How to get close without getting close

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” Robert Capa

In this time of the coronavirus the best thing to avoid exposure is to stay inside and away from other people, but my job doesn’t afford me that luxury. I can’t take a picture over the phone or through a closed car door. These days I’m trying to practice this minimum safe distance as well as wearing a mask whenever I’m out shooting.

(3/26/20) Munish “Mike” Ghai gives out free masks at the In-And-Out in Lathrop. Ghai, a Lathrop resident and Stockton Realtor, canceled his 25th wedding anniversary, saving $10,000 he had earmarked for a celebration with family and friends. He has used that money to purchase and ship 1,500 masks from India, with the help of extended family in India and Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal. The subject was about 6-8 feet away photographed with a wide angle zoom lens set at 24mm. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Fame photographer Ernst Haas once said that “ The best zoom lens is your feet” meaning that rather than getting a telephoto lens, you should simply get closer to your subject. In normal times this is true. Usually, there’s no substitute for just getting nearer. When I was in school my photo instructors used to say “When you think you’re close enough, take another step closer.” This is especially true when taking photos of people. But now were all asked to physically distance ourselves from others, getting close may not be practical or advisable to do. So, how to get close to your subject without actually getting too close is the question.

(4/16/20) Stockton Christian Academy boys varsity basketball assistant coach Robin Hong videos himself doing a ball-handling drill at the basketball courts at Grupe Park in Stockton. Hong was recording the drills to be available for any student or athlete at the K-12 school, who wants to work on their skills. The subject was about 6-feet away shot with a wide-angle lens. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend keeping a minimum distance of 6 feet between yourself and the next person. They describe it as 2 arms lengths. I’m about 5’-10” and I estimate the distance as my height plus a couple of inches. Six feet is closer than you think. Most people overestimate the distance, probably in the 8 to 10 feet range. Then there’s a natural tendency for subjects to take another step or two back out of reflex. Soon the distance becomes more like 10 to 12 feet or even sometimes more. A true 6 feet is fairly close. Even with a wide-angle lens you can get a decent shot.

(3/17/20) Chata Espitia of Stockton takes advantage of partly cloudy skies to fly a kite in an open lot next to the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. The subject was about 15 feet away from the photographer in both photos. In the top a 24mm wide-angle was used. In the bottom photo where the woman appears closer, a medium telephoto of 120mm was used. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Now days cameras come with a zoom lens, most likely in the 18-55mm range (an equivalent of a 26-80mm of those film cameras). That should be able to bring in your subject close enough from the 6 to 10 feet distance without a problem. Of course, you can buy even longer lenses if you need to shoot from a farther distance away but the lens that came with your camera should be good enough.

(4/18/20) Singer/Musician Abraham “Steve” Mackey, 71, performs songs in a series of short concerts that he live streams from the backyard of his Stockton Home that he calls “Music from the Shed.” The subject was about 6-8 feet away photographed with a wide angle zoom lens set at 24mm. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Those who use their smartphones for photos are at a disadvantage. Sure, many current phones have a zoom feature but at the sacrifice of quality. The more you zoom in, the lower the quality of the image because you’re not zooming in optically. What’s happening is that you’re cropping the image and using a smaller and smaller portion of the sensor. But cropping in slightly shouldn’t degrade the image too much.

(4/17/20) Tiffanie Heben decorates the front of her home on East Highland Avenue in Tracy. Heben was participating in an event put out by the Facebook group Class of 2020 THS Parents to decorate their front doors and/or yards in honor of their graduating seniors in lieu of canceled formal graduation ceremonies canceled due to the coronavirus. Heben was decorating for her 17-year-old daughter Alexandra Alcala who has chosen to go to the University of Pittsburgh next fall. The subject was about 6 feet away photographed with a wide angle zoom lens set at 24mm. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

There’s going to be a transitional time just after the stay-at-home orders are lifted but yet many people may feel uneasy about coming into contact with others. You can use these precautions and techniques to help keep you safer in uncertain times and still get a good picture.

(4/25/20) Gretchen Dobler of Lodi hits from the second fairway green at the Swenson Park Golf Course in Stockton. The golf course along with others in the county have been closed for about a month due to the novel coronavirus concerns. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

This entry was posted in Photography, Techniques. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives