Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Ordinarily I wouldn't think of a wide-angle lens as being appropriate for taking photos of hummingbirds – instead, my instinct would be to go for the telephoto.  But the combination of a couple of things changes the equation.  First, a multi-megapixel sensor (12mp, in this case) means that your subject can be a relatively small part of the photo and still be at an acceptable resolution.  Second, when the hummingbirds just don't care that you're 4 inches away, the wide angle lens suddenly is much less of a problem.

There's another slightly subtle benefit of a wide angle lens.  It's very obvious if you have two photos of the same subject side-by-side, one taken with a wide angle lens and the other with a telephoto lens.  The wide angle photo looks more “natural”, more “three dimensional”, while the telephoto picture looks “flat”.  The photo above was taken at a distance of 6 inches, with a wide angle lens.  It's a good approximation of what you'd see if you were out there eyeball-to-eyeball with our little hummer lady. 

Now if the orioles would only let me get this close!


  1. Isn't that more a matter of "depth of field"? If you zoom in with a telephoto the background will blend with the foreground and you lose the ability to get that separation, but if you hold the camera close, without zooming, you don't lose that. With my Cannon SX10-IS which has pretty good optical zoom, I use the manual settings a lot and find that as I zoom, I lose range on my aperture setting. If I can get close and possibly use the macro setting I can get the subject to separate from the background and really jump out. Anyway, I'm more of an "experimental photographer". I will take 50 pictures of the same thing, adjusting settings to see what they do. Sometimes I do this notating the settings in a notebook and then matching them against the results later. Unfortunately that also means that it often takes me 20 shots to get something I like because I don't understand it well enough to just set it like a film photographer might have been able to and snap a shot and walk away. I have fun with it anyway. I've gotten great shots of everything from a bee on an artichoke blossom to mountains in the Arizona desert to the moons around Jupiter. I also have many hundreds of bizarre mistakes too. :)

  2. This is a completely different effect than depth of field, which only affects focus. This is more like the difference you see if you're standing right next to a tree looking at it (where you see all sorts of 3D effects, and the tree definitely looks three dimensional) and looking at a tree a mile away through a telescope (where it looks more like a drawing than a 3D tree). You could see this yourself by taking two photos of the same (three dimensional) subject: one with a wide angle lens, close up, and the other with a telephoto lens, from far enough away to make the subject the same size in the viewfinder...

  3. Different topic: on having hundreds of bizarre mistakes. One of my favorite things about digital photography is the fact that the incremental cost of a photo is zero. With film cameras, I was always conscious of the cost of pressing the shutter button. This greatly inhibited my experimentation. With digital cameras, I can "play" with anything I want, and it costs nothing. Well, nothing more than the "cost" of me clicking "delete"!