I walk a lot because it's fun but also because daily exercise is emerging as the #1 "miracle cure" for a long and healthy (and happy) life. I walk, in addition to a daily swim workout, because it's a weight bearing exercise. And that's a good thing. Add a Lumix S1R and the Sigma 85mm Art lens to your walk and you can also add it a bit of resistance training for your biceps and wrists. But the best reason for me to walk through Austin is to stay in tune with the feel of my city.
Yesterday, just for fun, I decided to take along a heavy camera and a big lens. The S1R and the Sigma 85mm seemed like just the right combination. But to make things more interesting I decided to add a restriction to my photographic approach. I decided to spend the entire walk with the lens set to f2.0. I thought it would be fun to restrict my options and see what the rig was capable of with the lens nearly wide open.
I think that as we get more and more experience in our photography we forget the "happy accidents" of the early years. We learn dogma about lens quality and optimum apertures that might make our images sharper but more...boring.
I was thinking about this as I went through a box of old black and white prints from a time when films were slow and lenses weren't nearly as good as the best ones are today. I found a bunch of images from the middle 1970's that were shot with a Canonet QL17 rangefinder camera and remember that I shot a lot of pictures of people inside buildings, houses and dormitories; places that had low light levels. This meant that most of the time I was making photographs with my camera set to f1.7 (wide open) since my fastest film was Tri-X rated at ASA 400.
If you think about it a lot of the images from the period were shot "full frame" (the Canonet was a 35mm camera) and "bokeh" was unintentionally plentiful. But the interesting thing to me, when I look back, is how much more interesting the images were with their smeared backgrounds and cinematic lack of high sharpness.
I thought about the cameras and lenses we have today and our manic pursuit of high sharpness, crisp contrast and a general obsession with image quality over everything else. And I thought it would interesting to take a step or two back and at least see what modern life looks like when we go "over the top" wide aperture.
It is cheating a bit to use a very modern camera. Some of my sun-drenched scenes would have been far outside the range of my old film camera. I could never have shot wide open in the sun with a film camera, the shutter of which could only go as high as 1/500th of second. With the S1R I watched in several situations as the camera's shutter pegged at 1/16,000. Fun stuff.
Looking back at the old prints makes me wonder why I set off in pursuit of more "image quality" because it almost always came at the expense of so authentic feeling in the images. Another case of media reinforcing an easier to understand method, or commercial considerations beating the creativity out of us working photographers.
For my next walk I'll grab an older, manually focusing 50mm and shoot that wide open but with the additional overlay of shooting nothing but Jpeg and always in monochrome. Let's see if we can create a time machine and turn back technique to a more visually interesting period.
The Photographer at work.