Project 1: The distorting lens – Ex. 2.2

Ex 2.2

A couple of years ago, I remember seeing this amazing lens/viewpoint effect in a beginner’s photography course book* and thought that it was only something that could be done with ‘quality glass’. Yeah, I was that artless, that ingenuous (and by no means that much further along today than I’d like to think I am).
So I was quite excited by the prospect of tackling something that I’d assumed was out of reach, so to speak! My precursory shots proved much trickier than anticipated (as so often seems to happen to me with these seemingly banal tasks – let not complacency ruin the day perhaps), and it was an enlightening game of trial and error…

1. 1/100 at F/4.6, ISO 200, 66 mm
2. 1/60 at F/5.3, ISO 200, 116 mm


3. 1/50 at F/5.6, ISO 200, 150mm

The background slides towards the viewer and creates a pleasant progressive blurring, (with shot 1) which I prefer. This may also be because of the green and blue adding more details to the background. However, I can clearly see that the subject is wonderfully isolated by the zoomed in shot 3 (something that I, in my ignorance once again, thought was only possible with wide aperture prime lenses), although, I would say there is too much bokeh here. It’s interesting to see how even though the aperture isn’t massively different (F/4,6 to F/5,6) the effect when zooming is surprizing for me.

I was having some issues with the aperture priority mode here, as can be seen by the overexposed background (and not just the harsh Mediterranean sun which is usually the culprit!). I usually shoot in manual and deal with the shutter by using a dial and with manual lenses an aperture ring. So this was challenging. And awkward.
Ok, I admit it, it didn’t last long, I soon switched back to manual! Which is ok, I don’t think anyone saw.

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This was a overcast day, so probably ideal for portraits, and this zoom exercise too. As with the previous shots 1-3, I once again find the first one (Dan 1) more to my liking than the other one. Could be I have a weakness for those strong diagonal lines leading us away from (and back into?) the subject. Dan 2 reminds me a lot of shooting with a 50mm fast prime (although he’d had enough and started to move hence the blurring here – not that I’m prejudiced towards blurred shots).
Overall, I found these first attempts trickier than I had hoped, and slightly disappointing in terms of final results, as I didn’t manage to keep the background in the same place – possibly because I was concentrating on keeping the subject the same size?
So I had another go.

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With these shots I changed over to the Olympus 14.42mm lens. The first shot is overexposed again, is that just down to the shutter speed here or the lens? Does perspective distortion influence exposure? Or is this just me not knowing how to use the exposure meter options correctly? The Olympus is set to centre-weighted metering so maybe it – or I – just got a little confused (seeing how the shot R2 has a better exposure).
With shot R2 we can see the background jump towards us. The way the walls and background zoom around and encase the subject is something quite spectacular, and reminds me of an effect in the gorgeous film La Haine and the scene on top of the flats in Paris where there is a MASSIVE perspective distortion within the scene (which is apparently called the Dolly zoom! You can take a pleasant journey through some of the best dolly zoom moments in cinema here! with Vertigo by Hitchcock surely the best and first!)

I was quite happy with the R1 and R2 shots here so I decided to have another go with the 40-150mm to see if I could make up for my poorer first attempts.

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Here, maybe for the first time with this task, I feel that I may have nailed it. The trick is trying to keep the subject in an almost identical position from shot to shot, something I really struggled with. I also think that the far longer focal length really brings out that perspective distortion as we can see with these last two shots here.
I find that the two white daylight ‘blocks’ to the left of the portrait do not interfere with the shot, and if anything, add to it (I aslo like the distant blue blob just working with her T-shirt). Maybe this is where we can finally see the fruits of our efforts of trying to get the blurred part of the frame to integrate with the subject but not overpower, or unbalance it? (And something that will be dealt with in the not too distant future with Exercise 2.6 – as well as having already inadvertently been seen with Ex. 1.4)

Challenging, disappointing at times, but ultimately rewarding when I persevered with it and (hopefully) got the shots needed. Does this now mean that I will hang up my beloved primes when considering a nice portrait shot?
Not on your Nelly, darling, at least, not yet anyway…
(I do not have ANY idea where that phrase came from!)


Some things to think about


  • Does the blurred background, or bokeh, add to the overall effect or distract attention away from the subject(s)? Try to include it to create a balanced, richer composition (when appropriate though, don’t do it just because we can!)
  • Use and experiment more with zooms for portraiture rather than sticking with primes (however evocative their effects may be).
  • Keep the subject the same size when using different camera positions while zooming in/out (as in L1 and L2, but not so successfully with R1 and R2).
  • Is the metering slightly off? Is the setting on: matrix, centre or spot? And how can I compensate for it? Possibly set up a Fn button for it on the camera?
  • Avoid shooting portraits in the harsh Med sun – stick to dusk or artificial lighting.
  • Watch more Vertigo shot scenes from the world of cinema, so brilliant!


*Garret, J., Harris, G., Collins Complete Photography Course, Collins, 2008 (p.85)

Regarding cinematic effect:
Wikipedia, Dolly Zoom, Feb 2016, [online], available at: [accessed 31/03/2016]
and on Vimeo (although not comprehensive) an 8 and a half minutes video:
Vashi Nedomansky, Vimeo, The Evolution of the Dolly Zoom, [online] uploaded 19/01/2014, available at: [Accessed 31/03/2016]

Contact sheets

Ex 2.2 Background contact sheet2Ex 2.2 Background contact sheet


3 thoughts on “Project 1: The distorting lens – Ex. 2.2

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