In this edition of “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera”, the award-winning photojournalist/ cinematographer Vincent Laforet makes an appearance to teach us a little bit about tilt-shift photography, cheap camera equipment, and patience. He brings along his Canon 1DX with TS-E 45mm f/2.8, an expensive and highly professional tilt-shift lens, but the narrator, Kai W., instead gives him a Canon A2E film camera with a Lensbaby Composer – what most would call a “toy lens”. While not a true tilt-shift, it mimics the effect by giving the ability to change the angle of the lens relative to the focal plane, which changes the depth of focus in bizarre and interesting ways:
Laforet is a bit thrown off by this switch, which forces him to go back to his roots and tap into every ounce of his experience to know exactly what’s going to come out when he develops that film (there is no preview screen on a film camera!). It brings out his incredible ability to be still, to wait for the perfect shot.
It’s a difficult thing for many street photographers to imagine, as our attention darts from here to there in our busy and over-saturated world. When we only see the few ideal frames of a photographer’s career, and don’t see the thousands of missed shots and unreleased negatives, it’s easy to imagine that the Great Photojournalist is somehow blessed with a wonderful, picturesque world that unfolds before his eyes – one which eludes the average person.
Laforet is enlightening in his discussion of the real behind-the-frame process, which involves studying behavior and patterns and predicting what will happen in the future – not simply snapping any given moment.
While not an honest-to-goodness tilt-shift lens, the Lensbaby nonetheless has a lot to offer in terms of creativity and seeing in a new way. It is actually quite similar to the way we see in real life; the peripheral vision is hazy and indistinct, and our vision points toward the subject – what we focus on – while the rest falls into barely-recognized obscurity until we turn our eye toward it, and it becomes clear.
It’s a wonderful visual metaphor for the attention demanded of a street photographer, who must mentally blur out all the distractions of the world and see only what is important, what stands out for its beauty, while he waits with commitment for it to blossom.
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