You can change a photograph quite a bit by just changing the focal length of the lens used to shoot it. Have you ever watched a movie that had a scene shot on a hilly road and it seemed like the hills were right on top of each other? Or maybe it’s a straight, flat road and the car at the far end takes a long time to cover what looks like a short distance? Well, that is because in these two instances the scenes were shot with a telephoto lens which compressed the distance between near and far.
You may have also seen the opposite – someone gets out of their car in the parking lot, turns towards the store and the store seems to move away from them. This is caused by zooming the lens to a wide-angle during shooting. Where the telephoto compresses distance, using a wide angle exaggerates the distance between two objects.
I was hiking through Shark River Park and ended up on the Cedar Trail/ Fitness Trail. When I got to Fitness Station #9 I saw the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the effect focal length has on perspective. Ahead of me was a small dip in the trail and then a hill. The mid-point of the curve at the top of the hill is approximately 350 feet away — about a football field, including end zones.
The first image was shot with a focal length of 18mm. Then, without moving, I took shots at 37mm, 67mm and 135mm. You can see that there is a dramatic difference between the first and last shot. If you look at the thin cedar tree along the right side of the last image and then find it in the other’s photos you will see how it appears to be moving away from the hill as the lens get wider — I marked the tree with a small, orange circle in Photoshop. Imagine the difference if I started with a super-wide and ended with a super-telephoto.
Perspective #1: 1/125 @ f/5.6 – 18mm
Perspective #2: 1/100 @ f/5.6 – 37mm
You can use perspective along with depth of field to add impact to your photos. Try this – get a friend to go outside with you to do some portraits. You want to have something in the background – trees, buildings, etc…. Shoot with a variety of focal lengths and apertures – go from wide-angle to telephoto and wide open to full stop down – and see what you get. My guess is that you will find the telephoto shots with a wide-to-moderate aperture are the most pleasing. This is because you are compressing the distance between the subject and background while throwing the background well out of focus.
Perspective #3: 1/100 @ f/5.6 – 67mm
Perspective #4: 1/80 @ f/5.6 – 135mm
All images were shot with a Canon Rebel T3i and Canon 18mm-135mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, ISO 100
All photos by Joe Valencia. Follow him on Instagram.