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Thread: Zoom With Your Feet

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2003

    Default Zoom With Your Feet

    Anyone know who wrote this article?

    Zoom With Your Feet

    If youíve bought a zoom, or are thinking of buying one, remember that you are committing the ultimate sin in photography - You are making it easier to take pictures. For some inexplicable reason, otherwise rational photographers will jump all over you for having more than one focal length available at one time, and for being able to walk upright, unbowed by a thirty pound bag of lenses.

    You are being lazy, and it is surely going to show in your photography. Instead of rushing forward to get a tight close-up of that mama polar bear, youíll just zoom it from the truck and get nothing more than a cheaterís snap. Soon you will not bother to move at all to get your shots. Youíll remain affixed to one spot, and most likely a spot where the light is bad. As you mindlessly play with the zoom ring you wonít even notice the good shots youíre missing, until your leg muscles have withered too much to even walk. As you melt into the sidewalk photographers will pass by muttering about the evils of zoom, and there but for a 18mm f2.8 go us all.

    Thereís only one way to avoid this terrible fate. You have to buy a single focal length lens and zoom with your feet (memorize that phrase - Zoom With Your Feet. When you get to be an old hand you can impress beginners with it).

    Now youíre going to take time to explore every subject. Youíll skip about in energetic circles, seeking the best angle, the most favourable viewpoint, the best composition. Even while youíre dashing all over the place you will also be patiently awaiting the perfect light, the golden instant when everything comes together into the shot so right Ansel Adams will come back from the grave to praise your incredible, almost superhuman ability to zoom with your feet.

    For Zooming with you feet IS incredible. In fact it is impossible. You cannot zoom with your feet. You can only zoom with a zoom lens. You can get the effect of a zoom by owning a bag full of single focal length lenses. This will work super duper fine for still life and landscape subjects, if the light is not changing too fast.

    Zooming About

    So why canít you zoom with the old dogs? Lets give it a try. Put a single focal length lens on the camera (if all you have is a zoom, tape the sucker to a single focal length), something about and around 50mm. Now letís head out to Franklin Street, where we might just be able to find a subject.

    Weíve lucked out today. The Highland Piper is out in front of the bank enthralling everyone with his piquant rendition of Achy Breaky Heart. How about you get a shot of his face as he puffs up his cheeks? Go ahead footsy zoom right up there for a nice tight close up. Iíll stay here and re-light my cigar.

    So how did it go? I said HOW DID IT GO? Donít worry, the ringing will fade in a day or two. Youíll probably regain most of your hearing by Christmas. Perhaps tight close-ups of pipers are something to leave to zooms.

    But wait - lookee here. Itís Natasha - the girl with the ring in her nose. Sheís very pretty, likes to have her picture taken, and doesnít play the bagpipe. You ought to do a few tight close-ups of her. Thatís it, move right in. That nose ring sure looks big doesnít it? In fact her nose is beginning to look pretty big too. Youíve gotten a bit too close. Natasha likes to have her picture taken but not like this. You better back off.

    This may be another situation where you donít want to zoom with your feet. If you get too close to someoneís nose it is going to appear awfully large in comparison to their head. Ears have a way of doing that too, as do cheeks. You might find that a hand will loom pretty large just before it slaps you when you show her the prints.

    Okay, lets go with something safe. Something far enough away that it wonít distort, or screech in your face. How about that row of demonstrators in front of the post office? Letís see, Ban the Whales, Save the Bomb, Abort Bush, Equal Rights for Free Range Bio Corn. This could be a great shot.

    Why arenít you shooting? Canít get them all in the frame? Just foot zoom back a few paces and WHOOOPSÖ You gotta stay out of traffic son. It ainít safe in the street.

    Weíve been out here quite a while and havenít gotten a single good shot yet. The sun is getting low in the sky, and we havenít got much time before itís too dark. Come to think of it, take a look at the sun - but Donít stare. Look at how the setting sun and the jewelry store sidewalk clock are about the same size, and are both perfectly round. And the traffic lights down at Columbia Street, more circles, and all the circles seem to make a pattern. Thereís a flow, and rhythm. Itís a natural born composition. Your first abstract, just sitting there waiting for you to snap the shutter. Shoot. Shoot!

    Whatís the matter now? Too small? The sun is too small? Ah yes, of course. Everything is a bit too small. Most of the frame would be just extraneous stuff that would detract from the composition. If you could zoom now would be the moment. But you canít - so get hopping. Just zoom with your feet up the block about fifty feet and everything should be fine.

    Now what? What do you mean the clock has moved? Oh. I see what you mean: As you moved closer to the clock it changed position in relationship to the sun. In fact it has changed position in relation to the traffic lights too. Your beautiful composition has vanished. The clock face has become huge compared to the apparent size of the sun. What the devil happened?

    A Perspective on Perspective

    Thatís right. You moved and changed the perspective. By moving fifty feet closer to the clock you have covered most of the distance between you and it, making it appear much closer to itís actual size. The traffic lights are still pretty small, but they appear higher off the ground now, as youíve covered about a quarter of the distance to them. The sun looks pretty much as it did from down the block, and as it will from up the block.

    Every time you move you change the perspective. Note where the sun appears to be from here. What happens to itís apparent position if you sidestep five feet? Any motion of the photographer is going to change the apparent position of the subject - You Canít zoom with your feet. It doesnít work.

    Take the tape off your lens and lets go up the street.. Note the girl standing in front of the pizza shop. From here she is nicely framed by the window. If we zoom with our zoom, she is still framed by the pizza shop window, but she fills our viewfinder now. I just happen to be carrying a long zoom with me. Try this at 150mm. There is less of her in the viewfinder, but she is still framed in exactly the same way as she was with out 50mm. Move on out to the full 300mm. Nothing has changed except the amount you get in the frame.

    Now take one step to your left. Keep the lens pointed at her. The window frame now appears to be growing out of her head like a topknot. Zoom out. Sheís still got that topknot, but neither it nor she are quite as large as they were. When you move, you change perspective. When you zoom the perspective stays the same. No amount of energetic traipsing about will get you back the original perspective.

    Now it is true that you will have to look for the best perspective. But once youíve found it youíd best stand still. If you need to get more in the frame, zoom out - with your zoom.

    The Big Picture

    In the late nineteen thirties Andreas Feininger was a staff photographer for LIFE magazine, based in the New York office. He frequently found himself across the river from Manhattan in New Jersey, from where he could view the skyline, with the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. This area he decided, between two and seven miles away from the skyscrapers, was the perfect vantage point for pictures. By shooting from this distance he was able to transfer the feeling of massiveness of the buildings in relation to the cars and humans in the streets at their bases. Had he worked close with a normal lens the people would have dominated the compositions and only the very bottoms of the buildings would have shown. Using Wide lenses would have made things worse.

    One of his best pictures shows the Queen Mary, a giant seagoing building, coming up the East River. It is as long as the skyscrapers are tall. Had he shot this from close to the ship (on a tug for example), the buildings would have been dwarfed behind the ship.

    You can try this on a smaller basis. Move up to the little sports car with this 24mm lens. Notice how the buildings across the street seem to shrink? Now take the 300mm and run up the alley. The car has about the right proportions to the buildings from here. If you zoom with your zoom, you can have perspective working for you. If you zoom with your feet, you can have a bottle of corn plaster.

    If you think Iíve just made photography easier for you, be advised you are still going to be doing a fair amount of leg work. An article on Feininger taking a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge describes his trudging up and down the steps of several four and five story tenements hunting for just the "right" spot. This simple assignment took a couple weeks, and a lot of work for both Feininger and the assistant who carried most of the equipment and wrote the story.

    You canít zoom with your feet - but you canít hunt for the best perspective with your zoom either. Use them both.

  2. #2


    Excellent article that covers the relationships between distance/perspective/focal length in a humourous way.

    Where did you pluck this from?

  3. #3


    Hmmm.... I think he was trying to find that out too.

    Read the first line of his post...

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    nowhere... juz a random stray.


    yup yup, very interesting. nice way to explain the difference in perpective.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    Singapore, Bedok


    Tony Spadaro. Unless he pilfered it.


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