Remember the animation showing how focal length impacts the portrait? When you shoot with different focal lengths and your subject takes the same space in the frame, you’ll get a certain amount of distortion. As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons why camera “adds ten pounds”. In this video, Koldunov Brothers demonstrate how geometry of the face and body depends on the distance from the camera. So, what is it that looks so strange when shooting up close with a wide angle lens?
We’ve all seen the animations showing “how focal length affects your subject“. Whenever one gets posted, the smart ones chime in with “It’s nothing to do with your focal length, it’s all about subject distance”. And, they’re right. The confusion really all comes down to equivalent framing of the subject. If you stay where you are and just change focal length, nothing happens to the distortion in your subject’s face. They just get smaller or larger in the frame.
But, if you want to keep your subject the same size regardless of lens used, you have to move. With a longer lens you go further away. With a shorter one, you have to get closer. To illustrate this, the folks at Fstoppers have put a video together showing how the two work in combination with each other. The correlation between changing focal length and subject distance.
One of the “fun facts” I remember from my photography classes was that “wide-angle lenses are not for portraits”. Of course, you can always experiment and photograph people with wider focal lengths, but the truth is – it does make them seem a bit weird in the photos. This fun gif shows precisely how the change of focal length affects the face of a person you’re photographing.
I often get the feeling that photography is talked and written about as if its practitioners have an innate knowledge of the terms involved. Any craft or profession comes with its own specialist language, but if you’re new to it—and even if you’re not—you can often feel overwhelmed by the terminology, let alone the technicalities of the medium. Thinking back ‘hyperfocal distance’ is one of the terms that most baffled me.
You will most likely hear ‘hyperfocal distance’ mentioned in relation to landscape photography. It describes a mathematically calculated sweet-spot that, when you focus there, maximises the depth-of-field across your scene. For, while you might believe that using a small aperture and focusing at infinity would do the job, it doesn’t.
The fact that the depth of field varies depending on focal length seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Matt Granger however says that wide angle lenses don’t necessarily have a smaller depth of field when compared to longer telephoto lenses:
To understand any of this, you have to know what depth of field is: (Yes, this is very basic) Depth of field is basically the depth of your image that is in sharp focus, it is usually about 1/3 in front of your focus and 2/3 behind it.
In his video, Matt conducts a test to prove his point: He takes the same shot with the same framing and only changes the focal length and the position of the camera. The aperture was kept the same – f/2.8 – throughout the shoot. Of course when changing the focal length of your lens you’ll have to physically move the camera if you want your final result to have the same crop.
Here are the results:
When I was your age, we did not have zoom lenses, we used to zoom with our legs. Barefoot. In the snow.
So what is the effect of changing focal length vs. zooming with your legs?
Mike Browne has a great video explanation packed with examples on the impact that zooming vs walking has.
Basically it changed three things: Field of view, Depth of field and Perspective, as the vidoe so wonderfully demostrates.