“Zoom with your feet” they say.

This is a post that I suspect will evolve over the next few days while I re-word the content, upload example shots and generally think over the best response I can offer.

I’ve just been listening to a Podcast where the presenters stated “Use a prime lens and zoom with your feet.” I understand what they mean by this, but I have issues with it. The comment is trying to suggest you use a prime lens and walk around until the composition is what you want. You should not use a zoom lens to compose the shot.

The problem I have with this is simple. Sometimes you simply can’t walk to compose your shot as many shots are restricted in the urban environment. A wall, fence, road or anything else can get in the way and physically stop you “zooming with your feet.”

Having a good quality zoom lens is essential to shooting in most environments. The exception would be highly controlled studio work where you know you want a single style of shot. I find myself constantly on the lookout for a close up while I shoot wide shots.  Being restricted by a prime lens would limit my ability to shoot what feels right at the time. Imagine shooting some fashion photography. You’re busy shooting full length and 3/4 shots when you see a perfect chance to do a close-up of the details on that dress. Being able to quickly walk in, adjust your focal length and target that small area is essential. You could come back and shoot that detail later, but then again you could forget. I wrote “quickly walk in” in that last sentence; That’s “zooming with your feet.” The thing is I’d adjusted the position, focal length and composition for the required result.

The place this “Zooming with my feet” really gets to me is when it is said to people who are planning on going on holiday and want to keep their photography gear to a minimum. They ask the professionals what they should do about lenses. Often the reply is to use a 50mm prime and “zoom with your feet.” Ok. I love the sentiment, but I totally disagree with the resulting suggestion. Try visiting London and shooting Big Ben with a 50mm lens. You’ll stand back about 200ft from the base and get some excellent shots. Can you read the time on the clock? Yes, I suppose so. Can you see the details on the clock? No. What? Oh you wanted to get a variety of shots? Sure just “zoom with your feet” and stand 20 ft from the clock. Oh, you can’t see it way up there above your head? That’s a shame. Sorry, move on.

Zooming with your feet is a stupid idea for a tourist or casual photographer. The camera makers understand this. Their point and shoot cameras come with some amazing zoom ability for a reason. People often can’t walk up to the item they want to shoot. They need to zoom in to get the detail.

Why would any professional photographer not understand this?
Are the professionals losing sight of the end result or are they choosing to deliberately mislead their followers? Are they on a mission to get people using some amazing gear (ie high quality prime lenses) which allows them to get spectacular shots 10% of the time? Surely it would be better to tell the casual shooter to use an “18-200mm lens” of lower quality and get good shots 90% of the time.

Zoom with your feet – An often heard response from many professional photographers during podcasts and lectures. It has its merits. It also has so many flaws they don’t try to explain.

Since posting my article, I’ve now found another which goes into further details. It makes interesting reading. Click this link to go there now. (1897)

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