How to pick the perfect focal length for your photos

Mar 6, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to pick the perfect focal length for your photos

Mar 6, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Picking a lens to use for certain situations, especially as a beginner, can be a daunting task. Yet, it’s one of the most important choices you can make when it comes to creating a photograph. Different focal lengths, and the distances they may require you to be from your subject, can have a massive impact on how the image looks and the mood and feeling it gives off.

In this video, Dave Paul at The Camera Store TV walks us through the entire process of picking a lens. He begins with the fundamentals of what focal length even is, then taking us through how it affects the various aspects of your shot and composition. Dave uses the full-frame Sony E mount system as his base, but the same principles apply to any camera system. The numbers are a little different for non-full-frame formats, though.

[Related reading: The definitive guide to focal length, perspective, and why “zooming with your feet” is nonsense]

One thing that many people don’t seem to figure out right away is that there’s a lot more to choosing focal length than just picking whatever lets you get your subject in the frame. The distance you might need to be away from your subject affects the perspective of your subject. Shooting from a distance with a longer lens, for example, can help to isolate your subject from its environment. On the other hand, shooting more closely to your subject with a shorter focal length can provide environmental context that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

There are creative implications as well as the practical limits of using certain focal lengths for certain subjects. While any lens could hypothetically photograph your subject, intentionally picking one focal length over another allows you to impart some creative flare onto the image. This gives you a lot more control over the overall composition and framing of your subject and its environment to give it a different feeling and add your own creative flair.

While there are a lot of explanations and tips in this video, the one thing you’ll know by the end of it is that no focal length is limited to a particular genre or type of photography. Just because a lens is marketed as a “portrait lens” doesn’t mean it can only shoot portraits. It also doesn’t mean that you can only shoot portraits with lenses of that focal length!

If you’re unsure which lens to buy as your first or your next lens, watch the video above. It won’t tell you exactly which one to get, but it will give you the information to help you figure it out yourself!

What’s your favourite focal length? What subjects do you shoot with it?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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