Photography Composition: Perspective & Angle

Using wide and telephoto lenses can give you a completely different type of composition. There are a few key concepts that you will need to understand. One is the term focal length, which technically is the distance in millimeters between your camera sensor and your lens’s optical center, where in the lens the light converges to create a sharp image, when the camera is focused on a subject at infinity, way off in the distance. The lower the focal length number, the wider will be the image, or the wider will be the lenses, the higher the number, the more zoomed in, or telephoto you’ll be.

A zoom lens can shoot at multiple focal lengths, for example, going from 24mm to 70mm. A prime lens is one that is fixed at one specific focal length. In general, lenses that are less than 35mm are considered wide angle lenses. Anything more than 70mm can be considered telephoto. 70-300mm is considered a medium telephoto and anything over 300mm is called super telephoto. It doesn’t matter if it is a prime or zoom lens, this are still considered telephoto lenses.

Choosing a wide lens is a great idea for photographing wide expenses and landscapes. While telephoto lenses are great for detail and close shoots. Even with a wide lens, though, you can get very close to an object and get that close-up detailed shoot. And similarly, you can use a telephoto shoot to get great landscapes. But there will be a difference between the two close-ups, one with the telephoto and one with a wide lens, and that is perspective, another key concept.

Perspective is having nearby objects appear larger, while distance objects, look smaller. This is natural when you are looking out in the distance, whatever is far away will look smaller then what is closer to you. But depending on the type of lens you use, this can change. Using a wide-angle lens, close-up subjects, are actually bigger and seem more distant compared to the ones in the background, this effect is called exaggerated perspective. A telephoto lens has a compressed perspective, where objects look closer together and the distance between them is harder to distinguish. With the wide lens, everything in the background is very small, which creates more distance to the subject. But in the telephoto shoot everything is more compressed, and it looks a little bit bigger making the difference of sizes less extreme. Switching between these lenses is more than getting a close shoot.

The last concept in this lesson is angle, not meaning in the sense of how wide but of where you are shooting from. Are you shooting standing up with the camera at eye level? Are you crouch down shooting low to the ground? Are you at the top of the building looking down? Most beginner photographers take 99% of their photos with the camera at eye level. A quick way to get more creative shots is to change your position and angle, try to see the world from a new angle and capture it, get down low to the floor or get up high and shoot down.

Watch the Video Lesson:

Lesson 22: Choosing the right background