Just another 55mm photo

photo of pickle cart and merchant at the oregon renaissance festival

There are times when you’re on location somewhere and your only plan is to see what looks good, what light is available, and then use your photography knowledge to frame a shot you’ll love. It’s not random snap shooting because thought goes into each photo, but being somewhere at the right time certainly helps.

One thing I often look for is a unique person, doing ordinary things in their own way. I keep my eye open for a setting that is not busy but offers an interesting contrast to the subject or person. If I see it, I go for it.

That said, this being candid photography I cannot direct the person to stand or look a certain way. What a person is doing the second I look into the viewfinder could be very different the next moment. It’s sometimes a challenge, but certainly an enjoyable one.

There is so much I love about this photo… his beard, how he crossed his legs, and his clothes. I love his pickle signage. The background colors are unusual for someone engaged in this activity. The look on his face could make you wonder what he was thinking in that moment. Did he get any business that day? Or was he just hot and tired from being outside all day long? We don’t know and that is what makes shots like this fun.

In the Moment

photo of a woman dancing at the Bill Naito Legacy Fountain

Kimberlee enjoys herself at the Bill Naito Legacy Fountain. Portland, Oregon.

Last week I went to Downtown Portland to shoot photos of a bike race. Little did I know the bike race had been canceled months earlier. Disappointed I walked through Old Town and contemplated my Plan B. It was late afternoon and traffic congestion would make getting anywhere a daunting task. I was beginning to think the afternoon was wasted.

I walked upon the Bill Naito Legacy Fountain along the waterfront and decided that I could at least practice shooting photos in open shade and perhaps walk away with some nice stop-action shots of water. Maybe a kid would ride through the fountain on her bicycle. All of that happened and it was nice, but nothing special. I was still mulling over the bike race shots that never happened.

Then she appeared. Without a care in the world she set down her bag, turned up the volume on her music player, and spontaneously started her own individual party in the fountains. She danced, struck model quality poses, and ran around in circles and diagonals. And all of it was in rhythm with the water fountain.

She had not a care in the world and was in a blissful, genuine moment to herself. It was unplanned. I had no idea what she would do next. It was great. And it was candid location portraiture that I could not pass up.

photo of a woman dancing at the Bill Naito Legacy Fountain in Portland Oregon

Afterwards I spoke with her. Her name is Kimberlee and she had just moved to Portland from Northern California. Her attitude was amazing and very friendly. She came across as self-assured which really went without saying. All of this just goes to show you that sometimes the best plans are the ones you don’t make.

Fishing with a 55mm Lens

What they say is true, 55mm focal length looks natural to the human eye. But there is so much more to it. It can be a comforting medium size landscape. It can have a vintage look and at the right time of day, and at the right distance, can make colors pop similar to the Kodachrome film of old. Or it can just give you simple gems like this photo.

fly fishing mckenzie river oregon photo

Taking a break from catch and release fly-fishing on the McKenzie River.

Technically speaking, I’ve discovered that 55mm is not good for everything. It does not do well with shallow depth-of-field when you’re close to the subject. The result will be flat, there will be little 3D separation between the subject and background without selective focus. It will look poorly “Photoshopped”. A wide aperture with 55mm might be okay at longer distances, but generally you want some depth-of-field with this focal length.

You can make the case the above photo should be cropped to bring us closer to the boat and boy. However, I thought much of the surrounding landscape was essential to not only telling a story with the picture but also conveying mood and sensibility. Nothing expansive was necessary but a moderate portion of water and trees needed to be visible. 55mm is perfect for situations like this.

Many thanks to Cascadia Fly Shop of Corvallis, Oregon for being an amazing fishing guide and for accidentally being a great photography location scout too.

About to Bloom

wild flower photograph

“She thought of the view from her window at night, those nights when she cried bitterly without knowing why, the dome of the administration building like a white peak and the restless waves of moonlit branches and the stillness and the singing voices, mournfully remote, blocks away, coming closer, the tender, foolish ballads, and the smell of the white spirea at night, and the stars clear as lamps in the cloud-fretted sky, and she remembered the choking emotion that she didn’t understand and the dread of all this coming to its sudden, final conclusion in a few months or weeks more. And she tightened her arms around the boy’s shoulders. He was almost a stranger. She knew that she had not even caught a first glimpse of him until this night, and yet he was inexpressibly close to her now, closer than she had ever felt any person before.”

– The Field of Blue Children, Tennessee Williams