By Lea Hartman on | No Comments
Whether you just picked up your first camera last week or you’ve been shooting for years, focal lengths can be tricky. Not only is it important to understand the difference between how images look taken with different focal lengths, but it’s also important to understand which one to select for each subject you are shooting.
In this tutorial, we will try to break it down for you by comparing a few of the most popular focal lengths.
For each of the following examples, I stood in the same place (roughly 4-5 ft from my subject), so you can see how focal length affects your field of view and your relation to the subject you’re shooting.
Wide angle focal lengths (24mm and 35mm used in the next 2 images), capture more of a scene and are therefore be a great choice for storytelling and lifestyle photography. They are often used for landscape photography.
Wide angle focal lengths give the perspective that you are farther away from your subject than you actually are. Remember in these examples, I was only standing 4-5 feet away from my subject but it feels more like 10 feet. Keep in mind, the wider the lens, the more distortion you will have in your image (especially around the edges).
A standard or medium telephoto focal length (in this example, 50mm) has often been considered the most versatile and popular.
A standard focal length has a somewhat “zoomed in” perspective and doesn’t create any distortion. You can get a close up picture without having to be quite so up close. This gives the image a more intimate feel.
Now that you have a better understanding of how focal length affects your overall image, let’s talk about some practical application, shall we?
I enlisted the help of the Pretty Team by giving them scenarios and asking them to choose the focal length that best fits that scenario and tell us why they selected it. Should be fun. Here we go!
Zach, you are photographing a first look between a bride and groom, prior to their wedding ceremony and you want the images to feel intimate. Which focal length do you choose and why?
Zach: Hmm...this is a great question! I think I would actually approach this scenario with a two different lenses.
For a "First Look" with an intimate feel, I'm probably going to choose an 85mm focal length. This tackles a few key elements of a good "First Look" session:
An 85mm will force me to foot-zoom far enough (physically back away) from the bride and groom, so they feel like they are alone. This will help the couple's true emotions to come out in the photos, rather than me being up in their faces, interrupting their beautiful moment.
With an 85mm focal length, I'll get plenty of background separation and creamy bokeh, capturing that "foreground/bride in-focus, background/groom out of focus" look that makes for a fantastic "First Look" image.
An 85mm is also one of the most flattering focal lengths for shooting people, and who doesn't want to look flattering on their wedding day?
The only other focal length I would consider using, would be a 35mm as a supplemental focal length to capture an image BEFORE the couple comes together. Taking this shot would allow me to capture an image that shows how these two people are the only two people in this great big world at an exact moment in time.
Tina, you are photographing young children, 3, 5 and 7 years old, and they are running around like banshees in their backyard, chasing each other with water guns. Which focal length do you choose and why?
Tina: Kids running around with water guns in the background is the perfect opportunity for a bit of lifestyle work, so I would grab my 35mm for a wider view of the backyard and kids. This focal length should give me enough room to move around without being in the direct line fire from the water guns and allow me to tell a complete story of sibling summer fun.
Depending on how long this water fight goes on, I might be tempted to step way back from the action and take a few shots with my 85mm in order to capture some of the intensity of their faces along with details such as fingers pulling the trigger.
Jessica, a sweet new family of three just got home from the hospital and asked to you come to their home for relaxed family pictures. Which focal length to you choose and why?
Jessica: This situation would be the perfect opportunity to use my 50mm. It's a great focal length that doesn't require me to be too far away (this is important especially if you don't know how small the home is) yet still wide enough to be able to capture the baby's environment, like their nursery which is a place I love to shoot in.
With a 50mm, I can get in close enough to get detail shots like baby's feet and hands, etc (a 35mm would be great for this too), but you are also able to stand back far enough to get some great family shots where the family is able to forget you are there for a moment and just focus on their new little bundle of joy.
I love the versatility of a 50mm and think its a good and safe choice for most scenarios like this one.
Understanding focal length and how it can be used to tell better stories is wonderful knowledge to have. And when all the words you’re reading start to jumble together and your eyes get kind of hazy, just pop a lens on your camera and try it out for yourself.
Do you have any questions or comments about Understanding Focal Lengths? Just leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you! And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!
Lea is a self taught natural light photographer currently based out of North Carolina. Happily married for 14 years, she and her lover boy are raising three crazy kids wherever the army sends them. She's addicted to coffee, jamberry and her dog, Huxley.