Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Exercise – Focal lengths

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Brief:

Choose a view that is open and at the same time has some details in the distance in the middle of the frame. Take a sequence of photographs from the same viewpoint at different focal lengths by zooming and/or changing lenses.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS USM lens, EF 80-200mm f/4.0 lens, tripod.

Method:

I chose the war memorial in Nice and set up my tripod on a plinth at the opposite side of the road to take in the entire monument in the wide angle shot. Then I proceeded to first zoom in and then change lens to follow the brief.

Results:

The first shot was at the widest my lens could go, namely 24mm (actually 24mm equivalent; as the camera body has a crop factor of 1.6x). Here you can see the entire monument in context, built into the rocky hillside.

24 mm

24mm

Zooming in to a focal length of 35mm, some of the distraction (e.g. the road) is removed to focus more of the monument itself.

35 mm

35mm

At 50 mm the framing starts to go slightly off as I’ve cut off the top and bottom of the monument.

50 mm

50mm

Zoomed to 70mm the balance is a little better, as I am clearly focusing on the central part of the monument and the framing looks more deliberate.

70 mm

70mm

At 105mm I hit the limits of my main lens. This is the first shot without the context of the rocks around the monument and so focuses on the monument in isolation, a subtle but significant framing difference.

105 mm

105mm

I switched to my longer telephoto lens at this point. At 135mm the wording at the top of the monument is becoming legible, yet the dome is still visible so you still get a good feel for the shape.

135 mm

135mm

The full extent of my zoom range. At 200mm the image focuses much more on the top segment of the monument and the place names inscribed. This gives a very different feel to the picture than the wide shots with the full monument in frame.

200 mm

200mm

As a comparison, and as suggested in the brief, I took a crop of the widest shot (24mm) in the centre of the frame to compare it to the longest focal length shot (200 mm). As expected, the content of the frames are the same – albeit the lighting and sharpness are different.

24 mm centre crop

24mm centre crop

What I’ve learned:

I’ve picked up two clear lessons from this exercise. Firstly, the obvious one that changing your focal length will narrow or widen the view that you can fit in the frame. Secondly, that choosing a focal length can also mean choosing what you include and exclude in the frame, which in turn can have an effect on the message you wish to get across, and the response you are aiming to elicit from the viewer.

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