Category Archives: b – Focal lengths

Focal lengths and different viewpoints

For this exercise I used the extremes of the lenses I own, 400mm and 12mm – a zoom range of some 33x.

I chose as one of the subjects the hanging bird feeder in my garden, taken at both these focal lengths:-

The second, and my preferred, choice were the rocks on Tunbridge Wells common.  Again these were taken at 400mm and 12mm:-




The 400mm shots in my view flatten the image, whereas the 12mm gives more depth to the image.  This flatness, I think, translates to the viewer that this is a shot taken from a distance while the wide angle shot makes a intimate interaction although care has to be taken to avoid excessive distortion.

Even with a flat subject the difference created by different focal lengths can be seen.  The first shot is taken with a 12mm lens at a distance of some  30″ and the window frame can clearly be seen


The second shot below was shot some 15′ away and while the subject occupies the same space in the frame, the reduced angle can be seen as there is no sign of the window frame.


As an alternative this shot of Tudeley church was taken at 12mm:-


While this was shot at 70mm and within a few feet of the window.

While again the wide angle is capable of showing the context of a subject, a longer lens is needed, in this case, to isolate the detail of that subject and the roles are reversed in that in the wide angle shot there is nothing for the viewer to get involved in but the close up of the window creates a closer relationship with the detail of the window.

I think this exercise emphasises that when considering how to shoot a subject the lens or lenses used is an important aspect.  We are used to considering certain lenses are appropriate for certain types of shots – wide angles for landscapes, medium telephoto for portraits and long telephoto for wildlife etc – but it is, I think important not to be restricted by what would be considered the norm, in terms of the type of lens, for any subject.


Variable focal lengths – angle of view.

My subject for this exercise is an old favourite view of mine, Canterbury Cathedral from the university hill shot on an early sunday morning

I thought this lends itself to the exercise given its prominent position.  I used two lenses a 24 – 70mm and a 70 – 400mm.  I did have, and considered using, a 12-24 lens but considered that this would not provide, (particularly at 12mm) enough landscape of interest to fill the frame.

The above was cropped at the bottom to lose a bit of road.

The wide angle shots give a good idea of the setting of the Cathedral and its environs.  By zooming in it shows the dominance the building has over its immediate surroundings.  The wide angle view gives context, for instance in the case of landscapes like the 30mm shot above,  at the expense of detail whereas the telephoto enables the photographer to pick out, and isolate, details in that landscape that are worth shooting in their own right, such as the small church in Canterbury in the last shot.