This Roman era Nabatean city is one of the most photographed in the world. What do you think?
“Travel Tales with Curious Lizard and Adventure Squirrel.” Ep. 1
I really dislike riding backwards and as much as I wanted too, I couldn’t complain. Our ride was a twin propeller airplane and our flight path took us straight over the high Atlas Mountains. Gaining altitude as we flew a pattern of slow circles, Mustafa pointed east, “that’s Algeria” he said, “and the base we took off from was used by the French Foreign Legion during the occupation.” My mind reflexively flashed through images of Beau Geste.
From above, brown earth and dusty Sahara air revealed traces of green sinews winding here and there, river valleys bringing life giving water to small farms, fruit and olive trees. We flew higher and the High Atlas Mountains loomed closer. On we went. Waves of fog broke over the summits, boiling air turbulence tossed our little plane, Slam! I reached up to prevent my head form smashing into the fuselage. In spite of myself, I felt a little panic creeping up my spine. Slam! Jokingly, Christy began to invoke the name of a Moroccan demon, both Mustafa and myself blurted out “don’t do that!” She stopped.
The worst of it lasted about fifteen minutes. I looked over to Mustafa and he was praying passionately, this was when I realized we would make it. The rest of the two hour ride was less harrowing and ended with us landing safely in the breezy coastal town of Essaouira. Feet firmly planted on the ground I turned to Mustafa and said “that was the most terrifying experience of my life,” he smiled and replied “really? I was’t scared at all.”
How do you see? What angle of view represents your artistic “vision?” Recently I was having this discussion with some friends and I learned that we, as humans, have a visual field equal to about a 43mm full frame lens. This is why 35mm and 50mm lenses feel so comfortable. However, angle of view does not necessarily equal your artistic sensibilities or best lens option. Then of course, the question becomes, “what is the one lens that represents you”? This got me thinking. Pulling up Lightroom, I performed an experiment.
In Lightroom 5, I clicked on my good file in the left hand column of the “Library” module and placed the images into grid view. A filter menu appeared on top of the grid and I selected “all dates”, “all cameras” and “all lenses.” I wasn’t too surprised by the results. Greater that half of my “keepers” were taken in the 16-35mm focal length. This is how I see. The next block was taken with the 70-200mm and the third largest block with the 50mm prime, then 24mm prime and finally 28mm prime.
Ok, this makes sense since these are the lenses I use most, however I wanted to know more, so selecting “16-35 lens” and switching to the “Develop” module, I was able to look at each individual photograph in this folder, and it’s specific focal length and metadata. I did this by going into the “View” menu and selecting “Loupe Info” and “Show Info Overlay.” This allowed me to have a much closer and detailed look at my images and to my surprise, the majority of the keepers were taken between 18mm and 28mm with very few at the 35mm length.
Even though the 28mm prime was far down on the list, metadata revealed I used the 16-35mm zoom most often at the 28mm focal length. Interesting. It’s a funny thing but I’m reminded of the Robert Capa quote “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” After this little metadata experiment and my realization on how I use focal length, I appreciate his sentiment more and more.
Now the moment of truth, how do I see? What is my best lens for everyday photography and travel? Given a little wiggle room I would answer the 16-35 f/4 VR so all my bases are covered but that isn’t a satisfying response. The one prime focal length I would choose above all others would be a 24mm f/1.4. Why? Being midway between 18-28mm, it’s wide enough to convey strong graphic elements while inviting me to get in close. A 24mm lens has less problems with proportion distortion than wider lenses allowing more intuitive composition, yet it lets me photograph what I see in a spontaneous way. Also, a 24mm is easy to hand hold in low light.
Next time you want to travel light and grab that one lens, what will you choose?
When I travel, I love to get to know people, the land and the culture. Respectfully photographing people in other countries can be a challenging and a topic worthy of it’s own blog. I find it satisfying to take nice images of people and I’ve written previously about my struggles to become a better landscape photographer. What else is there? Well, you could go to festivals and social gatherings, or hang out where people shop and work. One of the ways I like to get to know people better involves going to small local cafes, restaurants, and eateries. Seeing the what people eat and how they eat it goes a long way in understanding who they are and how they live. In this spirit I make it a habit to hunt down local food and eat what the locals eat.
I offer you two images. The first is inside a small sidewalk Ramen shop in Kumamoto Japan. The second image was taken in a formal restaurant in Nagasaki showing cherry blossom infusers used in exquisite food preparation. What do these images tell you about the people and culture? Does me telling you what they are change your impression? In case you are wondering, the food in both locations was outstanding!
The Nikon Df, introduced at the end of 2013 sits calmly in the eye of the storm while megapixel wars and mirrorless insurgencies swirl around it. Still the smallest and lightest full frame DSLR and heir to the vast legacy of Nikkor and F mount Zeiss glass, the Df goes about it’s work taking stunning images and serving as an example of simple traditional ergonomic principles. In the age of the Leica 262 and Sony A7s, the Nikon Df remains my elegant companion. We have traveled the world together, from Battleship Island in Nagasaki harbor to the deserts of Morocco, my elegant companion never fails to excite with superb low light performance and beautiful tonality. The Df is a true travelers camera and after all this time, I can’t imagine using anything else. For more information on my travel kit go here.