show.
The occasion of our visit out west put me at my nephew and God son’s baseball game. Ever eager to try out new shooting opportunities, I looked upon cheering my nephew as a shooting opportunity. Baseball is played in the late afternoon and evenings. Light is constantly changing. In this game, we had bright sunlight, a thunderstorm blocking the setting sun, twilight, artificial lights and everything in between.
Shutter speeds on my Canon 70-200 MM F2.8L IS Lens ranged from ISO 200 at 1/2000th of a second to ISO 500 at 1/320th of a second (all at F2.8). The failing light and the razor-thin depth of field kept me on my toes.
The construct of the ballpark also tried my skills. It seems that ball parks are constructed of chain link fence. In my youth, chain link was limited to a tall behind-the-plate backstop and a waist high boundary down each foul line. Now, fences are much higher and surround the entire field. The fence mesh openings are smaller than the primary of most telephoto lenses making for difficult photos-not to mention finicky auto-focus mechanisms.
There are few options for the budding sports photographer. The openings are typically limited to the dugout entrances and the outfield corners. These views are limited in revealing most of the field and are often clogged with inbound and outbound players. The outfield openings are simply too far away to make effective photos.
The view from the scorer’s booth is safely above the fence but offers a less exciting view of the action and looks more like the shots taken from the stands than action at the player’s eye-level. It is also uncomfortable shooting over the scorer’s table and the people who need to be there.
The winning solution to the dilemma is to take the tack of submarine captains everywhere and get inside the range of the torpedo before it can arm itself. With a camera lens this means you must get inside the focus ability of your lens. The telephoto lens I was using focuses to roughly 1.5m on the close side. I was already limiting my aperture to the widest setting (yielding the least depth of field) for the purpose of faster shutter speeds.
By closing the distance from my lens to the fence I was able to shoot through the fence. I placed the center of my lens on the ‘hole’ in the links and moved it until my lens hood rested on the fence itself. At this close range, the fence becomes all but invisible. Long focal length, combined with wide-open aperture and close proximity to the fence render the steel barrier practically invisible. The shot above of Mat sliding into first base was shot through the fence at relatively close range.
Ball games aren’t the only place where getting inside the resolving limit of your lens can be a benefit. Zoos, construction sites, highway bridges and many others are locations where mesh of one kind or another can be negated by judicious placement of your lens in proximity to your barrier. It is also much easier than trying to clone out fuzzy diamond-shaped patterns.
Rikk Flohr © 2008