Lessons from the Scene: Work the Situation, Work the Lens

By Rick E. Martin, www.rickemartinphoto.com

Photos Courtesy of Dave Bartruff
I can still hear the editor’s voice:  “Work the situation.” If analyzed, that phrase can seem complicated. In fact, it doesn’t have to be.  In a photo rich environment, one needs to "work" what is before you. Think in terms of shooting “tight, medium and wide”.
But what does that really mean? The term shooting “wide” means making an image that accomplishes an overall view of the scene. It should lend perspective about your subject, such as a sense of place, event, or mood. 
What’s the right lens?
It should be fairly obvious which lens is the best choice. But one doesn’t need a wide-angle lens to shoot wide. Likewise, one doesn’t need a long lens to shoot tight.
Perhaps the logistics would dictate lens choice, i.e. a small room is too confining for a long lens. If it’s not obvious, back way off and shoot a few frames with a medium or long lens. Take a moment to examine the scene. Continue shooting with a wide lens, while moving in closer. It’s standard operating procedure for a professional photographer to try different lenses and view the subject from different perspectives. One can always edit for the best image later.  
Middle of the Road


It may be better to take the middle road. “Medium” is a range of photos that are usually close enough to identify the person, with enough of the background to provide context. It often produces the strongest image with the most impact. It could be a scene where two people connecting with a handshake. Wait for the right moment. Patience requires the most time and effort, but yields the greatest reward.
Conversely, sometimes the magic moment happens right before your eyes. In that instant, push the button. But don’t forget the basics. Check the background and exposure. Always have your exposure set for the unexpected.
“Tight” photo contribute to complete coverage. A detail of a belt buckle or a pair of hands can say volumes. These types of photos need to be clean and simple. If it doesn’t say something, look for another little nugget that catches the eye.
A photographer’s instincts are probably the best guide for what to shoot first, (tight, medium, or wide).  Regarding lens choice, again, trust your instincts.
Thinking tight, medium, and wide, allows the photographer to explore the subject, even if only a single image is needed. More importantly, it will enhance the probability of making the strongest photograph.