# Long lenses do NOT compress perspective.

Always the contrarian, let me explain why I argue against conventional wisdom that “long lenses compress perspective”.

The reason: They don’t actually do that. They only cause blurry backgrounds.

What compresses perspective is your vantage point.

Before I explain: let me just show you. here’s two shots I took from the same position. Same position, same camera, and using 24mm and 200mm lens focal length, respectively.

Same picture: the small Christmas tree, with the jewellery store behind.

Now let’s crop the heck out of that first shot, the 24mm picture. No other changes – just a *(pretty extreme) crop:

Now compare the last two photos, and ignore the blurry background in the 200mm shot.

Other than that, the photos are identical. The background (the jewelry store window in the background) is no larger in the 200mm shot than in the 24mm shot. It is not closer. It is not a “compressed background”.

The only thing that determines the “compression of the perspective” is your position. And in particular, the ratio of the distance to the remote object to that of the close object.

If that ratio is large (say, 10:1, meaning the remote object is ten times farther away than the close object) then, well, that remote object will look smaller. If the ratio is small (say, 2:1, meaning the remote object is only twice as far as the close object), then it will look less small – i.e. it will appear to be closer.

And that ratio is only determined by where you are. Imagine I am looking at a tree, and some distance behind it, there is another tree. If I move back an infinite distance away from the first tree, then the ratio approaches 1:1, meaning the objects look the same size if they are the same size. If, on the other hand, I move infinitely close to the first tree, then that ratio approaches infinity, meaning that the second tree looks infinitely smaller.

So why do we say “long lenses compress perspective”? Because using a long lens almost always means that you will not be close to objects. So the ratio decreases. So the background appears to get closer, compared to when you use a shorter lens (or your eyes). So in practice it appears to work this way.

But in fact, it is only your position that determines compression. Simple math. So if you had a 10mm lens, you could take every single photo with it – if you had the ability to crop crazily. So those of you with a 500 Megapixel camera: all you will need is a wide angle lens (and some patience to do all that cropping.

You now know more than a lot of professional photographers.

You’re welcome.

# Spare time…

…of which right now I have quite a lot. My store/studio (www.michaelwillemsphoto.com) is still open, but only for passport/ID photos and curbside delivery/pickup, so the days are super slow.

So I get to do some hobby stuff. And my hobby intertests are wide. They also include electronics and computers, and the other day, I bought an Arduino-based Altair 8800 simulator kit (from www.adwaterandstir.com). An excellent kit, by the way, highly recommended.

The Arduino is a modern microcontroller, and the Altair 8080 was really the first personal computer, way back in 1974.

After seeing that article, a couple of young students from Harvard decided to write a BASIC interpreter for it, and the rest is history – you may recognize the names in the Altair BASIC manual:

Anyway, the Altair looked like this…:

And the simulator I built looked like this:

And then it looked like this:

And now, after seven hours of soldering and constructing, looks like this:

And it works! So now I can watch blinking lights (loom up “blinkenlights“). And I can program some BASIC to calculate primes:

..and I can rum CP/M, play Othello and Star Trek and Zork, and in general, do the things you could do in 1977.

Why on earth would I want to do this?

Because it’s a cool conversation piece. And it looks super cool: the Altair with its lights and data/address switches was based on the Data General NOVA.

And because it’s a special thing to run the original Bill Gates/Paul Allen Basic (even “Micro-Soft” did not exist yet) – the project that made Gates \$100 billion, and that is responsible for most computer stuff you have now. And to type the same “PRINT 2+2” command that Paul Allen typed in New Mexico to demonstrate the project to MITS, the makers of Altair, and to see the same “4” appear that impressed them enough to buy this BASIC, is quite an experience too.

And above all else, because just like photography, this takes me back. Back to the 1970s and 80s. I feel like I am 20-odd years old again!

And it’s always handy to know prime numbers. I guess.

# Go wide.

It may be tempting to think that to take good pictures, you need a long (telephoto) lens. And that is sometimes true – but not always, and not even usually.

Like the photo of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, August 2007.

Wide angle: 16mm on a full-frame camera. And above all: close to something – it is that factor that gives you the feeling of “reality”, perspective, 3-D. In this case, the ground is the “something” I was close to.

# Buy a used lens, or not?

Hi Michael just wondering about your advice on a used camera lense….. I am looking at on Facebook market place …. it’s a canon wide angle zoom 10-22 for my canon 70D …. I am a little leery about buying a used lense and also buying and having it shipped sight unseen …

I understand the hesitation. The world is full of cheats and thieves.

But there are also at least as many honest people. Here’s my thoughts on buying a used lens.

• Lenses tend to work practically forever, so I am generally in favour. You get a great lens for less than the new cost: why not? DO not expect a really really big discount though: lenses keep their value for decades.
• Always ask the seller to promise that the lens is undamaged and in fully working order. Communicate via email or some other way that keeps a record.
• Make sure you agree some course of action if that should not be the case.I am not talking about a full warranty, but what if after three hours the lens dies?
• Ask for history: why are you selling, what did you use it for, do you have the box, etc. A good reason to sell would be “I am upgrading to full frame and this is a crop sensor lens”, for example.
• Always ask for full contact details. I check them, and if it’s an expensive lens I have been known to take a copy of the seller’s driver’s license. After all, the lens could be stolen: it’s no more than a sensible precaution.
• I am weary of Kijiji, so this caution doubly applies there.
• As does this caution: “meet in a public place”.
• eBay has warranties, so that is a little safer.
• I like Facebook marketplace too: much fewer ‘flakes’ than on Kijiji. Check how long the Facebook user has had an account. If that’s “one week”, then you know there are alarm bells ringing.
• When looking at a lens, take some photos at the extremes: fully zoomed in and out; lowest and highest f-number.
• Check the prices on eBay – only look for “sold listings”!

Of course always keep in mind the old adage that “if it seems to be too good to be true then it probably is too good to be true”. But there are many good lenses to be had. So if the above all checks out, you should be fine. And there’s nothing like a new lens – fun!

# How quickly things change.

The thin veneer of civilization… I am sure it has been mentioned enough to be a cliché. But just like truisms, clichés are true – that’s why they are clichés. Civilization can change, turn bad, or disappear quickly. I reflect on this these days.

And change is what we are seeing now. My store is closed for the duration and I am at home. Fortunately, I can teach from here, interactively via the web.

So let’s see the silver linings. This is a good time to learn. (My ebooks, incidentally, are temporarily on sale for just \$49 for the collection: go here and use checkout code “COVID” at the end to get a \$30 discount.)

Another thing to do? Get creative. Take out your camera and a flash (or two), and make some documents of this time. We are documenting, and even making, history here.

As for me, I am going to do a portrait every day. Here are the first four:

Because I am a photographer, you can see the equipment. In the last photo, for example, that is two manual speedlights fired with Pocketwizards. The left one is fitted with a Honl Photo Aurora Borealis Green gel; the one on the right is equipped with a Traveller-12 softbox. (See them here). In the second image you can also see a Honl Photo 1/4″ grid in use as the hairlight. Yeah, let’s get creative in these terrible days. Learn flash!

Michael

PS: I’ll teach a flash course online live next week; contact me for details or for future dates.

# Corporations

Now that we are on the subject of corporations… we live in interesting times. What I see around me is corporations making poor decisions, based mainly, from what I observe, on their need to report greater profits every quarter.

We have Adobe being predatory (see last article, below), and we now have Apple completely losing its direction. Apple updates used to be exciting. Now, they are just messy. Minor updates fort major money. And I have no idea what all the iPhone versions are. 7, 8, 10, XR, XL, XS, whatever. I can’t even remember them. And the equipment lasts a year, maybe two, before the battery dies. Inbuilt obsolescence. And the Mac, which used to be the mainstay of Apple, is now an afterthought.

This mess is there only to make profits: not to make sense, let alone to make our lives better. For all his obvious faults, Steve Jobs would have never allowed this.

Corporations forget that you should never disrespect your customers. Seeing customers as mere cash cows, as Apple and Adobe clearly do, opens the field for competition. There will be Lightroom competitors. And there will be Apple competitors (Huawei was coming on strong: perhaps that’s why Mr Trump is trying to kill them. But it will not work.)

And in our field, Canon is doing the same. The drive to “mirrorless”, a fashionable but not yet very useful phenomenon, is designed mainly, I think, to make us all buy thousands of dollars’ worth of new equipment. New cameras, while the “old” ones work perfectly well. New lenses, which are more expensive than the “old”lenses.  New accessories (as mentioned before, some of the new cameras have a non-standard flash hotshoe so you have to buy new flashes and can’t use standard radio triggers.

I was all ready to promote Canon in my new shop (www.michaelwillemsphoto.ca) but it seems that Canon want a large investment (think tens of thousands) before they will talk.

Well, corporations: we are paying attention. You are risking a Bastille day; a day when we all revolt and “en masse” jump ship to whatever competition there is. That’s how markets work: they are not all about extricating more cash from your customers every quarter. And it behooves you to remember it.

Meanwhile, my search for alternatives goes on. Interesting times.

# Bright pixels.

You have heard me say it many times: “Bright pixels are sharp pixels”.

Nothing wrong with this:

But it does not make the subject stand out as the bright pixels. And it does not feel special. This one does, and is also much more dramatic:

And the subject i s now the Bright Pixels. Shot at 100 ISO, 1/200 sec, at f/11, using a 40mm lens on a full frame camera and lit with a battery-pack powered Bowens strobe fitted with a beauty dish. Slightly desaturated in Lightroom.

This was a picture I shot today in a class I taught at Sheridan College in Oakville.

Many more courses coming up, so stay tuned. I can teach you how to do this, quickly.

A “product”: picture, like this iPhone shot of my watch, needs some TLC.

Let’s look at the “before” and “after”:

Look at that full sized, and you will see the healing brush spots!

And these small improvements make a big difference. An iPhone is fine given the right circumstances, but the TLC is not an option!

# Who says?

…that you can’t get blurry backgrounds with an iPhone? And I don’t mean fake backgrounds, like with a newer iphone with two lenses, either. Here:

Just…

• Get close!
• Have plenty of light
• Get close!

That’s all. Simple, really. Get close and your background is comparatively far, so it gets blurred.

# Post work needed?

For most photography, I recommend keeping post work to a minimum. Quick crop, perhaps a small exposure adjustment: done. For some types of photography, like press photography, adjustments of any other type are forbidden.

But for some, they’re necessary. Even an iPhone product shot like this, of my Glycine watch, needed some TLC:

That’s one of my watches. Click on it to see the full version. And notice how perfect it looks. No dust at all, no smears or scratches, great contrast, and so on. All watches always look hyper-perfect in all ads.

And that’s because they’re hyper-edited. Things like focus stacking, and expensive editing.

In mine, above, I removed every speck of dust using the healing tool in Lightroom. Then I increased local clarity and decreased exposure on the watch face. I added a tad of sharpening and then noise reduction. And although small, the effects of these edits are important.

The good news: most of these edits are easily doable in Lightroom. For a commercial advert, you need Photoshop, but for everything else, Lightroom is fine.