Today at the office I was talking about cameras and lenses with a colleague. He mentioned zooms, and even “super” zooms with a wide range of focal lengths, and these are really popular, especially with beginners of photography.
Wide angle lenses are for landscapes, “normal” focal lenghts for “normal” photography, and tele lenses for things far away, like wild animals. Right? Well yes, and I had to think about the fact that most people use their zoom lenses just like that. They stand still in the same position, and turn the zoom ring, and voilà – they have totally different pictures. Like these:
14mm (equivalent focal length with a film, or a so-called “full frame” camera: 28mm)
Well – are these photos really that different? I don’t think so. And why not? Because they were all taken from the same spot, with only the “zoom” (the focal length) changed, nothing else. And that means that from the first photo you could actually take crops, or print them out and then cut off the borders, to get the second and the third photo. Ok; depth of field would be a bit different, but the perspective did not change.
But a changed perspective is for me the biggest advantage of having different focal lengths. What if we try to keep the cup on the right, and the word on it at almost the same size with these three different focal lengths? We would get something like this:
Now these three pictures are indeed very different, because I changed the position of the camera to keep that cup at approximately the same size, and with doing this, I changed the perspective quite dramatically.
This also explains that even when keeping the focal length the same (and thus, changing magnification), the term “zooming with your feet” is totally wrong. If you move, you’ll change perspective, simple as that.
Look at the first three photos again. The dark blue, almost black cup in the background doesn’t have something written on it, it’s uniformly dark blue, or almost black. Right? Wrong, if you look at the lower three. There are many more hints even in this simple (and otherwise kind of boring) example of how perspective changes everything. The “compression” effect for example: with a longer focal length and the camera farther away, distant things seem to come nearer to the front objects. Of course they don’t – I moved nothing in this scene except the camera, but the relative distance of those objects to each other shrinks indeed if you consider that the camera is more distant in the 42mm photo. Same goes for the “surrounding” of the objects: a shorter focal length even when used close shows more “context” than a tele lens which concentrates your view on just those objects.
All these photos were made with an Olympus E-PL5 and its 14-42mm “kit lens”, but once you start thinking about different focal lengths as ways to influence and change your perspective rather than just the angle of view, you’ll discover totally new views on your world. It’s fun even with a simple and cheap kit like this, so use what you have already, and start experimenting – and learning to see. And all of a sudden, be it landscapes, animals, people, whatever, you’ll learn how to deal with your backgrounds, and what you want to show and include, and what to leave out. You’ll learn what position you have to be in to get what you want – and that’s a lot more than just to stand still and to turn that zoom ring.
As always, thanks for reading.