For Unconventional Images, Use An Unconventional Lens

I don’t know about other photographers, but for me, taking photos is not only fun, it’s almost a compulsion. If I go somewhere interesting, I HAVE to take photos. If I don’t, I feel that I’ve missed out on the full experience.

Here’s the problem though: when you visit a place you’re not familiar with, it’s easy to take the same photos that every other visitor takes. What’s the satisfaction in that? You may as well buy a postcard.

There is, in my opinion, a way to avoid that trap (hint: it’s the title of this post), but first a little background.

Over a decade ago, when I started to get serious about photography, I had the opportunity to talk to a National Geographic photographer. Like most beginners, I had one big question: what camera and lens should I get? He told me that he and most of his colleagues used a Canon 5D, and that the Canon 24-70mm / f.2.8 was his favorite piece of glass. Both pieces of gear were expensive, but I took the plunge, bought both items, and have never regretted it.

While the original 5D is now my backup for a newer model, I still use the 24-70 lens all the time. It’s almost as sharp as a prime, and the field of view is perfect for scenics, food and general travel & tourism subject matter.

There’s only one problem: so many other people use the 24-70 that sometimes my pictures look a lot like other people’s pictures. That bothers me. So, on a recent business trip to New York City, I decided to challenge myself: once my assignment was over, and I had some time to wander the city, I’d use only the lens I normally use LEAST. In my case, that’s a 14mm / f2.8 Samyang prime. I bought it a few years ago for architectural interiors, but found that I preferred the Sigma 12-24 for that application. Ever since, the Samyang has sat on my shelf feeling lonely.

My idea was simple: to avoid getting generic, picture-postcard shots of the Big Apple (which is probably the most photographed city on Earth), I’d use the 14mm lens to capture super wide-angle shots that would immediately look different from the average NYC Instagram or Flickr feed.

As you can see, the Samyang was very happy to be taken out to play. Here are a just a few of the very non-generic photos I took over the course of just one and a half days in the city. My conclusion? The experiment was a success! By challenging myself to use a different lens, I was able to escape the trap of taking photos that look like everyone else’s. From now on, when I travel, the Samyang 14mm is traveling with me!

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