Photographers have ever more creative choices at their disposal, thanks to a rapid evolution and sophistication of digital cameras. Ultimately this brings a variety of challenges and rewards with it. The decisively crucial element of composition however remains unchanged, and rests with the photographer to decide.
In my previous article we have primarily focused on selecting aperture and how the choice of varying f-stops can influence a photograph. We briefly also touched down upon the effect of choosing different focal length lenses.
In this article I wish to plant food for thought as to how working with and utilizing varying focal lengths lenses, “zoom” lenses, greatly influences the endless array of possibilities to compose a striking photograph.
The moment a photographer picks up a camera his or her vision is bombarded with images to capture, details to enhance, and spaces to harness. How a photographer chooses to capture an image is a crucial decision; often times driven by feeling rather than technical know-how, but one that allows for creativity and imagination. Careful consideration of focal length has the power to change the common place into the unique, transform the mundane into interesting, and turn the world around us into Fine Art.
Consider a photograph of a city skyline and the way a camera is able to manipulate space. A shorter camera lens, known as a wide angle zoom lens with a wider focal length of typically anywhere between 17-35 mm, offers the advantage of capturing an image that spans a large space. The effect is of a more panoramic nature, conveying the feeling as if one is within the picture too.
Any city dweller can appreciate a piece of fine art photography such as a cityscape, which portrays the power and beauty of architecture. This style of photography provides truly memorable images, but again, gives more of an overall, monumental perspective of the scene. If the photographer was to choose a camera lens with a focal length of 10 mm in the extreme, known also as a fisheye lens, the field of view would encompass close to a whopping 180°. For comparison, a 50 mm focal length comes closest to what the human eye perceives.
Choosing a wide angle zoom lens can also combat flat images by elongating areas. Think of a long hallway or a city street. Using a wide focal length when photographing images like these can create dimension. The photograph seems to stretch. The distance between subjects within the photograph can appear greater, exaggerated. If used judiciously it can portray an honest representation of space. If it is overdone however, it has the tendency to distort the true rendition of the subject matter. This also greatly hinges upon the quality of your camera lens.
The benefits of working with a wide focal length do not end there. It can be just as advantageous to use a wide focal length when photographing natural landscapes as it is when capturing cityscapes.
Photographing mountain ranges, rows of trees, or sunsets often calls for choosing a wide angle lens that is able to encompass a large area of space in a single picture. Nature becomes fine art when the vastness of its beauty is captured elegantly in a single photograph. Hanging a nature or landscape photograph on the walls of your home or office brings the immensity of nature a little bit closer.
Looking at the other side of the spectrum, camera lenses with a long and “narrow”, or high focal length of typically anywhere between 70-200 mm or even 300mm, offer their own set of advantages and greatly enhance a photographer’s arsenal of creative tools. Longer zoom lenses, normally known as telephoto zoom lenses, can control space in a different way than a short, or wide lens does. A subject matter that is physically far away from the photographer can be captured in the image as if it were being viewed close up when using a long lens. In this way, the dimensions of space do appear more compressed and “zoomed” in on, and the subject appears “magnified”. This becomes especially apparent in a photograph with two subjects, one far away and one close. The space between them may appear compressed, as if they are quite close to each other. The dimensions of space become the factors that creates interesting combinations of images. Artistic creativity makes the realm of space a fun place for photographers to play with.
Narrow focal lengths also provide the advantage of highlighting detail. Consider the image of a single leaf taken by a camera with a long lens. The leaf is no longer plain but instead, demands a viewer’s attention. The attributes of the leaf are magnified as the camera focuses on an increasingly small area. The landscape of the leaf is discovered as its colors come alive and the intricacies of its veins and edges stand out sharply. Fine Art photography of this nature makes one believe that if they were to touch the image they would feel the details so clearly defined in the photograph. Macro lenses typically possess a high focal length and are ideally suited for close up photography of this sort.
Narrow focal lengths also have the power to change how we view the landscapes around us. Detail that we don’t often notice can become the element within a photograph that catches our curiosity and ensnares our imagination. For instance, rocks or sanddunes photographed with a long lens take on a new identity as they are magnified by degrees. Their details captured intricately and at close range, can make them appear rather significant.
Stalks of grass or wheat become trees blowing in the wind. Small and fragile they may be in reality, but in a photograph created by using a narrow focal length, stalks can look like tree trunks reaching towards the sky. These types of photographs are otherworldly and can invoke emotions of mystery and tranquility. Making use of space and proximity to magnify detail is a fine art and photography that captures and combines these elements can make a unique and interesting addition to any walls in a room, home or office.
Fine Art photography requires creativity and experimentation, and with a considerable arsenal of tools available to a photographer, consisting of hardware and software, lenses with different focal lengths are just one aspect of these tools. The reduction or expansion as to what a photographer wants to fit in the frame of the viewfinder or the display monitor of the camera can be easily achieved using different focal lenses. Space manipulation and image magnification can make a photograph come alive and transform the way we view the world around us. My next article will touch further down upon the crucial subject of composition, one of the most important factors that determines the power of a photograph.
If in the meantime you wish to find out more about how to improve the various aspects of your photography skills, and to receive immediate feedback on your photographs, consider my affordable one on one photography consultation.
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Marian Kraus Photography is a Chicago area based professional architectural photographer, multi media artist and fine art photographer who has been consistently delivering compelling architectural photography to clients including architects, advertising agencies, home builders, corporations, real estate companies and the like since 1999. Additionally, Marian Kraus Photography’ s nature and architecture fine art photographs can be found in a growing number of corporate and private art collections.
Great resources when it comes to camera and lens information and reviews are: Nikon, Leica, Canon, Calumet Photographic, B & H, dpreview.com, cameralabs.com and an endless stream of many, many others…