Photo Tip – Controlling Perspective With A Very Wide Angle Lens

Posted Jan. 4th, 2012 by Daniel J. Cox

Artist Dan Metz-An Introduction
One of the most fulfilling perks of working in the field of photography are the opportunities I get to meet a lot of interesting people. Twenty years ago or so, I met one such individual, wildlife artist Dan Metz. Dan is a true artist. He sells nothing but originals and lives for his art. He stopped by to see Tanya and me this past fall, which he does every fall, on his way down from the Canadian rockies where he had hired a horse pack team to take him fifty miles into the wilderness. There they dropped him off and two weeks later he hiked out on his own. The guy is nearly sixty years old! That’s the dedication this man has to go get just the right material for his amazingly beautiful paintings. I stopped by with my parents, to see him this past Christmas during my time in Minnesota. Photographing artists in their studio environment provides wonderful opportunities for great images and something I enjoy immensely.  However, their typically unique surroundings can provide numerous photographic challenges. Dan’s studio was no exception and I thought I would share with you some of the issues I was up against and how I solved them. Before we go into details on the photography, let me give a short introduction to this interesting man and good friend.

Image #1 – Dan Metz in his studio with one of his original paintings of Dall sheep from the Canadian Rockies.

See a small collection of images of Dan’s studio.

Dan is a minimalist and I say that with the utmost admiration and deepest respect. He made a decision long ago that success was not about how much money you make but rather how much time you’ve spent in the outdoors, how many cattle you’ve wrangled from the high country, how many dall sheep you’ve watched graze on highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains. With that knowledge, it didn’t surprise me when I walked into his humble abode. Dan greeted us with his typical wide brimmed grin that only a true midwestern cowboy can pull off. I gave him a hug and introduced my parents. Greetings finished, we began walking. Dried brown leaves crunched beneath our feet as we slowly strolled the short distance to the far end of a weathered, battered barn, it’s wood pairing perfectly the dark tones of the sky on this unusually  warm, amazingly snowless, last day of December.

We entered through a powerfully sprung screen door, it slammed precisely as we began to climb the shadowy stairwell with no railing. The walls were unfinished, two by four studs provided a handhold for support as I helped my mother manage the flight of twenty or so stairs to the studio. Mom had both her hips replaced and navigating such places is typically off limits but Marlene Stanford Cox is an artist too and she was excited to connect with such a successful, skilled comrade. We made it to the top and Dan put a log into his already smoldering, wood burning stove. His studio was small and I was happy I had brought my widest lens.

Natural Light and One On Camera Strobe
For this shoot I brought only a basic kit of photographic equipment. My body of choice was my new Panasonic/Lumix GX1. The two lenses I carried were the 14-45mm and the recently acquired 7-14mm zooms. Just in case I would need additional light I brought along a Nikon SB800 flash as well.

Dan began pulling paintings from down the hall and bringing them out to the main part of the studio. Here he set them on an artists easel, the same one he obviously paints from. On one end of the room was a window about 3×3 feet in size. The typical winter, overcast skies of Minnesota offered beautiful soft light as it projected through the rooms only undraped window. My first series of images were shot of Dan as he sat on his artist stool. I wanted him to be only a part of the image. To me, his paints, his brushes, doodles on paper pinned to the wall, an overflowing bookcase, bronze statues were all elements of who this master of oil and canvas is.

Image #2-Dan Metz sits among his art supplies at his studio in Delano, Mn.

Had there been more time I would have loved to have brought my Nikon’s with their remote flash capabilities. On the image above I would have placed a small strobe in the middle, right side of the picture, out of frame and pointed it directly at Dan as he sat on his stool. The natural light streaming in from the window just wasn’t quite sufficient to light him as I would have liked. There was also the issue of the rooms, warm toned, incandescent  bulbs mixing with the natural light from the window and creating issues with white balance. These were a couple of issues I could have spent more time perfecting but in this situation it was more about recording a friends passion and who he was than crafting a perfect photograph. I think image #2  accomplished my goals suffeciently. However, as a picky photographer I do see things I wanted to share with my readers.

Image #3-This image was lit by bouncing a Nikon SB800 off the ceiling. As you can see compared to the image above it changes the feeling of the picture completely. Too much light for my taste.

Image #3, directly above, was shot with an SB800 attached to my Lumix GX1. Not an ideal situation since it doesn’t allow me to use the flash in Auto TTL but it does work in a pinch for adding bounce light onto a subject.

When using the Nikon strobes with the GX1 I have to set the strobe to the prehistoric A-Automatic setting. This was all there was back twenty years ago, before today’s advanced TTL Auto options. In A mode, the Nikon strobe measures light that is reflected off the subject and bounced back to the front of the flash. There is a tiny little sensor on the front of the strobe that measures that incoming light and shuts the strobe down when it thinks it is sufficient. All quality flashes/strobes have this option. The downside is it’s not as good as TTL which also records the reflected light bouncing back to the camera. However, when using the TTL option, the reflected light is measured off the camera’s digital chip which gives a much more accurate reading. When shooting with the less accurate A-Auto setting I just make sure I check my histogram regularly which gives me the information I may want to adjust the camera settings if needed. Panasonic does make a compatible strobe but it’s very pricey and quite large. I’m hoping for something smaller in both price and size for the future. There is one option that I’m currently looking at made by Metz. Metz has been around for decades and before Nikon perfected wireless TTL I used Metz strobes exclusively. Metz is a German based company and like most German products, they are bullet proof for sure but typically not so small or streamlined. In the case of the Metz AF1-MZ it follows the rule of not being small, but to be fare nobody is making a reduced sized flash for their micro cameras with the exception of Nikon’s SB-N5 for the new Nikon V1 camera system.

Controlling The Perspective of a  Super Wide Angle Lens
Another issue I was dealing with was perspective problems which can arise when shooting a really wide angle lens such as the 7-14mm zoom. On the GX1 the 7-14 is actually identical to Nikon’s FX, Full Frame, 14-24mm F/2.8 as far as zoom range is concerned. The difference is the Nikkor is made for a, so called, full frame sensor. For those wondering what a Full Frame Sensor is, it’s the digital equivalent, size wise, to a 35mm piece of film. Many digital sensors are smaller than the old 35mm film we used to shoot before digital. Since the GX1 is part of the Micro 4/3’s camera group, the sensor is smaller and requires that all lenses you attach be multiplied by a factor of 2x. Therefore, the 7-14 is actually a 14-24mm lens. At it’s widest, 7mm’s, you get a fair amount of vertical lines shooting off to the sides of Image #4 below.

Image #4-Notice the red arrows showing the vertical lines of Dan’s paintings looking as if it isn’t square. This image was shot at the 7mm setting on the lens. As you can see the super wide angle can distort vertical lines substantially. Lighting for this image was small on camera flash with no bounce.

Image #4 above and the image #5 below, are shown for comparison. Image #4 was shot at 7mm. Image #5 was shot at 11mm. You can see a considerable difference in the vertical lines, most notable at the edges of the painting.

Image #5-This image shows much less distortion due to being shot at 11mm. Lighting was bounced off the ceiling for this image.

I hope these samples from a real life situation helps you understand some of the issues you can run into  when you decide to make photos. Recording life treasures is always a great reason to get out and use your equipment. This past holiday season I shot over 1000 pictures of just family and friends. I love the outdoors, I love my wildlife but I also treasure the people who’ve helped make me who I am as an artist and journalist. Recording their lives not only gives you opportunities to practice your craft, but makes your mother smile too. I can promise you she will be grateful.

Jack and Marlene Cox, Mom and Dad, with Dan Metz at his studio in Delano, Mn.

With that said I want to end with a note my good buddy Dan sent via email after we left his studio. Good friends are the ones the can make you laugh!

Subject Line: DAMN

Shoot – if I’d a knowed yer MOTHER wuz comin’ why I’d a hid the spitoon & vacuumed the drapes. Great to see you, thanks for bringing the folks & springin’ fer lunch. – Keep Yer Paddle Dipped – Dan

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There are 7 comments on this post…
  1. Kathy Bauman KelloggOn Aug. 21st, 2012

    I am a cousin of Dans, one of many but since I am in NY state it took a few years to really track him and of course the internet was key. Thank you for the great insight into his art some of which I had heard from Dorothy Jean his aunt in NY state. The story line along with the photographs is very much appreciated.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Aug. 21st, 2012

      Kathy, if you ever get a chance to see your cousin make sure you do it. He’s an amazing guy and dear friend. One of the most creative and interesting people anybody could ever have the pleasure to know. You’re blessed to be related to him.

  2. Ron RigdonOn Jan. 9th, 2012

    Hey Dan –

    I got an ipad from the lovely Mrs. Rigdon for Christmas and I’ve spent the night watching the Nat’l Championship football game, but mainly reading your photography tips and blogs. This one was GREAT!! Hope to see you on a Trek soon! Take care and Happy New Year to you and Tanya.

    Ron & Lisa Rigdon

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Jan. 9th, 2012

      Thanks Ron, glad you enjoyed reading about my good friend Dan Metz. Congratulations on the iPad. I’m using mine more and more for photography. You may want to check out the Photogene app. Quite powerful and productive.

  3. Angad AchappaOn Jan. 8th, 2012

    Great learning experience.. Love your blog… 🙂

    Regards,
    Angad Achappa

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Jan. 9th, 2012

      Anfad,

      Thanks for reaching out. I went to your web site and you have some beautiful work. Be well and keep up your great photography.

  4. Pete K.On Jan. 6th, 2012

    Nice blog entry. Dan Metz sounds like an interesting character. Thanks!

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