28mm & 35mm, do they mean anything or are they just numbers?

Photography

28mm & 35mm – These two focal lengths had been one of the most searched items on the net. Same says the 35mm is better for portrait, close-up type of photography, some says the 28mm is wider can include a lot more background while capturing your desired subject(s). While they both hold the truth, and more can be listed on and on. I’d like to explain what they really mean in my photography.

As a user of both, all I care for is how my photo is going to turn out. Whether it’s a beautiful landscape scenery or an interesting-looking stranger, all we care for is the details and ways to capture the image. It can be the lighting, perspective, height elevation and other aesthetic properties. Either you’re stuck with a focal length or always deciding which to go for. Of course all the statement above are based on my own experience.

The location you shoot photo in plays an important role to deciding which focal length you accustomed to. That is, in my case; streets of Hong Kong are narrow. That 7mm difference translates to about 2 human footsteps difference on subjects that are let say approximately 3 meters away. I’d not argue on whether the two steps can help the shooter to become invisible. I only think about how am I going to capture the image if space is scarce in the given situation. It can be how we orient our composition (portrait/landscape), capturing full body, upper torso, or just a head shot, anything…

With 28mm, images would display a fuller, dramatic feel. More information can be captured.

With 35mm, subjects on images are more fulfilling and making subjects to be more compelling.

I think the correct use of distance (footwork) can greatly determine the outcome of our images. From my observation, 28mm is more forgiving in placement as well as composition; that encompasses height and perspective. The 35mm is a lot more prone to your adjustment in height and angle (yes, I mean bending your back, knees). In other words, it’s ALL ABOUT how the photographer adjusting their distance and positioning. To me they are just numbers, body adjustment while shooting is all I concern.

So it’s clear to me if we fail to capture images the way we want, it’s always us to blame. Not the lens, nor the camera. In order to get to know about a focal length (especially) in street photography, It’s best to shoot with one focal length even we struggle and frustrate. Personally I’d been struggling for days or weeks I don’t even remember, it’s perfectly normal even for a slow learner like me. I know i’d get there by spending more time and devotion with it. Just do not quit. Thankfully, I see fine results from time to time. The more we use, the better we get!

Besides the 35/36mm. I’m appreciating the performance at night with my X2. High ISO Images are not as rough as what comes out of the GRD. That’s a huge thumb up to my daily shoot after work.

Think less be bold, I go B&W.

Photography

Lady with an umbrella

Whether to go Colors and B&W had been an ongoing interesting debate. No one can answer which is better. There’s so much variables when it comes to colors, so much depth with b&w. The type of film and way you process your photos can easily affect on the outcome of your presentation. That’s why there’s not a definite answer, only a preference of a photographer.

Blocks of apartment buildings

Yelling on the phone

While it’s true that b&w can easily turn photos into a timeless, classy piece, you can see many masters out there prefer b&w. It’s simple and expressive, less distraction from anything other than your subject(s). There’re still exceptions, such as Alex Webb. I think b&w is also a trend, a style, an expression. It’s like jeans, won’t go out of fashion.

Hello Kitty

Here’s my little routine on how I go about doing b&w.

Complicated map

Good Digital Noise
Nobody really likes noise in color images. In the b&w arena, it’s the opposite. I found my Ricoh GRD particularly great in setting up the mood of my photos. I don’t need to add noise grain to my photos, as they’re already there. They’re good grains. ISO 2500 is the acceptable limit, ISO3200 would really waste the shots. I try my best to keep my ISO below 2000. In some occasion, I’d pop the flash. I encouraged myself to use more flash recently.

Back of a man

Light – ISO/Aperture/Shutter Speed
It’s difficult to get all the lights you want when on the street. Especially you’re mobile, your subject often times just won’t stand on the light source for you. The ISO control is our best friends. Only a few flicks on my GRD’s adj. lever, I’m good to go (i really wish the X100’s adj. lever has the same functionality).

Belly

When it’s bright daylight, adjust the aperture to the lowest value and appropriate ISO value, do the best to avoid overexposed and blown out highlights. Although I’m always on the Aperture-Priority mode, I still constantly check on my ISO, aperture and shutter speed. I always make sure I get the right shutter speed to avoid motion blur.

Van driver

**Flash is a way to cheat when the environment is way to dim. You can usually adjust minimally and get the constant results you want (perhaps I’m wrong). The Exposure value and ISO affects on the isolation of the background and how far the flash goes. I won’t pose as an expert again, these are just my own experience. I encourage anyone to test it out themselves before flashing on people’s face. The conventional TTL/built-in flash does a pretty good job if you don’t want to go manual.

Kid and mom on a tram

Processing & Review
I won’t touch on the tonalities, as there’s so much about it and I’m not going to pretend as an expert. I’ll just say the more good b&w photos you have come across, the more likely you can process your own b&w nicely.

Fashionable lady

My processing involves:

  • Strengthen the subject,
  • Isolate the background (if necessary),
  • Drop the blowout highlight,
  • Reveal the darkened shadows, and
  • Adjust the overall tonalities (curves + selecting the right preset).

Alright, in the processing stage you take control of basically everything. It’s crucial to review the batch of photos you wish to present as a series. Makes sure they all look somewhat similar (in the processing manner, such as vignetting, brightness,…)

Slow man

This series is my June collection of Hong Kong with different characters, include tourists, minorities, lower class, middle class, old, young. With my new approach to not releasing my photos weekly, I could really gather up some better quality ones. I shot this series with a three week timeframe. I captured them all with my GRD.

Enjoying the harbor view

I hope I can still keep my spirit up and continue to do my street photography of Hong Kong. It’s been difficult to stay focused and experiment with different style.

That's how I move

Japan? It's Hong Kong!

Indian man

Tailor

Reflection of apartments

Indian man

Lunch box

Travel to new place = better photography?

Photography

It doesn’t matter how good of a person’s observation is, the likelihood to get good photography by revisiting the same area frequently is low. Unless you accumulate a fair amount of time spend on shooting. It happens to me that might not even get anything interesting at all for a single night/day.

However, I believe the likelihood of traveling would yield better photography by chance. I think there’re several factors that explains why (in my opinion). Let me try to list them one by one:

First Impression
When seeing new people, new environment, new things, anything we think special to us; we would capture them with our instinct. Pretty much like encountering cultural shock in the first place. We just don’t know how to react, we hit the shutter anyway..

Fresh faces and places
Faces and environments that are new to us. We are more likely to raise our camera to shoot. I grew up in a city, when I get a chance to visit the countryside. I shoot just about anything. New faces can also be how the people dress. I’m particularly interested with the minorities’ costumes in Hong Kong. They’re something that I do not often see. And they look clean and colorful. They usually stick out to the crowd.

Won’t come back anytime that soon, so you try harder
If I got a chance to travel the world, any street photography I do would try 100 times harder to get the shot. I would not even care about how my subjects feels literally (I’d still greet and thank them). I’d really find a vantage point to shoot environmental portraits. You’d do anything to make yourself ready, such as get up early, scout the area, even ask for a posed photo. You’d always bring your A-game to make the streets become your stage.

With direction, without plan
I do not mean you get shipped to another country with a map then you’re on your own. I mean when you plan on traveling to (ex. Chicago), you’d go see the Sears, Water Tower, Millennium Park, and all that. When time allows, you’d be curious what’s on the northern part of the city; you might take a cab, metro, bus to visit the old town to see if people are different up there. Or maybe you’re wandering on the Michigan Avenue, you wonder what if I do a little detour for a few blocks.

I often end up walking to a destination that I’ve not planned.

Nothing to lose
You feel free when you land on a new district/city/state/province/country. I always think shooting photos in my neighborhood would make people I’m weird or have some kind of strange habit/fetish? (especially in street photography). So I rarely shoot photos or even bring my camera out a few blocks off my home. Not sure if that’s something you’d do too, it’d be interesting to know from you ;P

When you’re at a new place, I think much like going to a college. You tend to walk around/ drive around the campus and explore the college town. Same token in street photography I believe. You’re a tourist or not from the area, people understands that. You tend to go one step further for the shot. Your mentality of your visitation pushes you to think outside the box.

I think that sums up what I think about this topic.