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Saturday, 19 January 2013


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Colesberry is sometimes right and ...
In photography there is a time to go wide and a time to get close.For example, do you think your 'red and yellow' pic would be the same, or better if it included much of the surround? It would certainly be different, but better? There is one advantage to going wide, in the world of 36 megapixel cameras-the ability to crop the image in varying degrees and formats during post-processing. But the final image should be the goal, with context determined by the intent of the photographer. I think the role of context in video/TV is different than it usually is in still photography. It is a different way of telling stories, with different structure and requirements. Certainly the technique of video and still are different, as anyone who has done both can attest. And that means the rules (and occasion for breaking them) are different.

Of course. It goes without saying. The Colesberry Rule as I call it is not a prescription for a panacea.


Kubrick was noted for this approach and it can be highly effective to simply let the action play out in one tiny part of a seemingly huge set, while the camera looks on as an impassive observer. 'The Shining', 'Barry Lyndon', '2001', 'A Clockwork Orange', 'Dr. Strangelove' all contain scenes filmed wide. In fact, it might be easier to think of a Kubrick film that doesn't… ;)

I like shooting wide angle. 28mm is my favorite for 35 and 50mm in medium format. It's an approach I favor, a look I like.

And you can get close with wide angle. It forces you to get close, to bring your viewer close, rather than relying on the illusion of closeness through using a telephoto or cropping a wider image.

I more or less live between 24 and 50mm, and I find 50 a little tight most of the time. Get right in there, wide angle, tell a story. And remember, if your photographs aren't good enough....

Wide AND deep. Today's obsession with f/1.4 lenses and beautiful bokeh goes against the grain of the context I used to try to impart to all my shots. A wide enough view to tell a rich complex story and lots of depth of field to tell it all in detail. I think this started when I discovered Lee Friedlander, but I know it really got into my head when studying Greg Toland's cinematography in Citizen Kane. But imagine my chagrin when I later discovered that many of those famous deep focus shots were actually special effects shots constructed by Linwood Dunn.

But we all change! These days I'm mostly working with short teles and smashing stuff into as flat a plane as I can whilst still trying to keep it all in focus. Hooray for smaller sensors. ;-)

Okay, wasn't it Robert Capa who said "If your photos aren't good enough you're not CLOSE enough?" So which one is it?

(Might not have been Capa who said that, but someone sure did...)

"If your photos aren't good enough, you're not close enough." (Robert Capa)

Different strokes.

Wow; you like "The Wire" as much as I do? Definitely one of if not the best series ever. Feel me?

What a conundrum. Capa is quoted as saying "if your picture isn't good enough your not close enough" or words to that effect. It's enough to make me want to sell my cameras and take up knitting.

No doubt.


Wide and close go together. Tele and far away go together.


I like the dynamic perspective of wide-angle shots (yes, I know it's actually more a function of distance to subject, not focal length), and I have occasionally considered picking up a 28mm. However, I seldom use my 35mm, and when I do, I'm always happy to return to my 50mm.

On the other hand, I have no desire to go longer than the 50mm; which I reckon is just my natural sweet spot. But yeah, while I don't like to apply rules to street photography, or photography in general, I inadvertently cringe when someone recommends using a 200mm for urban candids.

I go with Capa and of course Bruce Gilden.
'The older I get, the closer I get'.

When used with discretion, extreme WA's are complementary to B&W, but can be a bit of overkill with color- probably because of the extra information inherent in the latter.

Only thing worse than a bad picture, is a bad picture taken with a WA.

I quoted Capa in response to Hudson's featured comment...hence, different strokes. Nothing to do with the lens used.

I watched Antonioni's L'Avventura for the first time the other day. The cinematography it is just amazing (and it follows more or less this formula). I think this is where Kubrick got it from.

Personally I have to agree with Ben. A great photograph survives the test of time. For me that is allowing the eye to wander around and explore... I have to enjoy looking at it over and over... time to contemplate and explore...

If going wide is about revealing context, then a tight shot that reveals context is wide too. After all, you could go even tighter and lose the context. So it becomes a matter of how wide or tight is enough to reveal enough information.

On a separate note, we often take Capa's comment about photographs not being good enough if you aren't close enough as referring to physical proximity. Maybe that's what he meant, I don't know. However, it can also be interpreted as getting close emotionally and intellectually. The closer you are in those senses to your subject, the better your photographs will reflect their world. Proximity is one thing, empathy and understanding quite another.

So, you can have a tight photograph by a photographer who has little understanding of their subject compared with a wide one by a photographer who does. The latter will reveal more, I think.

I reckon the only way to solve the Capa conundrum is to shoot with a fish eye touching the subject.

Kubrick also apparently liked to have unusual lens converted to be used on his movie cameras.

I've just spent the last few weeks scanning my old B&W negs (from the 70s and 80s). I was pretty ruthless in this process, and only kept those which had sentimental value, or seemed to stand up as photos now.

Although I'm a fan of long lenses - I used a 70-210 and a 300 during this period - I was surprised to find that very few of these shots made the cut. Almost all were 50mm or wider. It seems context is very important to the longevity of the image.


My 2012 New Year's resolution was to shoot wider. Framing really tight -- not necessarily too tight, but routinely tight -- was one of those habits I'd fallen into, and I started to notice a lot of work by others that had me envious and wishing I'd stepped a few feet back ("sneaker zoom").

I think I've absorbed that lesson, but now I'm trying to come up with a resolution for 2013. It's just so hard to see my own limitations and habits as anything but inviolable parts of my style.

I thought about Capa also because I think of his rule often. However there is one big difference in this discussion. Colesberry's Rule applies well to motion pictures and video. As for Capa, his advice applies well to still photography. A still frame stands alone. A step back wide view fits well on a wide 16:9 screen with motion. Apples and oranges as I see it.

Mike said.

"Wide and close go together. Tele and far away go together."

Are you proposing that focal length should be in some kind of direct ratio to subject distance?

[I am not. --Mike]

Roger Overall and Martino and a few others make good points: Going wide is about framing, not lens choice. Maybe that's why so many commenters talk about taking a couple steps back rather than switching lenses.

And getting closer isn't necessarily about tight framing. A wide-angle lens is often best used very close to the subject. So Capra and Colesberry can both be right.

I personally am more likely to shoot too tight than too loose, I think (talking about my final choice for presentation, after cropping). So it's good to be reminded.

(Definitely talking about framing choices here, not actual distance, which is a different topic.)


I had a long post in mind but this picture says it all. If you don't have a copy of One Minds Eye start roaming the used book sites now.

"Today's obsession with f/1.4 lenses" -- what??? 30 years ago nearly everybody with the slightest interest in low-light work, and some other people, had at least one f/1.4 lens. Today it's an expensive, specialist tool that very few photographers own one of.

I'm not familiar with the television shows referenced but I can remark that the apparent fondness with tight shots in tv productions is, in no small part, due to cost. Wide shots tend to be much more costly than tights. More set to dress. More set to light.

[Absolutely right. Note how many "talking head" shots there are in many TV shows--they're there because they're a very cheap way to use up time.

The Wire could stay in the wide more often because they did a lot of shooting on location, including in the Baltimore Courthouse on a few occasions, and on the docks. The commentary features mention that lots of their locations weren't the actual buildings, but were similar buildings in the same area. --Mike. And now back to the Ravens.]

Go close also with your heart, not only with your feet.

I am interested in the connection between the kind of photography one does and the sort of focal length that one chooses. Someone who likes realism and context will probably like wides a great deal more than someone who likes abstract shapes. As a firm memeber of the latter camp, I much prefer a short tele to a wide. There are exceptions, though; a couple of my favorite shots were taken with a wide because it let me stand next to an object that would interfere with my shot if I'd used my favorite short tele.

David Dyer-Bennett highlighted my poorly worded commented. What I meant to communicate was today's obsession with bokeh-inducing lenses, not with f/1.4 lenses. Thanks, David, for pointing that out.

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