What you see will be affected by the focal length. Do you agree? What if I said that the focal length you choose will impact how your vision? This is a completely different story. Instead of talking about how focal distance affects how you see the world through the viewfinder, let me talk about how focal depth can impact how you view everything around you.
Different focal lengths will produce different fields of vision. Let’s say they “see” the same scene differently. Here’s an example.
This 20mm lens provides a wide view of San Francisco. This focal length can be used to show the vastness of the city, it can be very minimalist and it can also include dramatic skyscrapers that compliment the buildings.
Others might prefer the narrower view that I get with my 135mm lens. There are many reasons people might prefer this focal length to capture a scene such as this. You can isolate parts of the city or particular buildings; you don’t feel so far away from the scene. If you wish, you can fill almost the entire frame with buildings.
Photography isn’t perfect. One focal length might be preferred over the other, or both. There might be a different reason for your preference than those I have listed. You know what? It’s okay!
Let’s not forget the main point of the article. When I take a lens with longer focal lengths (105mm to 135mm or 200mm ) and go for a walk in a city or landscape, I will see very different things from if I am using a shorter focal length lens (14mm to 18mm, 24mm ). A longer focal length might allow me to look for details that are unique and can be used on their own. I don’t look at whole buildings or scenes anymore. I am looking at small bouquets of flowers, doorknobs and engravings, as well as tree trunks and neon signs.
I am looking for larger “big picture” scenes with a longer focal length. Because I know that small details will be lost in the image, they no longer interest my attention. Now, I am focusing on the sky, buildings and how it all fits together within the frame. Landscapes are what I am focusing on. I don’t care about small groups of flowers, but whole fields of flowers do.
Here’s my challenge for you. Limit your next outing to shooting for fun to one focal length. The focal length that you choose should be either telephoto or wide so you can see the world with a different perspective than usual. Use a zoom to see the world through one focal length.
You could also grab a macro lens, extension tube or a zoom lens to get in close contact with your subject. A simple garden can suddenly offer endless photo opportunities. Texture brings life to a city. Do you think you missed the bigger picture because of a longer focal length? A macro lens allows you to instantly find the perfect individual flower to photograph.
If you are used to using 35mm or 50mm focal lengths, this can be very helpful (and challenging). It can be difficult to get your brain out 50mm mode.
This is something I do from time to time. I am always amazed at the things I notice that I haven’t noticed before. You might be able to see things differently and even think differently.
Nasim, a San Francisco resident, brought with him the Tamron 15-30mm lenses. I was eager to give it a try. It was 15mm all the time, and it took me a while to realize how wide it actually is. As I waited to cross the street at a corner, a tall, stylish man approached me and began to check his phone. My brain immediately switched to 15mm mode, and I was able to capture the man, the city, and the overhead power lines that hang over major streets in SF. Even though he was only a few feet away, I was able quickly to capture this photo. It wouldn’t have been possible without a shorter focal length. This image is one that I am proud of. Not so much because it has the content or composition but more because I was capable to match the potential scene with the gear available and create an image in the camera that I originally envisioned in my mind.
If you do decide to go this route, you should only take one lens with you )…. Don’t be discouraged by the photos you didn’t get because you didn’t have the right focal length. It’s going to happen. Enjoy the change of perspective and enjoy the opportunity to see your world differently than you are used to. You’re likely to return with images that are different from what you were used to. Have fun shooting!