Focal lengths

Focal lengths – for cameras with variable focal lengths

(with a zoom or interchangeable lens)


For this exercise I was asked to take a series of images to demonstrate the effects of changing focal lengths and framing different parts of a scene successfully. I chose a landscape of rape-seed and freshly ploughed fields with a farmhouse in the distance. I shot six images with focal lengths ranging from 29mm – 300mm using Nikkor lenses and a Nikon D300.

I chose this scene because of the bright colours, the contrast and the variety of textures that could be used in framing the following images.

Image 1

I started with a vertically framed image shot at 29mm using the farmhouse as the subject and good strong lead-in lines from the edges of the field and the plough lines. The texture from the ploughed field adds some foreground interest and helps to balance the picture.

Image 2

The next image was shot at horizontal orientation with a focal length of 60mm and has included some of the far right of the landscape. I tried to include this part of the scene in the image as I thought the telephone wires would provide good lead-in lines to the subject in the absence of the rape-seed field on the left. Everything appears slightly closer in this image resulting in a flatter form. Over-all, the image is not composed as well as ‘Image 1’.

Image 3

I chose an 82mm focal length, decided to go back to the left a little and bring the rape-seed back in to include some colour and a better composition – the tree to the left has also helped to do this. The subject in each image appears much closer with every shot.

Image 4

Another horizontally orientated image shot at 116mm. You can really start to see some detail in the brickwork and the roof on the farmhouse and the building in the background has become clearer. Less of the sky is included in this image to create more visible plains, therefore, more depth.

Image 5

At 200mm, I decided to change the orientation to vertical to make the composition healthier. The dominant subject has been the farmhouse throughout but now the steel building in the background is starting to play an important role as it slowly starts creeping towards the farmhouse – this is a neat little trick performed by the lens when using larger focal lengths. The horizon is starting to look a little hazy and everything is starting to look very flat and compressed.


Image 6

This final image was shot at 300mm using the rule-of-thirds as a guideline to achieve a better composition. With this in mind, I eradicated the farmhouse which I believe was a critical error. The exercise objective would have been better demonstrated with the use of the farmhouse as the compression would have been slightly more apparent. You can clearly see the difference between ‘Image 1’ and this image in that it is much more compressed – every plain appears to be quite close and the depth-of-field seems to have become much broader although the aperture has remained the same.



The more you zoom in, the closer an object appears. That’s the obvious dealt with! More importantly, things that are further away appear closer, not only to the camera, but also to the subject as larger focal lengths compress plains. The term wide-angle applies to a focal length that is wider than the human eye (approximately 50mm) which means something has to give in order to get the entire scene in. If you look at a fish-eye lens as the other extreme, everything looks convex, dragging the edges of the image in to the centre. This makes everything look further away except the subject which looks like it is right in front of the camera when it is not.

This aside, I found myself really trying to think about the composition of the scene as I did not have much in the way of subject matter or important compositional elements, this has forced me to make important compositional elements from what is provided. I have learned that often you can achieve many photographs from the same scene and to take my time and take everything that I can from the subject matter.


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