My Dream Lens: John Isaac


I have visited over 100 countries, but my favourite place is Kashmir, for the manner in which the play of light creates an ethereal watercolour effect. Photograph/John Isaac

I have visited over 100 countries, but my favourite place is Kashmir, for the manner in which the play of light creates an ethereal watercolour effect. Photograph/John Isaac

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 the first photographer, John Isaac, had to say.

Zooming In Close
John Isaac believes that a 100–400mm lens is something that he cannot do without, especially while travelling.

Today, most of what I photograph comes under the genres of travel and wildlife. I am often faced with situations that demand a lens that gives me a good amount of reach. That is one reason why I cannot do without a telephoto zoom lens. My personal favourite is the Olympus 50–200mm, which gives me an equivalent focal length of 100–400mm.

Weight is Important
It is important to carry the lenses you need, but while packing, you should keep a watch on the weight meter! If your camera bag is too heavy, not only will this put extra strain on your back, but it also means that you will be more lethargic while shooting. “Ah, that vantage point would be great, but it is so far,” will be a complaint you will make extremely often if you carry a heavy system on field.

That is the main reason I like the Olympus 50–200mm lens. It is extremely lightweight. Whichever telephoto zoom you choose, you should ensure that it balances well on your camera. Also, even if your lens gives you a lot of reach, it should not be so heavy that the entire photographic process becomes painful.

Optics, Not Megapixels
Buy the best lens that you can get within your budget. Instead of buying cameras with more megapixels, I have always preferred to invest my money in optics like the 50–200mm. If your lens is sharp, you will be able to blow up your image easily.

Use the Compressed Look
I have always been a fan of the compressed look that telephoto lenses produce. The background appears to be closer to the subject, which produces a slightly flatter, two-dimensional look. I find this particularly nice for portraiture.

Minimise Clutter
Telephoto lenses help you minimise the clutter in the frame, thus allowing you to concentrate on the subject and the play of light. You know, I specially realised this when I was shooting in the gorgeous evenings of Kashmir. I urge all Indian photographers to visit and explore Kashmir to experience the magical light that this place offers.

Abstract Viewpoints
Even mundane subjects can make artistic abstracts if you zoom into them completely. I have found the 50–200mm great for this, especially while shooting reflections at the Dal lake, Srinagar.

When You are Stuck Somewhere
When you are travelling, you are often restricted by a bound schedule or unable to go to a vantage point of your choice. At other times, you may be shooting for a long duration from a particular spot like a mountain top, or from a moving vehicle. The convenience offered by a long zoom in such cases, is invaluable.

Capture Details in a Personal Way
Even if the subject is at a distance, you can fill the frame with his or her expressions. I enjoy this lens when I need to capture close-ups that emphasise a particular characteristic of a subject, be it while shooting wildlife, travelogues or portraits.

About John Isaac: After serving as the official United Nations photographer, Isaac now enjoys shooting nature and travel. He has published a book called The Vale of Kashmir to convey the beauty of the place to everyone.

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: Shooting Technique, Raj Lalwani, Composition, Lens, Kashmir, may 2011, John Isaac, 100–400mm