Getting appropriate nature images for healthcare art starts with a vision of what evidence-based design dictates, and balancing that with the artist’s aesthetic. A few qualities healthcare design professionals look for in a scene include:
- bright or dramatic light
- non-threatening (models standing on cliff edges or rappelling – not so much!)
- calm or flowing water
Each image I take has a “look and feel” about it. The success of conveying that mood depends on many factors; timing, light, compositional balance, juxtaposition, color interactions, depth, etc.
But at the most basic level, I have to choose what “eyes” I want to use to capture the scene: What lens should I use. Every photograph you have ever seen is a distortion of reality. The human eyes & brain create depth in what we see. Cameras produce an image on a flat plane of the film or sensor and then reproduced as a flat print. Some lenses distort reality more than others in creating this one-dimensional image of a three-dimensional world. Rather than distortion, I like to think of lenses as having moods of their own. Below is a list of my lenses (my eyes in the field) and the moods they convey.
First, a quick word on quality. We spend enormous amounts of time evaluating equipment. Because so much of hospital art is reproduced in very large sizes (up to 30 feet wide & larger murals), we have to start out with the best optics and sensors we can find. Right now we use the Canon 5DsR 50.6-megapixel camera with the lenses below. The clarity, color fidelity, sharpness and overall image quality of this combination is, in our opinion, unparalleled.
Wide Angle Lenses
Bottom line: Expansive, dramatic, almost dreamlike look & feel to big landscapes
Wide angle lenses are perhaps the hardest to get the mind’s eye around. With every scene, a photographer tries to pre-visualize what lens would grab the part of the world in front of them they want to capture. Let me put it this way: every lens has arms. Wide angle lenses have arms that reach way out to the sides & up & down…. an enormous grasp. They want to reach out into the world and tell a story of depth and journey. As the number of mm associated with a lens goes up, those arms narrow their grasp but also reach out further into the landscape to grab a smaller & smaller portion of the landscape and magnify its size and importance. As you go up in mm, your sense of intimacy with a particular part of the world intensifies.
Another aspect of wide angle lenses is that they exaggerate the apparent distances between objects, particularly those close to the camera. The Zeiss 15mm does this to such a degree that I truly can’t previsualize with this lens. I’m always struck with how much of the world it sees, but the distortions between near and far are so different from my mind’s eye it’s hard to imagine what the scene will look like before you put the camera up to your eye.
These distortions sound like hindrances, and they often are. However, if you want to tell a big story, with a profound sense of spatial depth, this lens is ideal. The 15mm is a compositionally challenging lens to use. When used correctly, there is a look and feel of invitation, of a journey. You feel like you’re swept into the scene and there is a feeling of freedom & expanse. If you want to create a sense of depth and expanse in a small hospital or waiting room, a large print from this lens would be very successful. Here is an example:
Bottom Line: Expansive, inviting mood with the story to tell about a broad landscape. Both 28mm and 15mm can make a small hospital room seem bigger with a window onto a big scene.
The Otus series of lenses (28mm, 55mm, & 85mm) from Zeiss are the pinnacle of photographic optics. I’ve been using them for several years now, and I still marvel at them every time I put them on the camera. Otus lenses are the tools a fine craftsman has a reverence for. By many accounts, the Zeiss Otus 28mm is the best wide angle lens ever made for any format camera. I probably use this lens more than any other.
The 28 has the expansive, journeying look and feel of the 15mm, but distances between object are not quite as exaggerated. Many scenes have an angle of view that just fits into the grasp of the 28mm. The look and feel subtly sucks you in due to near/far exaggerations and grabs a surprising amount of scene in your view. If you are standing somewhere and are awed by the immensity and grandeur of the scene, this lens successfully conveys that mood. Again, if you want to make a small room seem bigger and give a patient a view out of a majestic window, scenes from this lens will do the trick.
Here is an example:
Bottom Line: Great for short distance shots, straightforward most realistic look & feel.
All of the Otus lenses have an optical design and proprietary lens coatings that give the images superb contrast. That’s kind of a technical term; let’s make it easier to understand. Every scene has a range of lights & darks that define positive & negative spaces and textures. The Otus lenses do such a superb job delineating those subtle shades of light and dark that the images seem to leap from the page or monitor with a three-dimensional quality that no other lenses create. Photographers refer to this as the “Zeiss look.” It’s hard to define, but you’ll see it and just say there’s something artistically distinctive about the way subjects are rendered.
The Otus 55mm is called a normal lens, and rather than define that in a technical way, I like to think of this as the lens that most approximates human vision field of view & attention. This lens probably has the least amount of distortion between near & far subjects. But designers, art critics, and people, in general, don’t remember literal representations of reality. They remember a literal scene colored by emotion. So I find the 55mm a bit of a boring lens compositionally, with two exceptions:
- Intimate shots of nature shot 3 to 15 feet away (think a collection of fall leaves, a dogwood tree branch filled with blossoms). Imagine going for a walk in a park and taking a break on a bench, then noticing some small section of the scene before you that makes you pause with focused interest & relaxation.
- Used to make stitched panoramas to boost file size.
Here are some examples:
Long Focal Length Lenses
Bottom line: Intimate, meditative, moody feel. Excellent for wayfinding.
This is a phenomenally sharp lens, and perhaps my favorite. I don’t use it quite as much as the 28mm, but I get really excited about scenes that fit this angle of view. Focal lengths from 85mm and up have a meditative quality to them. Whereas wide angle lenses tell big stories and have a journey to tell, longer focal length lenses reach out and grab an intimate look. They almost have a voyeuristic quality because you are magnifying an object to a much greater extent than human vision would allow from your standing perspective. The images are intriguing. Also, longer focal length lenses don’t show as much of the world as in focus, so when you do focus on an object, the area fore & aft is out of focus, thus highlighting the presence & features of that object. Additionally, longer focal length lenses compress near/far relationships; objects appear closer together than they are in reality. The overall look and feel from these lenses are varied. If used for a landscape the compression effect gives a more “tapestry” look, and if they are used for specific objects, there is an intense intimacy conveyed. I also use this lens a great deal to create panoramas by stitching together multiple shots.
To summarize, wide angle lenses invite you into the big story of a landscape, where longer focal length lenses grab a subject by the shirt collar and bring it up close and personal. Macro/closeup shots are also taken with longer focal length lenses because of their close focusing, magnification qualities. It’s possible longer focal length lenses render images better for wayfinding in hospitals & architectural spaces because of the easily identifiable objects. “Go to the Maple Tree picture at the end of the hall and take a left towards the flower photo at the end of that hall.” Here is an example:
Canon 100 – 400mm zoom lens
Bottom line: As with the 85mm, this lens produces intimate, meditative, moody feel. Prints made from images made with this lens useful for wayfinding.
When we tested this lens, we were very surprised. Historically, zoom lenses are not as sharp as fixed focal length lenses. This lens blew that conception out of the water. Amazingly sharp lens across all focal lengths. The more you zoom in with this lens, the greater the compression and isolating visual effects. A very fun lens to experiment with, giving surprisingly unique compositions for landscapes.