Last year Courtney Zimmerman of Carrying Wonder bought her dream lens, the Canon L Series 24mm 1.4. Not only that, but she sold all of her other lenses and made a commitment to not purchase any other lenses for a year so that she could learn to master the 24mm focal length. Can you say gutsy? Here is what Courtney has to say about her One Year, One Lens project. You can also check out her work on her site, facebook, and instagram.
Please, introduce yourself and let us get to know you. Also, tell us about your journey as a photographer.
So I’m Courtney! I’m an introverted homeschooling mother of four, which means I never get enough alone time. I have two biological and two adopted kids, and they were all made in Uganda–I’ll let you figure that one out! My husband is a digital designer, and he loves what he does, and that makes me really happy. We currently live in southern Oregon in a straw bale home in the middle of nowhere, and I like it 5 days out of 7. I like ideas, and I despise folding laundry. I’m a recovering control freak. Story is my “thing,” and it has been for as long as I can remember.
My journey as a photographer started as a young girl obsessed with my own baby books. My parents divorced before I was 6, and I felt like the pictures in those baby books connected me to parts of my story that were unimaginable to me. That connection didn’t necessarily make me happy or sad, but it felt important. In college I ended up minoring in photography. I wasn’t very good, but the dark room was like my therapy. College was a very dark time in my life, and the dark room became a safe place to process not just pictures but life. That probably sounds deeper than it really was. The point is that I fell in love with the photographic experience and process even though I wasn’t very good at the art.
A couple years after college, my husband and I moved to Uganda, where we would spend the next 6 years of our lives serving with an orphan ministry. We started a family there. I took pictures, but there was no “why” behind my photographs. I deeply regret that. I wish I had known then what I know now about the art of storytelling as it relates to photography. But, thanks to Molly Flanagan and the master photographers she first introduced me to, I have a better understanding of that now. I’m still growing as a photographer, but my focus is growing as a storyteller; because making “cool pictures” gets boring really quickly for me. So now I don’t ask if it’s a good picture: I ask what it says.
What did you find most challenging about working with the 24mm and only the 24mm throughout the year?
The most challenging thing was learning to work with the distortion in situations where there were lines everywhere–how to change my angle or position to make the distortion work in my favor rather than against me. I like the distortion of the 24, but it isn’t always easy to work with.
Did you find that the 24mm worked particularly well for you in certain environments while you maybe would have preferred another focal length in other settings? In particular, what did you think about using the 24mm for portraits?
The 24 is great indoors in small spaces. It’s great when you want to be forced to tell more of the story. It’s great when you feel like you have a tendency to get too close and keep thinking you should have backed up. It’s an awesome lens if your goal for a photograph is honesty. It is hella hard to use the 24 outside, especially if you’re trying to track down kids who are running every which way. Because you HAVE to get close! And the little ones always seem to run away just as you finally get there. But in those situations I always end up getting a good workout if not a good picture! As for portraits, I don’t recommend the 24 for traditional angles. You have to get creative. Distortion on the 24 is real, folks.
If you could only pick one image out of your one lens year as your favorite, which would it be and why?
That changes frequently. But right now my favorite is the one of the boy in his messy room, because it is a wonderful example of everything I love about the 24–and a picture I couldn’t have made without it!
What long-lasting changes to your photography as a whole occurred as a result of using one lens for a year? Style? Approach? Attitude? Focus?
Limiting myself almost always leads to growth, and in my case that growth is often in confidence. My lack of confidence is what makes me, to this day, unable to play the piano in front of anybody even though I’ve played the piano since I was 4. I shake, get nervous, doubt myself, worry, sweat, shake more… you get the picture. When I limit myself, I take away certain excuses and doubts. I have to suck it up. Either I do it or I don’t. As an under-confident over-thinker, this is a really good thing, and in the case of playing the piano I eventually decided it wasn’t worth it. But with photography…well I’ve decided I can handle not being as awesome as I’d like to be. I believe the stories I have yet to tell are worth being brutally honest with myself now. It’s a good thing to come to grips with where I really am as an artist. It’s so tempting to blame my own lack of mastery on, well, everything. Insufficient equipment is one of those things. But when I submit myself to any kind of limitation (in this case it was simply a limitation of equipment), all I can do is own up to my own shortcomings and keep learning and growing. So though I probably grew in my photographic skills through my One Year, One Lens commitment, it’s the realistic perspective I’m thankful for.
Was there one session/photo/moment in particular that was your “ah ha” moment with the lens?
Really, the first session I did solely with my 24–a session in Portland that covered a morning with an artist couple–was that “ah ha” moment, because I realized how fun this project was going to be–how freeing it was! It’s still one of my favorite sessions to date. Unfortunately, I recently re-did my site, and I lost all past blog posts (yes, I’m very frustrated…!), so I can’t share that session with you.
Editor’s Note: Courtney was able to send us a link to an updated gallery for this session. You can see it here.
Ultimately, after all you’ve learned about this lens, what would you say its strong points and weaknesses are?
Weaknesses: The 24 is a risky lens, because it is much harder to omit unwanted elements, and it has obvious distortion. You have to get up close and personal when you want a close shot, and, as with any fixed lens, you have to get up and move if you want to “zoom in” or “zoom out.”
Strengths: See above 🙂 Seriously, though, I’d say it’s riskiness is what makes it such a wonderful lens! Because in my opinion safe is boring.
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