Architectural Wanderings with a Telephoto Lens

January 31, 2017 ZEISS LENSPIRE Team

by Brian Leary

When I am wandering around a city I usually have my camera and a 35mm lenses in my hand. In street photography you want to simplify things as much as possible when it comes to the camera and the exposure so you can immerse yourself in the environment to better capture life unfolding around you. If you only have one focal range to think about, “Which lens do I want to use?” or trying to figure out where to zoom your lens never slows down your picture taking ability or reaction time. Eventually you start being able to see the world in that field of view.

Challenge yourself to see different

Recently I challenged myself to see the world in a different way. I decided to use 85mm focal length as my wandering lens. The f/4 aperture keeps the lens small in profile, which helps to keep the discrete system desirable when wandering with a street rig. It took me a while to find a place for this lens in my street-wandering arsenal. The problem was I had been walking around with a 35mm for quite some time and because of that I had grown a custom to “seeing” in a similar field of view when out street shooting. With an 85mm you see the world a little more narrowly than you do with your naked eye.

The slight telephoto range has a compression that lends itself to great portraits, but when I’m out street shooting I personally am a little more from the school of Henri Cartier-Bresson. I like a “run and gun” style of shooting. I’ll usually get up close and personal if I am taking a portrait, not stand back and shoot. When starting out with this lens, everything I photographed was too close, and I either couldn’t back up enough, or by the time I did I missed the shot.

Modern Architecture as a Portrait

I spent a couple weeks wandering the streets with my 85mm and as far as traditional street photography goes, I ended up only getting a few shots I really liked with it. When looking over my images I came to a realization. I had ended up using this lens predominantly thought of as a portrait focal range to shoot architecture. Not only architecture, but random abstract and fine art vignettes of architecture. I found the subtle compression given by the 85mm focal range leant itself to the lines of modern architecture well and the T* coatings used by ZEISS did a great job at minimizing glares and reflections from windows and other light sources so commonly a problem in interior and architectural photography. Photographing architecture was nothing new to me. I used to take pictures of home interiors and new construction projects for a few years. In my street photography I had taken quite a few images that used the surrounding architecture to help create the scene or as the subject itself, but I had usually gravitated towards wider angles.

Even at night, one of my favorite times to take the camera out, the 85mm has a certain character that is fun to experiment with. The way the surrounding light presents itself at night lends the lines of a building a whole different personality. By sectioning different features of the architecture with the telephoto, and using the way the light and shadow played off of it, a very different feeling can be evoked.

Now it didn’t matter if I was waiting to check into my hotel in Las Vegas or wandering around my home city, there was a whole new way to see the world unfolding before me. It still takes me a little effort to switch over to the 85mm frame of mind. But when I do, I now have a much more focused approach to what I’m looking for.


About Brian Leary

Originally from Central New York, Brian Leary has now called Seattle home for 15 years. After selling cameras for more than a decade Brian has taken his love of photography and his addiction to travel and wrapped them into one career. Along with classes on various photographic topics taught in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, Brian leads photo workshops to some of his favorite destinations across the USA and around the world. Find out more about Brian’s workshops and upcoming classes by visiting:

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