Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?
Whether or not you’re a fan of the rubbery substance that smacks, pops, and fiendishly perches under public tabletops, you probably answered “yes” to this question.
We’re able to carry out both actions because we are, quite simply, very familiar with both of them. Chewing and walking happen to be things we’ve been doing since shortly after birth. In addition, they’re both actions that are fairly predictable and tend to exhibit repeated patterns.
What this translates into is a more streamlined existence for us all. Without such patterns, repetitions, and habits, we’d never be able to hold a conversation while sipping a coffee or have music playing on a road trip. Learning, recognizing, and navigating the patterns of life enables us to let autopilot take over the more mundane, while freeing our brains to focus energy towards the things that matter most. Patterns yield efficiency.
But, they can also lead to the obliteration of creativity.
In any creative industry, the term “cookie-cutter” has some seriously negative connotations. It implies that an artist’s creative advancement has slowed and that he or she has found an approach that can be repeated successfully without deviation. Finding a repeatable pattern is certainly efficient, but where’s the fun – or creativity, for that matter – in doing the same thing over and over again?
One of the biggest hurdles for artists is that sometimes we fall into such patterns without even realizing it. And creativity in your lens selection seems to be one of the most common victims of the corrosive nature of habit.
Let’s consider the EF 24-70mm lens for a minute. With its large focal range, it’s a great go-to lens when you’ll be capturing a variety of subjects. Out in the tropics shooting some landscapes? It’s got you covered. Just set your zoom ring to 24mm and you’ll have your wide shot. Oh, you’re shooting people at a birthday party? No problem. Zoom in to 70mm and you’ve got the perfect close-up!
For those of us who have been using this lens for a while now, or any zoom really, this is an easy pattern to fall into: shorter focal lengths for our wide shots, longer focal lengths for our tight shots. While this certainly works for some contexts, it isn’t the only approach to consider.
In fact, what if we did the opposite? What if, the next time we’re out shooting landscapes, we zoom in to 70mm? Granted, we’ll need to be significantly farther back to capture the same composition, but the effect may end up being far more unique than following the more traditional path we’re used to. Mountains may look closer, the ocean more intimate, and the forest even more dense.
Or, maybe the next time we’re shooting people, we’ll get up close with the 24mm. Now, some people will tell you that you’re liable to get a black eye if you do this – it’s just not flattering. “Never shoot a person up close with a wide-angle lens!” they’ll say. Short focal lengths tend to stretch out facial features, make noses look bigger, and render people a little funny-looking. But what if you’re shooting a youthful, goofy friend who’s about to blow out a ridiculous number of candles in one fell swoop? Perhaps the goofiness of the focal length fits!
Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a devoted hobbyist, always try to ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” If it’s force of habit, chances are you’re not flexing your creative muscles to the extent you could be. And if you’re just trying photo or video for the first time, you’ve got a great opportunity to prevent habits from settling in. Trust me. They’re pesky little buggers that just munch away at your originality.