As I indicated earlier, I love to do many things that can loosely be termed creative. As I will talk about later, it is instinctive. Even loosely designing game rules or profiles for characters within a game is something that clears my head for a time and makes me able to live in my own skin. As you can imagine from some of the hints that I have given already, living in my own skin is a tough ask at times. So without going into the others, I will tell you a little about what I have learned about one of the interests that takes a substantial portion of my focus now: photography.
Taking pictures is a bit like having sex. Anyone who meets certain conditions such as having working eyes or hands, or having certain functional anatomic properties in the latter case, can do it. But only people who are dedicated enough, talented enough, or varying combinations of both, can do it well. Like just about everything I try in life, I like to think I have enough of one, but enough of a deficit in the other, that I seem to be permanently stuck in gifted amateur status.
Early yesterday morning, I went on a lengthy trip towards a more, shall we say, up-market part of the city (although the poorest part of Sydney makes the richest part of Brisbane look like Wall Street by comparison). There, I purchased a number of different things, using money I obtained on loan. The most germane to this conversation is what I will refer to as a fixed-length lens. Fixed-length in this instance means a fixed focal length. The lens in question is fixed at a focal length of 35mm, and has a fixed f-stop. For those who do not know, the f-stop is a measure of how far open the aperture of the lens is relative to the focal length of the lens.
For example, if a lens has a focal length of 35mm, and an f-stop of 1.8, like this new lens I purchased yesterday morning, then the aperture is open to 19.44-repeater millimetres. As you can imagine, this allows a lot of light to shine through the lens and hit the sensor within the camera’s body. The level of my interest in photography can be indicated by the fact that I actually give a shit about a mathematical formula relating to it. In essence, when you divide the lens’ focal length by the aperture, you have the size of the opening. As one awesome video explains, it is like dividing a pizza by the number of people at the party.
The bigger the pizza (focal length), and the less people you have to divide it by (f-stop), the bigger the slice (aperture size in absolute measurement) you will have. A focal length of 1000mm, for instance, and an f-stop of 1.8, translates into a big-ass aperture (555.55-repeater millimetres or thereabouts). Clearly, no lens can open up to such a degree, at least not that I am aware of. I am not sure that one would want a lens to open up to that kind of degree, either, unless one is shooting telephotography in the bottom of a deep mineshaft. So lenses with focal lengths of 1000mm tend to have a more realistic f-stop of 5.6 or the like. For those who are keeping score, that means an aperture of 178.57-and-change millimetres in absolute terms.
All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that this new lens is designed for taking quick portraits of a given subject in a large variety of lighting conditions. An f-stop of 1.8 means far less light has to be created in order to get the kind of picture one wants, although one also needs to be cautious of overexposure. There are a myriad of different settings to be used with a camera, but in order to keep this understandable, I will talk about as few of the settings and numbers as I can.
My next most recent lens is the macro lens I use for photographing scale models, plants, insects, and other exceptionally small things. This lens is a Tamron 90mm macro lens with an f-stop of 2.8, which translates to an absolute aperture measurement of 32.14-and-change millimetres.
Two lenses also came in the kit in which I bought the camera. Both are what some call telephoto lenses. Another name for it is a variable zoom lens. The shorter range lens is an 18 to 55mm focal length, with an f-stop of 3.5 to 5.6, which makes for a good wide view or a zoom that approximates the natural zoom of Human vision, if one believes what the texts I found say. The longer range lens has a focal length from 55 to 300mm and an f-stop from 4 to 5.6, essentially making it a medium-range lens.
All four lenses have a purpose and place in a “healthy” diet, so to speak. As the 35mm f/1.8 lens is still new in the line-up, its exact place is still being determined. I have used it to take a lot of self-shots, both with and without the tripod and remote control tools. When held out at arms length and aimed at self, the 35mm focal length tends to make getting the distance right a bit tricky. But such is the way with fixed-length lenses, I suppose.
The macro, 90mm lens is also being somewhat difficult, but for different reasons. Macro photography is a very difficult thing. Keeping the fine details of a given subject in focus, whilst retaining sufficient difference between focal point and blurring point, is a very tricky juggling act. Macro photography on a DSLR is a very different thing to macro photography on a point-and-shoot, irrespective of how “advanced” that point-and-shoot might well be. That difference opens up a lot of possibilities and ideas, but it also means that the possibility for fukk-ups is far greater. A focal length of 90mm and an f-stop of 2.8 means it is a good deal more difficult than I had hoped to get the damned thing to take what I consider to be a good shot of the subjects I have in mind.
The short range lens, the 18 to 55mm lens, is great for crowd shots. The f-stop values it allows make lighting a challenging concern, but being able to set focal length to 18mm means that one has to stand a long way to my side, especially if they are any further than about four feet away, to get out of frame. The main difficulty with this lens is that an f-stop between 3.5 and 5.6 means that if I am shooting indoors or in conditions other than bright daylight, I need a lot of external light in order to get a good dynamic range in the picture.
The same limits apply to the 55 to 300mm lens. When evening turns to night, only a good flash can really help produce a shot with sufficient detail to make making a print worth the bother. The main advantage with that lens is that a 300mm focal length allows one to take pictures of subjects from a great distance. In my collections, I have so many shots of ducks that a conservative estimate of how much disc space I have devoted to this fine species of Avian would be in the realm of sixty-five gigabytes.
A small percentage of these photos, perhaps a gigabyte or two at most, contain infant ducks, or ducklings as we call them. Ducklings are very curious creatures, able to zip about at speeds that make keeping them in frame a challenge in itself. But the real challenge with taking photos of them is that they are almost never seen without an adult duck within a few feet of them. And if there is one thing you can count on with wild animals of most varieties, if the adult believes you pose a threat to their young, look the hell out. Stories of people being swooped and “pecked” at by ducks for getting too close to where ducklings might be are legion.
This makes an interesting contrast to Humans. In this document by Steve Kangas, we are told that in 1995, three million children under age eighteen were reported to the police as victims of child abuse and/or neglect. A Gallup poll of parents from the same year concluded that sixteen times that many cases went unreported. Were this sad statistic true, that would mean somewhere in the order of half the children in America. The only other species I have heard of that visits this much upon its children even in situations of overpopulation is the rat.
So, obviously, zooming out to 300mm is a bit of a given when one is photographing ducklings. Or any kind of duck, for that matter, as they tend to not be in the habit of moving in patterns that make life easier for photographers. This, of course, brings me to the lens I would like to have for taking pictures of wild creatures, especially bears. Even the smallest species of bear are able to tear off a Human’s arm if that pleases them, and bears in captivity tend to be fenced off to an extent that reflects this, so a long zoom is somewhat important. Especially if the bear one is photographing out in the wild happens to be a female with a cub near her.
Anyway, I hope all of this rambling has not bored you too greatly. I know it has been a few days since I last wrote. Maybe there will be time to explain that one, too. Until later, keep thinking.
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