telephoto

Focal Length Affects Perspective by Todd Henson

Different focal lengths alter the perspective within the frame.

If you’re like me one of your first lenses was a zoom lens. These can be very useful and very convenient, giving you a lot of options in framing your shot. But you may have also fallen into one of the traps I did, lazily using a zoom lens to change the framing of the shot without thinking about how the different focal lengths affect the perspective within the frame.

Take a look at the photographs in this post. What they are intended to show is how different focal lengths alter the perspective within the frame. If we can learn this lesson zoom lenses become even more powerful tools, letting us more intentionally choose a focal length to alter how the image looks, how one element in the frame relates to another, instead of just choosing what to include and exclude from the frame.

Example: Wide Angle Focal Length

A wide angle focal length (22 mm) stretches out the perspective, pushing the foreground and background further apart.

Wide angle focal lengths, such as 22 mm, are often used to include more of the scene. But they also have a way of making an object that is close to the camera look very far away from an object in the distance. They stretch out the perspective.

Notice in the 22 mm image how small the distant waterfall is compared to the nearby waterfall.

Example: Normal Focal Length

A “normal” focal length (50 mm) more closely resembles the perspective our eyes see.

The 50 mm focal length has an effect very similar to what we see with our eyes. The perspective is very natural. That’s why focal lengths in this range are very popular for street photography.

Compare the 50 mm image to that of the 22 mm image. Notice how the waterfalls appear closer together in the 50 mm image. Also notice how the distant waterfall is larger than it was in the 22 mm image. The perspective is compressing.

Example: Telephoto Focal Length

A telephoto focal length (80 mm) compresses the scene, bringing the foreground and background closer together.

The 80 mm focal length is at the small end of the telephoto range. Telephoto focal lengths are often used to pick out details in a scene, allowing you to exclude non-essential elements and “zoom” in on the real subject. But they also allow us to compress the perspective.

Look closely at the 80 mm image. Notice how much closer together the waterfalls are when compared to the other images. Also notice the relative sizes of the waterfalls. They look close together and similar in size. This is the compression effect caused by a longer focal length.

Conclusion

Zoom lenses are great tools not only because they let us zoom in and out, quickly framing a shot, but because they include so many different focal lengths allowing us to alter the perspective within the image to suit our vision. Start thinking intentionally about how you want the scene to look.

Use focal lengths intentionally to create the perspective you envision.

Do you want your subject to look very large compared to the background? Then use a wide angle focal length and get close to your subject. This will make the subject look large in the frame and push the background further into the distance.

Do you want to make your subject look very close to the background, maybe a mountain or monument? Then use a telephoto focal length to compress the scene and make the background look much close to the subject.

Sometimes it’s very useful to zoom with your feet instead of with the zoom lens. Pick a focal length on the zoom lens to give you the desired perspective, then move with your feet to position yourself in the correct place to line up the subject with the background.

Now it’s your turn. Head out with a zoom lens, or with multiple prime lenses, and use the different focal lengths intentionally to alter the perspective within the image. Experiment, see what you can come up with, and have fun!


Eastern Box Turtle Along A Paved Path by Todd Henson

Eastern Box Turtle on pavement shot from ground level.

Any day I can photograph an Eastern Box Turtle is a good day. This particular turtle was along the side of a paved trail in a local wildlife refuge. It used to be a road, but is now just part of the trail system.

We found the box turtle stopped maybe 6 feet from the edge of the pavement. There were trees on either side, and a stream nearby that passed under the road. This was a perfect environment for the turtle.

To capture these images I used a long telephoto lens to help blur the background. I wanted to look right at the turtle, from its perspective, so I set aside the tripod and instead lay down on my stomach on the pavement with the camera in front of me resting on the ground.

Closeup of Eastern Box Turtle

Then I slowly crawled forward to get as close as I could but still capture the entire turtle in the frame. I moved in a little closer to capture the closeup image. I love the eyes on this turtle, all the colors and patterns.

One of these days when I find a turtle like this I want to stick around long enough for the turtle to get used to me and begin walking. But this part of the trail was somewhat busy and I didn’t want to attract too much attention to the turtle, or agitate it. So I moved on after capturing these images.

For another example of this technique check out my post about photographing a green frog where I show images shot from different perspectives. As with that photo, I think I could have stopped down the aperture a bit more to capture just a little more depth of field, putting more of the turtle in focus. I often gravitate to the wider apertures, which limit depth of field and create nice blurry backgrounds. But sometimes more depth of field can also be a good thing, even when shooting these animal portraits.



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7 Tips For Photographing Insects And Other Little Crawly Things by Todd Henson

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Photographing close-ups of insects, spiders, and other little creepy crawly slithery creatures can sometimes be a challenge. But with a little know how and lots of patience and practice it’s possible to create some really pleasing images. Below are 7 tips for creating more successful close-up images.

1. Move slowly to avoid startling the insect or creature. Some insects and creatures are very skittish and will move or flee if they see sudden movement around them.

2. Use a telephoto lens to give yourself working distance. This will also help avoid startling the creatures. The photo of the pair of familiar bluet damselflies was shot with a 105mm macro lens. Sometimes I use longer focal lengths, such as 200mm, 400mm, or more.

Pair of damselfly photographed with a 105mm macro lens.

3. Try to position the camera’s focal plane (effectively the back of the camera) parallel to the subject. This will help keep more of the subject in focus.  Telephoto and macro lenses tend to create shallower depth of field, so keeping the camera parallel to the subject assures as much of the subject as possible is within the acceptable depth of field. In the photo of the damselflies the camera was positioned parallel to the pair, allowing me to capture as much of them in focus as possible.

Notice how little of the snake is in focus. The camera is not parallel to the body of the snake.

Notice how much more of the snake is in focus now that the camera is parallel to the body of the snake.

4. Stop down the aperture (use larger f-stop numbers) to increase depth of field enough to capture as much of the insect in focus as you want. As mentioned, telephoto and macro lenses tend to create shallower depth of field, so stopping down helps increase the depth of field.  But watch your shutter speed as you stop down. If you stop down too much you’ll get a very slow shutter speed and risk a blurry photo.

This assassin bug was shot at f/3.5, a very wide open aperture, using my 105mm macro lens. Notice the very shallow depth of field. 

This time the assassin bug was shot at f/14, a much smaller aperture, again using my 105mm macro lens. Notice the much greater depth of field.

5. Increase the ISO, only if necessary, to get a fast enough shutter speed to capture a sharp image. If you increase the ISO too much you may see increased noise in the image, depending on your camera model. But a little extra noise is usually better than a blurry image.

6. Use a tripod, if possible, to help keep the camera steady. This will help create a sharp image, provided the shutter speed is fast enough to freeze any motion in the scene. In some cases it may be better to hand-hold, especially if the insect or creature is moving and you’re trying to track it.

7. Shoot in short bursts, especially if you’re unable to get the shutter speed fast enough, or are shooting hand-held. This can increase the chance of getting a sharp image. Sometimes one of the images in a burst will be sharper than the others. You can delete the others, if you don’t want them.

So grab your camera and give these techniques a try. Go out there looking for damselflies, snakes, or any other insect, creature, or flower you’d like, and create some beautiful images.