My Dream Lens: David Alan Harvey



The depth-of-field I get with a 35mm lens helps me play with strong visual elements in the immediate foreground and background. Photograph/David Alan Harvey

The depth-of-field I get with a 35mm lens helps me play with strong visual elements in the immediate foreground and background. Photograph/David Alan Harvey

If you were allowed to use only one lens all through you life, which one would that be? Which is the lens that defines your vision and style of photography? Raj Lalwani posed this question to five internationally renowned photographers and got some interesting insights. Along the way, they also gave some great tips on using different kinds of lenses. Here is what they had to say.

Slice of Life at 35
David Alan Harvey has shot most of his legendary National Geographic photographs with the humble 35mm lens.

For me, photography should mirror life. If you ask me which is my dream lens, or that one lens that I would use while travelling, it has to be something that allows me to capture natural, lifelike photographs that capture the ethos of a place.

I see the world like a 35mm lens. Let me tell you what I mean by this. When I walk into any new environment—even if I am not shooting—my eyes look left and right to survey the scene. This makes my natural fi eld of view slightly wider than a normal 50mm lens. Consequently, a majority of the photographs that I have shot throughout my career have been with a 35mm lens.

Just the Right Amount of DOF
I like the 50mm lens as well—that is the lens I grew up on, but there is a reason why I prefer the 35mm. Back in the days of fi lm, I was restricted to using a maximum ISO of 200 or 400. Due to this, I would often need to shoot at the widest aperture of the lens so that the pictures are properly exposed. With a 50mm, the widest aperture would make the depth-of-fi eld really shallow. That is the reason I started preferring the 35mm lens.

Today, even while using digital cameras, I enjoy the look of the 35mm—it combines a perspective that is wide, but not too wide, and a shallow DOF that blurs the background, but still keeps it recognisable.

Go Wide Without Distortion
The kind of work I do needs me to shoot in a lot of constricted spaces—in narrow lanes, alleys and inside small houses. But then, a focal length like 28mm is just too wide… it exaggerates the whole look, and people in the frame start getting distorted. The 35mm gives me that slight extra coverage without any distortion.

Allows Me to Get Very Close
Since there is no zoom, I really need to get close and then fi ll the frame. I am often within handshaking distance while shooting some of my subjects! That is my personal style, and something I greatly enjoy. After all, photography is an intimate process that begins with talking to people and ends when you befriend them for life.

A Lens with a Smile
The 35mm is not an intimidating lens. It is so tiny and when used with a small DSLR or rangefinder, it makes people assume that you are not a professional. This, consequently, makes them more comfortable and also helps capture an intimate feel.

The Right Kind of Drama
According to me, a photograph must have drama, but not because of the equipment. The “Aha!” moment should be present because of the timing, the placement of various elements, the expressions or the mood created in the photograph—not because of some unusual lens that is used.

Goes Well with the Flash
I often use a tiny flashgun just to add that extra amount of fill light. Even if your camera has the ability to use high ISO settings, I believe that some added illumination makes the difference between a good picture and a great one. I also enjoy using Slow Sync Flash to capture action and energy. However, this can be difficult with wider lenses as they cast a shadow while using flash. Thankfully, the 35mm does not pose any problem.

All About You
People should not appreciate your photograph just because you shot it with an expensive lens that gave you an unusual perspective or helped you capture tons of detail. A picture should be superb because you took the effort to shoot it that way.

35mm and an Open Heart
Besides the 35mm lens, there are a few simple things you need to document an incredible story. You will need to walk around for hours, days and even months. Finally, and this is most important—have an open mind, open heart and a smile.

About David Alan Harvey: A Magnum veteran, Harvey is a legend in the field of documentary photography. He has extensively shot in Hispanic places like Cuba, Spain, Rio de Janeiro and looks to capture an intimate mix of celebration and contemplation.

Tags: Raj Lalwani, Lens, may 2011, David Alan Harvey, 35mm lens