Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gunfight

This post’s title is a metaphor for using the right tool for the job, and in this case the right lens for the subject. In my mind various focal lengths on lenses determine the job they are best suited for. I emphasized the word best because I think there are very few absolutes in photography except those governed by physics which control what can and can’t be done with sensors and lenses.

I have always believed that for landscape and architectural photography a wide angle lens is a must. I don’t know if I believe this because I’ve read it so many times or because all landscapes and building interiors and exteriors seem to be shot with wide angle lenses.  It makes a lot of sense.  With landscape and architectural photography you’re usually trying to put a large area in your frame and the best way to get the most area is with a wide angle lens.

At the other end of focal lengths, I once wrote about my first use of my pride and joy Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR telephoto zoom lens. In the post I pointed out that my camera (the complicated D7100) weighed about 1 1/2 pounds and the lens weighed 3 1/2 pounds. Try putting a 5 lb. bag a sugar on a strap around your and neck then take a two mile rambling walk looking for things to photograph. My conclusion was that the lens was not for walking around looking for things to photograph. It was an event lens, one you took with you because you had a specific shoot in mind that required a big telephoto.

I still think that is pretty much the case; however, I have taken the 80-400mm out to walk around with several times since then. I’ve done that for two different reasons. The first time was so I could see different things. I have walked my neighborhood and made the rounds of nearby parks with my 24-85mm zoom and 105mm macro so many times that I am seeing pretty much the same thing each time I go out which means I’m taking the same picture over and over – boring.  But taking the 80-400mm forced me to see things differently. For one thing I can’t be 12″ to 24″ in front of my subjects. The closest I can get is 7 feet. That’s a whole new ballgame. Doing this I’ve come away with different photos than what I was getting with the other two lenses at the same places.  They are different in their perspective and they usually have different subjects.  I’ve taken some keepers this way but I’m not satisfied that I’ve got the vision for that lens nailed down yet. Still working on it and enjoying the different experience, but my arm does get tired because it’s not the best lens for walking around.

The other time I took out the 80-400mm for a situation that one wouldn’t think required a big telephoto was to shoot dragonflies on the ponds at Tower Grove Park. There the dragon flies like to perch on the seed pods of lotus flowers several feet off shore. The first time I went to the park I was so frustrated because there was an abundance of dragonflies but I couldn’t get close enough for a good shot with my 105mm macro lens.

Flash forward to the photos in this post.   On a not quite yet Spring day my wife and I decided to get out of the house and she suggested we go to the Missouri Botanical Garden. I was all for it; a chance to photograph flowers.

We had been having rain the past several days and this day had a very heavy overcast but no rain forecasted. Normally the right tool for this job would be the 105mm macro lens.  When I shoot flowers I will sit down or lay down on the ground as needed to get the shot I want. However I knew that with the heavy overcast there was no way the morning dew, let alone previous days’ rain, would be dried out. That’s when I came up with the idea of bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Instead of the obvious choice of the macro lens for flower close ups I’d bring the 80-400mm super zoom telephoto used for sports, BIF, and other nature photography. That solves the problem of getting close without getting down in the wet and probably muddy ground. “Damn David, you’re good!”

So, after a short drive I have my super heavy gear slung around my neck as I walk out onto the garden grounds. I take a survey look around and immediately say to myself: “Damn David, you are stupid”!

It’s not quite Spring yet and all the annuals and perennials I’m used to seeing aren’t even thinking about sprouting up out of the ground yet let alone blooming.  All I see are a bunch of tulips, not my favorite flower to photograph, and some flowering bushes. So thanks to my brilliant outside of the box thinking I’ve got five pounds of gear hanging around my neck and I’m so dreading the next hour or so of walking around with my albatross and not being able to take any interesting pictures.

We walked to the far end of the garden on the west side where the Japanese garden is laid out.  I look across the lake and saw that there were dozens of azaleas and rhododendrons in full bloom.  I was seeing some photo possibilities but didn’t have a wide angle lens with me to take landscapes.  I decided to take a look with the telephoto anyway.  What I saw got me thinking this might work.  I spent about twenty minutes working the angles and taking shots.

This turned out to be a perfect storm.  I had serendipitously visited the garden when the bushes were in full bloom.  There was a heavy overcast which helped color saturation because there was no bright sunlight reflecting off the flowers and washing out the colors, and there were no individual clouds casting troublesome shadows.  Best of all I accidentally brought a knife to a gunfight.  I don’t think a wide angle lens would have worked very well for this type of landscape photography.  I think a wide angle would have gotten too much in the frame and I would have had to do some heavy cropping.  Also the subjects would probably have looked too far away.  But then again, maybe the wide angle lens would have been just fine, but just different.

So here are my landscape photos taken with an 80-400mm (160-600mm equivalent) telephoto zoom lens.

But first, I did take a couple of tulip photos.












Oh yeah I got a flower photo from a bush on the way out.


Thank you for stopping by.


All photos taken with a Nikon D7100 and a Nikkor AF-S 80-400 telephoto zoom lens.

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