Not long ago, I wrote a bit about the importance of both moving your camera position and changing focal length in order to get different perspectives on your subject and its relationship to the surroundings. I got to thinking a bit about this and realized that there was something more important going on here than I had considered. Lenses and how we use them are not simply "photographic technique" or craft. They also literally and psychologically affect how we see the world.
Photographs have the potential for doing much more than recording a pretty scene or subject or even showing us a subject we have not seen before. Photographs allow us to deal with and visually structure the chaos of life all around us to emphasize something that we care about and share it with others.
Actually, just standing in one place and zooming starts to do that. A wide-angle focal length gives us a wide-angle view of the world, helping us see relationships of many elements of a scene.
Both views are important and I think we can use these ideas from photography to better help us see and connect with the world around us on many levels. If you visit a friend's house, for example, the wide-angle view helps you see the connect of your friend to his or her environment. It truly is the "big picture" point of view. When you go into nature, this big picture point-of-view, regardless if you actually use your camera, helps you see connections and how things are interrelated if your mind has a wide-angle perspective.
On the other hand, the telephoto view with your friend helps you focus in just on them and what is important to them. You see details that are overlooked in the wide view. In nature, this is also important to help you discover more to a location than simply being in a big place. The telephoto point-of-view allows you to isolate details so that you can see them clearly in your mind even if you don't put a telephoto lens on your camera.
Now let's go back to the idea of moving your position as well as your wide or telephoto point-of-view. If you get in close to a subject with a wide-angle focal length, the subject gets very large compared to a shrinking background and environment. The surroundings are definitely there, but compared to a standard wide view where you stand back from the scene, they are reduced in size and change in their emphasis within the photo.
Getting close to anything important to you and still staying aware of the bigger surroundings gives you a unique perspective on that "object", whether that is a person or a flower. This keeps the subject prime in your mind while allowing you to still see how the "big picture" influences that subject. The subject is absolutely the star of your attention (which is not always true if you simply watch or shoot from a distance with a wide-angle view), yet the environment is still there helping give perspective.
If you back up and shoot with a telephoto, perspective changes so that the background/surroundings become more natural in their size relationship to the subject. You can also better see how that subject relates to specific details nearby.
While this is more "distant" emotionally, it can be a very important way of seeing a subject whether through a camera or in your mind. Sometimes the wide view is just too distracting and keeps you from really seeing true relationships of your subject, your center of attention with specific parts of their world.
In my wife's family, her mom loves to have a big party with all of the siblings, spouses and kids (which makes for a large, rather chaotic group). It can be great to get in close to someone and still keep an eye on the rest of the group. That tells you a lot about connections in the family. But sometimes you have to step back and focus on one part of the group, backing up enough to see how that one part is connecting with the rest. For example, a child who is feeling a little left out.
In nature, we have the same things. We can get right in the forest with a wide-angle point-of-view and gain some stunning perspectives of how a flower or tree fits into the larger setting. But sometimes we need to step back and refocus our attention on seeing a very specific relationship of one element of that place to something that affects it strongly. That can come from that backed off, telephoto perspective. The shot below is the backed off, telephoto perspective of the yucca relative, nolina, shown at the top of this blog. This is exactly the same plant, but look what a difference a focal length and distance change can make for how we see the plant.
As I thought about these things, I realized why it has been so important to me to shoot with more than just one focal length up close. While I use and love working with a macro lens, that focal length can only offer me one point-of-view. I want to see nature as a bigger place than simply a series of locations to be used with my macro to "harvest" images of varied subjects. By using different wide-to-telephoto points-of-view, whether that is from my camera or just how I am using my mind, I see a different and more beautiful world.
I am trying something new for my how-to videos. A new video website, EduPow.com, is now offering courses for the very low price of $5 each, with the plan of getting lots of people to try them out. I have three courses there: Photo Success with Lightroom (about using Develop effectively and efficiently), Photo Organization with Lightroom (a little about how to organize photos as well as using Library effectively and efficiently), and Mastering Black-and-White.
And with all of these flower photos, I have to mention my class on photographing flowers, Flower Photography from Snapshot to Great Shot, at BetterPhoto.com. One thing that is great about BetterPhoto.com is that you get lessons from pros plus assignments plus critiques of those assignments by the pros.