Focal Length Comparison By Photo Examples – Which Camera Lens Is Right For You

Focal Length Comparison

Instagram’s popularity has fueled growth in photo tourism. Lots of people are seeking those most instagrammable places in the world to take a shot and hope for it to become viral on IG. Very often the actual locations look a bit different from what we see in the photos. Sometimes it is the way the picture was edited in Lightroom or how a creative mind made changes in Photoshop. However a camera lens you choose to take a shot with can equally affect the final result. In this post I would like to show you how the focal length selection can make significant difference in your photography. 

What is focal length?

During my latest trip to Valley of Fire, I took a series of photos with different prime camera lenses to show you how the scene can change while the main subject of the photo stays roughly the same. To understand better why results vary, it’s important to learn what focal length represents. In technical jargon, focal length (typically quoted in millimeters) is an optical distance from the point where light rays converge to the digital sensor in the camera. In layman terms, focal length tells us how much of the scene will be captured (angle of view) and how large the subjects in the photo will be (magnification). The longer focal length means narrower angle of view and larger magnification. The shorter focal length does just the opposite: wider angle of view and smaller magnification.

Making the comparison work

In order to best see the effects of the concepts described above, you have to choose a subject in your composition (usually another person) and keep his/her size in the composition constant.  It will give you a great point of reference to how everything changes around your subject. Ask your significant other, friend or a model to choose a spot. Then as you increase your focal length, you move back enough to ensure that the person is roughly the same size. If you can turn on gridlines in your viewfinder, then it can be helpful to gauge how much you have to move. 

What to look out for

To observe the effect of magnification, focus your attention on the mountain at the end of the road and to appreciate the widening angle of view, turn your attention to the sides of the road. Which scene is your favorite? Wide angle of view can be useful in very tight spaces, while the magnification can highlight some very interesting features in your composition that are at a distance and could be easily missed.

Extreme example of focal length effect

Have you ever wondered how photographers get supersized moon in a photo that looks so beautiful but almost unnatural compared to the surroundings? It’s the magnification effect discussed above achieved with a telephoto camera lens (usually 300mm to 1200mm) and helped by a significant distance of the moon to your foreground.  At the very bottom of the post you can see how I was able exaggerate the magnification of the mountain in a different composition using 150mm lens. 

Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas, Nevada

Like how I edited this photo?! Click here to check out my Lightroom presets!

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