The Joy of Composition
Composition is the essence of any two-dimensional medium. It’s about the relationship of the elements within the frame within the frame itself and the internal geometries that those relationships create.
As a photographer, I find shooting primarily with prime (single focal length) lenses to be essential for learning good composition. By always knowing the approximate frame that your lens is creating, you can form your compositions in your mind as soon as you see a scene in front of you, even before you bring your camera to your eye.
I learned photographic composition primarily through the use of 50mm lenses, and then as my interest and skill in street photography grew, I adopted a wider 35mm lens. This allowed me to get closer to my subjects and allowed me to include more context of the surrounding scene in my compositions.
With the adoption of the Leica Q, this grew even wider to 28mm. The different fields of view provided by each of these focal lengths encourage a different way of shooting, and – when shooting street – a different way of moving through crowds. I think the 28mm field-of-view has been instrumental to my continuing growth as a street photographer. It has allowed me to experiment with a looser type of composition, quickly reacting to the movements and expressions of the people around me, as well as forcing me to get closer.
However, there is something I miss about 50mm. As what is considered a “normal” lens, it provides little or no perspective distortion to the resulting images. This means that the spacial relationships that you see with your eyes (such as the relative sizes of objects at different distances in the frame) translate faithfully to the resulting image. I find this to be very rewarding when mentally composing while walking around. I’ve never truly been able to adjust to intuitively understanding the perspective distortion of the 28mm field-of-view into what the composition will look like before bringing the camera to my eye. As I’ve been walking around with a 50mm lens these last few weeks, I have really enjoyed translating the compositions I make in my mind faithfully and easily into photographs.
I will definitely keep shooting 28mm, especially in street shooting situations, but I plan on keeping a 50mm lens close by and walking around with it more often. Especially when I’m interested in architecture and geometric relationships.