Near and Far

October 05, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I'm working on a project photographing the Arizona Department of Public Safety aviation units — it's a diverse set of missions they undertake with an equally diverse stable of aircraft. On several occasions I shot search-and-rescue crews practicing aerial insertions and extractions, hovering ingress and egress, and general helicopter operations safety. Those days did not involve air-to-air work (we did plenty of that later), but the aircraft figured prominently.

These images illustrate how shooting both "long" and "wide" play their respective roles in conveying the action.

Note About Terminology: By "long," I am referring to the focal length of a lens. The "longer" a lens, the more it brings the subject visually close to the viewer. I know "wide" is not normally an antonym of "long," but in lens parlance it is not an unusual pairing. "Wide" actually means "wide-angle," and the wider a lens the more of the surroundings are included in the image, and the subject is typically reduced, visually, in size. (The term "short" can be used for wide-angle lenses, but it is less common.)

In this first image I am using a relatively long lens to put together a dynamic collection of elements. The aircraft angles across the frame, the rope drops out the bottom, bright colors, lots of details, and intense concentration in all the personnel. A proper shutter speed allows the rotor blades to exhibit blur (so we know the aircraft is actually flying (a previous Skyview dealt with that topic in more detail)), but fast enough so everything else is sharp. Overall, a composition tight enough to pack it with energy but loose enough to show what's going on.


The second image was captured from the same spot but with a wide-angle lens to show the training in the context of its environment — the aircraft, the ground, the space between. That space isn't great, but plenty far enough to make falling a bad thing.

The crews practiced this insertion over and over so, as they cycled among the trainees, I circled around them and shot with changing lighting, backgrounds and, of course, lenses.


Here's another example of an image made with a long lens. To show the dusty environment that ensues when operating near the ground, away from an airport, I've captured the Bell as it is landing. Fortunately, I'm able to do that without being exposed to the harsh blast of dirt and grit, which is bad for people and lenses both.


Finally, from the same location as the previous image, here is a wide shot that has the aircraft quite small in the frame, which means I've shifted the focus to the people in the foreground.


There you have it. The long and the short of capturing a range of activities with a range of lenses. It may not be the most glamorous of assignments, but it's what a photographer should do when the assignment is "show what's happening."


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