TALKING IMAGES 5 – ROGER HICKS ON LEVELS OF PHOTOGRAPHIC SKILL

 

I am a huge fan of Roger Hicks.  He has written more fascinating and pertinent things in Amateur Photographer (AP) magazine than I can possibly remember – and he continues to do so.  (Photo credit: Marie Muscat-King).

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And here is Roger, in the 8 July 2006 issue of AP, talking about the number of camera lenses we should carry with us when we are out photographing.  How much do we lug around?

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“… we do a lot better with a far more restricted range of equipment, working within the limits of that equipment.”.

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“There are two obvious reasons for this.  … The first (and more obvious) is that time spent on worrying about which lens to use is time that is not spent taking pictures. … “.

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I am sure that these two points are correct.  If you carry all your lenses it can be a rod for your back in a very real way.  I used to carry several lenses in a photographic rucksack, but I’ve found a camera and one or two lenses in a much more modest bag to be better.  For me, its usually a 70-300 telezoom, and a 12-24 wide angle zoom.  This is hardly an austere or spartan selection, since these two lenses cover a vast range of focal lengths – but anything I see must be attempted with these two.

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And if you are in any way so inclined, I STRONGLY ADVISE that you get out of the mindset that sees a shot lost because you are not carrying the necessary lens as some kind of irreparable loss that will forever damage your photography.  OK, you’ve lost a shot – but there will always be plenty more.  You have simply suffered a temporary setback.

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But having made these fairly obvious points, Roger comes up with a useful generalisation:

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“The second reason for favouring a restricted outfit is that it helps train your eye.

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The completely undisciplined eye sees something then searches for the lens that will best frame it. … (This explains those who carry around vast numbers of lenses) …

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The semi-disciplined eye instructs its owner to WALK (my upper case and italics)  closer or further away before trying to find the right lens.  Such a photographer needs half as many lenses, and wastes a lot less time in zooming to and fro to get exactly the right framing. …

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The disciplined eye sees the picture in terms of a very limited range of focal lengths and viewpoints and chooses both of them quickly. … Two or perhaps three prime lenses are probably enough.”.

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Strike any chords?  In which of these three categories are you?  I’m somewhere between semi-disciplined (= growing old disgracefully???) and disciplined.  I see pictures, but may use more than one lens (I often carry two these days) to record the same thing.

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Two things to talk about.  I’ve put “walk” in capitals because I read ages ago that our legs are amongst our most valuable photographic tools and that when trying to take good photos we should keep on moving, keep on looking at different viewpoints, at the ways in which the light changes as we move, and so on.  Keeping moving about like this is far better than simply zooming your lens to try and get the best view.

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And finally, Roger advocates the use of prime lenses, i.e. lenses that are not zooms.  This is a debateable point.  In the past, prime lenses were of undeniably higher optical quality than zooms, but the latter have since improved considerably.  But if you are a serious photographer (OMG …) who really wants to improve your technique, then restricting yourself to two or three fixed focal length (i.e. prime) lenses will undoubtedly result in your moving around more in order to exploit their full potential – and this makes for excellent practice and upgrading of technique.

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About Adrian Lewis
Photographer working in monochrome, colour and combinations of the two - with a great liking for all sorts of images, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous in my photography, trying new ideas and working in many genres. And I'm fond of Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

18 Responses to TALKING IMAGES 5 – ROGER HICKS ON LEVELS OF PHOTOGRAPHIC SKILL

  1. Great post Adrian.

    I can happily consider myself as ‘belonging to the disciplined eye camp’. I got rid of my 2.8 zoom lenses a few years ago, ‘limiting’ myself mainly to a 24, 35 and 85 mm. And I enjoy this ‘limitation’ fully.

    I go one step further, only taking one of these lenses on a day out. Since I made this switch, I consider myself more creative and free, and enjoy photographing much more than I ever did before.

    I even ‘dared’ to visit Vietnam, taking only one camera and three primes (35, 85 and 180 mm). To me, it was my first big journey where I was not the victim of my heavy equipment.

    No, I won’t go back to zoom lenses; that’s for sure.
    philip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Philip, thank you for these very relevant thoughts. I’m impressed to learn that you’ve got rid of your zooms – that is real commitment to the “less is more” lens ethic – but, being quite honest, I have great respect for you as a photographer, and so I’m not surprised by the reductions in your gear that you talk about here.

      Taking out just one prime is as reduced as its possible to be >>> and I can very much imagine the enjoyment, creativity and freedom you feel – and of course, in purely physical terms, there’s very little to carry.

      With three primes, its a question of having sufficient differences in focal length, isn’t it. 24, 35 and 85 feels cramped to me, I’d prefer the 35, 85 and 180. But in reality I’m addicted to more extreme focal lengths – lots of my pictures are taken at 300mm and also, recently, 12mm!

      Thanks for your input, my friend – and I’m glad you like the post! Adrian

      Like

  2. LensScaper says:

    Roger’s remarks are absolutely spot-on. Quite a lot of my photography happens when I am skiing or walking at altitude. I carry one lens: a Sigma 18-250mm zoom. That covers just about everything, although occasionally I wished I’d packed my 11-16mm. But…where I travel, every lens change is an excuse for dust or snow to find a new lodging, and as Roger says, faffing around changing lenses detracts from creativity. Sometimes I carry two lenses around in London in a shoulder bag – but by the end of the day my shoulder is complaining ++. Travel light. And sometimes carrying a different lens from your usual one enables you to see the world through different glass – and that does the creativity a power of good too. Great article, Adrian.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Andy, thank you – and thanks for these very relevant thoughts too! Your point about sometimes using different lenses as a boost to creativity is especially useful – absolutely right!

      And of course a big point ->>> in the days of film, I used to whip lenses on and off my SLRs with abandon – and the more so with the Olympus OM gear. But now, with digital, fear of dusty sensors makes my fewer lens changes far more sheltered and circumspect. Adrian

      Like

  3. sheldonk2014 says:

    I am all interested in learning about something that I didn’t know especially about photography because I want to buy a camera and start taking pictures of my work. I just don’t know where to start. Fear of failure if you get my drift.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Well, some initial thoughts. First, how big your artworks mostly are – if they’re small, which I doubt, you’d need a camera that focuses very closely, something with macro facilities maybe.

      Then how much do you want to spend?

      Then quality – what do you want the pictures for? Just for yourself, or for advertising or for selling maybe – for the latter two at least you’ll need reasonable quality.

      Writing in Amateur Photographer magazine, Richard Sibley thinks highly of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II.

      You might need image editing software so as to crop your images exactly to your artworks’ formats. Adobe Photoshop Elements is a good standby, but there are other cheaper or even free programs too.

      Lighting – flash or daylight? Think I’d favour daylight. You might think of a tripod or beanbag, and using delayed action to fire the camera, to hold the camera really steady.

      Is this of any use, Sheldon? Do you have any questions? Adrian

      Like

  4. paula graham says:

    The above makes lots of sense…I was out with two highly regarded photographers, who said: always go out with one lens only!! Luckily I had only a very wide lens with me! They then went on to borrow my lens as they did not have a wide enough one with them. I was quite amused!
    I do carry lots less gear then I did when I started , now 10 years ago. I now like my 70-200 plus very light converter..making it a 300mm , 35mm and very rarely my most loved 14-24.,.might sell that and get a tiny 20mm instead. The little primes can just fit in pocket or vest. Life is much easier that way. I still hanker after 2 cameras so I do not have to change so often..but heck, could not carry all that gear!, nor afford a second camera !

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Way to go, Paula, way to go! That 14-24 is quite lumpy, isn’t it – I used to get wonderful things out of a tiny Olympus 21mm Zuiko on my OM cameras – maybe 20mm is right for you, but nowadays I’d rather have something wider – my old 12-24 is a bit lumpy, but less overall than the 16-35 Nikkor I think, and I wouldn’t be without it.

      Unless you’ve got the f4 70-200 Nikkor, the 2.8 is quite a lump too. Rather than using a converter, I’d recommend the love of my life, the 70-300, which is lighter and optically good too.

      But two Nikon bodies – no way >>> unless working from a vehicle! Thanks for your thoughts, my friend! Adrian

      Like

  5. athyfoto says:

    Great post Adrian. I too read AP but not every issue. I recently rationalised the way I shoot because my bags were getting too heavy for me on walks in the hills and dales. I now mainly shoot with a Sony a7r with a Carl Zeiss 24 – 70 full frame lens. I used to take with me a 10-20, an 18-70, a 70-300, a 50mm prime, a 28mm prime and a 105mm macro. Now though I have been surprised at how little I miss that range of lenses on most outings. Foot zoom is not only cheap but can help you keep a bit fitter!

    I still have all my kit and sometimes go out with my D300 body and an 18-300mm lens that allows me to isolate parts of the landscape without having to make hazardous treks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Thanks for your appreciation, Frank – and good to meet another AP reader too! You’re doing exactly what Roger is urging – these recent cameras, good quality and small, like the Sony – and really helping the trend towards lighter kit bags – I shudder at the 6 lenses you used to carry! And, as with poppytump, just below here, these is the fitness aspect too.

      I see you mention a 70-300, which I’m assuming is the Nikkor, as you mention the D300 too. This really is my favourite lens – but on your D300 the 18-300 becomes a 27-450, which is an incredible focal length span! And I agree that using a telezoom for landscape photography can be very productive – its not just all about wide angles! Adrian

      Like

  6. poppytump says:

    Good post again Adrian . Not quite sure where I fit in yet but at least with two good walking legs I do try and keep on going to find the spot I want 🙂 carrying the rucksack I’ll put up with even though the back plays up later Lol

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Well we must all suffer for our art – I mean, it isn’t really art if we don’t, is it???!!! 😀

      Seriously though – and I am the first to admit to not physically being a good advert in this respect – exercise is a valuable thing for us “not young things” – what d’you mean, you’re 21 and never been Instagrammed!!!???. As far as I can see, getting exercise is one of the best things us “matures” (mature? …me? … like an overripe cheese, darling!) can do, so that all your photographic walking is a positive benison!

      Thanks for your good thoughts, Poppy! NotThinMan

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  7. Funny… I always go walkabout with only 2 lenses (16-50 and 70-300). And for the same reasons Roger mentioned! 😉

    Like

  8. Sallyann says:

    Oh boy, I guess your friend Roger would have to make a whole new category for me… I see the picture and put myself in the right place to catch it with my limited little camera … climbing into all sorts of stupid places and positions to get what I want, then I twiddle the zoom to frame it where I want it to be. 🙂
    Quite apart from the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever found myself in the same sentence as the word discipline. 😀

    Like

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      No no no!, you do yourself down, Discountess, that puts you firmly in Semi-Disciplined, which may be a misnomer (who just maybe the daughter of a Mr Nomer), but nevertheless that’s what your “putting myself in the right place to catch it” means! DIDN’T SHE DO WELL, reader, DIDN’T SHE DO WELL???!!!

      And as for never being mentioned in the same sentence as “discipline”, well I’ve managed “disciplined” and so am only one letter away from that particular coup! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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