Standard focal length

‘Standard’ focal length for a photographer is 50mm. It is felt that this closely replicates how we see and indeed when you look through the view finder with both eyes open (one in the viewfinder and the other ‘outside’ the viewfinder) you will see that (on a full frame or 35mm camera) that the angle of view is very similar in both eyes. 50mm is that the de facto lens length for street photography for this reason and purists swear by it. Not only does it give a natural feel to the image but it is also conveniently small and therefore easy to keep concealed. There is no zoom and most have a big aperture to enable shooting in low-light conditions without the need for a flash unit. The photographs gained by it will have a very definite identity already ingrained. Ideal for a photographic life on the street.
For this exercise, I decided to use a film camera and a standard 50mm lens. My experience of shooting 35mm has, sufficed to say, waned since the dawn of digital and this was an extremely good excuse to try my hand at it once more. Not having used a film camera for some time it took me a while to get used to the feel and action of the camera. At first I was forever looking at the back of it expecting to see an image after every shot. I soon got out of that habit as one will tend to get some funny stares from people when they realise you are not using digital.
Using a 50mm lens was particularly enjoyable with group shots as I felt it gave a very real signature to the image and leant itself to describing what I could see very well. Unlike using a wide angle, which gave a sense of almost surreal involvement in the image, the 50mm gave enough distance between me and my subjects to almost photograph more happening in the frame. I daresay with experience this notion will change and is one I should come back to later in the course.

Of the images that I got back from the developers the ones I decided to use are below. I thought they gave a flavour of the transitory nature of hotel dwelling. People hanging around, waiting to move to the next location. People, porters, duty-free and delays. These photographs are all straight out of the camera.

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I thoroughly enjoyed shooting film. It made me slow down and consider each frame. I started to use my eyes as the frame. This becomes easier as time goes by and of course shooting at 50mm means you literally put the camera to your eye, focus and shoot. If I had Henri Cartier-Bresson’s cat like reactions I could probably focus before raising the camera to my eye. I also really enjoyed the 50mm lens and can very much see the attraction of it to not only street photographers, but also in reportage photography. It gives a certain clarity to a situation, maybe it is the ‘real’ feel as everything looks correct in the frame meaning the viewer doesn’t have to try too hard to ‘see’ the image but can instead focus their attention on what is actually arranged within the frame. One thing I did miss shooting film? All the meta data that instantly becomes available to the photographer. I didn’t make note of any of my shooting data so the only thing I know for sure is that my photographs are shot on ISO200 film at 50mm and developed C-41.

But I quite like that simplicity.


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