What’s the Right Focal Length for You?

Whenever you want to fill your frame with the subject, you have two options. You can either walk to get closer to the subject, or zoom in if you’re using a zoom lens. Both of these options for filling the frame have other implications for how the image turns out. Factors like background compression, depth of field, and distortion also need to be factored into the equation – best not to simply ignore them. Photographer Mark Wallace from Adorama dives in-depth into this topic to help you decide what’s the right focal length for you:

Lenses have this property whereby they exaggerate anything that’s close to them. Due to this nature, you’ll notice that when you get close to a subject, it tends to appear larger than the things in the background. So, by placing something interesting in the foreground of your image, you can create a compelling shot. However, you might not want to use this technique when shooting portraits.

“You can use this effect to exaggerate the foreground and bring us into the subject.”

On the other hand, when you zoom in from a distance, this has a different kind of effect. The elements in the frame get magnified in proportion. However, you can also notice that the background will get pulled closer to the foreground. This phenomenon is termed as compression in photography. As Wallace demonstrates in the video, you can use this technique to pull the element of interest that’s in the background much closer to the foreground.

So when in doubt, think about whether you want to emphasize the foreground or the background. While short focal lengths are great for emphasizing foreground, longer focal lengths excel at emphasizing the background.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever