Aspicus and the Art of Photography

From Snapper to Shooter (hopefully)

Project 10

Focal lengths and different viewpoints

What: The aim of this project is to investigate the impact on an image of shooting at wide-angle or at tele-photo focal lengths.
Where: A sycamore seed ornament in RHS Wisley, Surrey
When: Mid afternoon in mid April.  The weather was nice and bright at the time of shooting.
Why: I was taking photos related to a few TAOP projects on an afternoon milling about Wisley.  This project was on the list.  I decided to use the sycamore leaf ornament as the subject for this project as I thought the two paths to either side would make the impact of using a wide-angle/telephoto very clear.
How: Camera settings were manual.  Focal length of course varied.  I shot at an aperture of 8 to try and keep some of the background in focus to observe any differences.  ISO was set to 200.  I had to adjust the shutter speed quite dramatically between sheets.  I;m not sure if this was because of a slight change in conditions (I didn’t notice any dramatic changes at the time) or whether it is some sort of impact of using a wider-angled focal length.  All shots were taken in RAW with no additional software processing beyond converting to JPG.

The images

Telephoto shot:

Focal length 210mm, Shutter speed 1/80sec

Wide-angle shot:

Focal length 22mm, Shutter speed 1/200sec


A quick glance at the two images is enough to illustrate the huge differences.  The key difference is in the background.  In the telephoto version, the background features directly in line with the subject and the camera are enlarged dramatically when compared to the wide-angle version (look at for example the bush immediately behind the ornament).  Similarly, the edges of the telephoto version have effectively been cropped (no daffodils down the edges of the telephoto version for example).  The lines towards the edges of the telephoto version are also much more parallel with the edge of the frame (i.e. are a lot more vertical) than in the wide-angled version – see for example the angle of the paths.  In the wide-angle version these are very stark diagonals – in the telephoto less so.  Finally, this compression of the scene happens both in the vertical and horizontal axes.  Observe for example how much more sky is in the wide-angled version, or how you can see the ground between the ornament and the tree behind it – it is difficult at a glance to even notice this tree in the telephoto version.

Therefore it appears as though the higher the focal length, the more focus there is in the image on the centre of the scene, and the flatter the image will appear. The lower the focal length (i.e. the wider the angle) then more of the scene will be included in the final image, and therefore the more detail across the board will be included.  Therefore telephoto angles seem more suitable for images where the subject (and the background immediately behind it) is the absolute focus the photographer wants to impart, whereas the wider-angle there is much more balance between the subject and the background – both are important and are shown to the viewer, and the more the sense of depth is.

Also, as noted in my intro to this project, the colours in the wide-angle version appear a lot richer than in the telephoto version.  This may of course be due to changing conditions, however I will need to check to see if this is not also a factor between the two versions.

Of the two images above, the wide-angle version is undoubtedly my favourite.  Given the added depth to the scene, and the greater sense of perspective (towards a vanishing point), the ornament appears much more prominent than in the telephoto scene – it seems much larger.  I think this is due to the mixture of backgrounds in the wide-angled scene – there is sky behind the ornament, there are some bushes, there is grass etc.  In the telephoto version there is a mass of bushes and that is about it.  Ironically enough, this starker contrast between the subject and its background makes the ornament appear much more prominent in the wide-angle version.  I also prefer the way the strong diagonals of the paths draw you in to the photo.  The telephoto version appears much more flat in comparison.

Further Questions

1. Does the focal length have an impact on the saturation of the colours appearing in an image, or is the difference above just due to an unnoticed change in conditions.

2. The wide-angle version above appears so much better to me than the telephoto version.  I would be interested in digging out an example of a pair of images where the telephoto version appears far superior to the wide-angle version.  Is telephoto purely good for drawing out detail, or is there something else too?

What I’ve Learned

I found this a very useful project.  Before I was using zoom as just an alternative to me moving towards/further away from the subject.  The project shows that this is a huge mistake and that focal length is an integral component of composition and how the image will turn out.  I must get into the habit (another one!) of thinking about whether I want a wide-angled shot (and what it entails) or a zoomed shot and move myself into position (if possible).  I’ve also learned that I want a dedicated wide-angle lens.  Guess I better get saving!


13 April 2009 - Posted by | Projects

1 Comment »

  1. Excellent choice of subject for this project: the point is illustrated perfectly, with interesting images.

    Comment by emma | 15 April 2009 | Reply

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