Choose the Right Focal Length

The focal length of the lens you select and the aperture you shoot at also affects the look of your photograph.

For you techies, I realize that the size of the digital sensor can change the true results of our lenses. I explain focal length multiplier in my article “Getting Familiar with the Settings on your Camera for Better Image Control.” But for now, let’s keep it simple.

A standard 50mm lens that comes with most cameras sees like your eye does.  It sees a similar field of view of about 50-55 degrees.  It is the most natural look because it is like our eyes, but I find it so boring that I do not own a prime lens like this.

A wider angle lens, less than 50 mm, is going to see a wider view that your own eye can normally see. This is helpful when you want to record scenery. This makes for a great vacation lens.  Do be careful when using it for portrait work as you may get distortion. When working at a wide open f-stop you will need to be more careful on how you focus.

A telephoto lens, over 50mm, is going to have a tighter view and magnify the subject.  I think portraits look better this way.  The larger the number, the more magnification it has.

A macro lens is for getting close-ups of small items like flowers, insects, or other details. Use a tripod for best results and eliminate the blur that easily occurs from being at such close range.

In this example of Lightning the cat, you can see the difference of three different focal lengths.

The same lenses are used in the garden example. You may also notice that the background is softer, not as in focus, with the 105mm lens as the 28mm lens.

The aperture you select will also determine the look of your photograph. A large f stop number like f16 will have a greater depth of field than a small f stop number like f4.

The shutter speed you use also plays a part in the final look of the image. A faster shutter speed will stop motion and a slower shutter speed can show some blur.

This is part four of an eight part series from an article  called “Everyday Images Made Extraordinary” that I wrote for a division of Gordon Photography & Gallery dedicated to mentoring other professional photographers who wish to learn more about the business of photography.

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