People & Place

Rob Townsend's OCA Learning Log

Exercise: Close and involved

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Switch lenses (or adjust focal length) to the widest angle that you have. A true wide-angle, judged from its visual effect, is around 28 mm or less. One of the uses of a wide- angle lens is to be able to cover a large subject area in one shot, but here concentrate instead on using it close to people, and try to achieve a sense of putting the viewer right inside the situation — as you will inevitably be! From the point of view of comfort and confidence, this is quite a challenging way to shoot, but try your best.

As with the previous exercise, note down both the problems and the advantages created by working with a wide-angle of view from very close to the people you are photographing.


I used my 16-50 mm zoom at its widest, so an equivalent focal length of 24 mm due to the 1.5x crop factor of my camera. In a few instances I’d most likely have cropped a little in post-processing, but in the spirit of the exercise these are all straight out of the camera, keeping in exactly what was in the frames I shot.

To me, ‘Backlight’ is the most successful shot and that has more to do with the lighting and composition than anything else. I liked the expressions on ‘Young Couple’ and this is probably the only one where I caught a ‘moment’.

‘Three Friends’ and ‘Two Friends’ are OK composition-wise but not very exciting subject-wise. ‘Angled’ I kept in as an extreme example of how hard I found it to keep the camera level when shooting like this (I seem to have accidentally managed a 45º angle and this lends the image a certain something). ‘Photoshoot’, ‘Hat Lady’ and ‘Couple’ had extraneous elements in that I would crop out.


Not many to be honest! More immersive for the viewer in the more successful ones; feeling of being ‘close to the action’.

Brings an element of randomness to the results – mostly unusable but occasional surprises.


Distortion towards edges of frame (fixable in post-processing). This is most noticeable in the first two images, with buildings; it’s not so obvious with wide open spaces.

Shooting like this made me feel even more uncomfortable than the long-lens shots, for a very different reason. In these cases I felt like I was really intruding in their personal space.

Much harder to compose – mostly shooting ‘on the run’ whilst passing the subject so an element of randomness to the framing (sometimes works, mostly doesn’t).

What I’ve learned

I’ve previously used a wide lens for getting shots of people in the context of their surroundings, but this was the first time I tried to get up so close and fill the frame with the subject at such a short focal length. It felt like I was really invading their space and ‘snatching’ shots, and from a practical point of view accurate framing was near impossible due to the speed I was working. I didn’t find this style of shooting comfortable.

Right now I’m thinking that one of the objectives of the last two exercises is to demonstrate why the generally-held norm for street photography is a standard focal length – not too close, not too far away. Both of the extremes didn’t sit that well with me, each in their own way somehow taking advantage of the subject more than a standard, middle-ground focal length treatment would do.

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