Focal Length Explained 1 – Don’t just zoom – MOVE!

Focal Length Explained 1 – Don’t just zoom – MOVE!

Quite often when you go out shooting
with your camera you’ll probably see a scene that you think’s interesting; frame
it up a bit and then zoom around with your zoom to try and get the composition
that you want, but there is a much better way of doing things than this. If you
consider your zoom as a selection of prime lenses, by prime lenses I mean
lenses which can’t zoom, they have fixed focal lengths like 18, 40, 50, 90, 150 whatever it may be. If you use a prime lens you can’t zoom
so you have to move yourself backwards and forwards in order to frame the shot
that you want. When you start controlling your focal length you can control what
the picture looks like, what’s in it and what isn’t, but how do you know which
focal length you’re going to need for which shot that you’re going to take? I’m
going to show you but to do so I’m going to need a nice, friendly, helpful
assistant called Natasha. Hello Nat! This is Jane’s daughter Natasha and
she’s kind of… well I guess I’m your evil stepdad am I that bad?
– Ahhh I can put up with you Mike Ah she’s sweet! Right Nat, could you come and stand here for a moment, go that way
a little bit, there we go – perfect. supposing Natasha and I were standing in our own the garden or something rather than in the street which is a little odd,
I might just think ‘Ah there’s Nat, that would make a nice picture’ stand there and zoom
around and just sort of zoom in and out like that and take a picture and it’s
going to be okay, but I could get a better result if I chose the focal
length for the shot. I’m going to show you a little exercise here which I would
like you to repeat afterwards. What I’m going to do is take the same picture of
Natasha over and over again but at different focal lengths, so you can see
what happens to the environment around her. Now this is going to involve a bit of
lens changing and fiddling around so you may have to bear with me for a minute.
Nat can we go over here? The reason I’ve chosen in the middle of a street is
because you need somewhere which has got sides that go off into the distance and
that has an end behind. Now it’s really important when you compose your shot that you compose it exactly the same each time, so I’m going to give Natasha probably about
a hands width of sky above her head, that’s going to be the very top of the
picture and the bottom of the picture is going to be this seam at the top of
her dress – that will be at the bottom of the frame each time. So first off 10
millimeters, now I’ve got to get right into your personal space here Nat to get the
seam at the top of your dress and only a handful of sky there it is – oop no – there it is – perfect. Now zoom the lens, I’m going to double it to 20 millimeters and do the same thing.
Now that’s made Nat come closer so I’ve got to move back a bit and that’s
only subtle – there it is. All right now we’re going to a longer
lens, from 20 millimeters (camera straps drive me me on the bend)
let’s go to 35 millimeters. So frame the same shot, now I have to move back
because the lens has got longer – again handbreadth of sky, seam on the dress,
excellent. Let’s double that, let’s go out to 70 millimeters so again, she’s
really filling the frame now because it zoomed on to her, so I move back a
bit and very carefully line up – this is a great exercise – oh you blinked, don’t blink!
Right, there we go. Now we want to go out further. I’m gonna
have to change the lens because the next set of focal lengths go out a long way.
We’re going to go from 10 millimeters right out of 500 that means I’m going to
use a whopper of a lens. Even if you don’t have lenses this kind of focal
length, please go and repeat this exercise because it really will help you
understand what on earth it is I’m talking about. Now with the last one at
70 I’m to do the next one at 150, so I’ve set the zoom on the lens I’m not going to
zoom in and out I’m going to frame the shot up with Natasha. Oh look that wasn’t
a bad guess, I’m actually going to go a little bit closer, here we go… train your
eye to look around the viewfinder to line up these gaps like the the bottom
of the dress and the hand breadth of sky. Let’s zoom then on out to 250. Again
Natasha will have come closer in the lens so I’ve got to move back to get the
same shot. Here we go, line up the elements, the gap at the top
and the seam on the dress and then finally we’re going to go all the way out from
250 to 500 millimeters so I’m moving back again. The environment behind
Natasha is changing with each of these shots and this one I promise, you would
never know we were standing in a street… but there’s a lot of fiddling to
get this right – still too close – there it is Good stuff. Nat! Come and have a look So beginning at 10 millimeters, here we go.
Here you are at 10 millimeters. yeah you see how it’s pulled Natasha’s face forward? But look
I’ve got the bottom of the picture as the seam of the dress, the top of the
picture but a handbreadth of sky. As we move on from 10 to 20, see how it’s
changed? Natasha has got a more normal shape. Also look, the cars and
the houses jump forward as we flick between them. Moving on out from there I
think we went to 50 which is a much more normal looking Natasha.
As we move on through – oop we want the other camera as we’re now out to 100 or
so. You see how everything’s starting to take a step forward
each time we extend the focal length until now you don’t know you’re in a
street, and we get to the very last shot there’s no hint of a house or anything.
We’ve just got a clear grey background which is actually the tarmac of the
streets as it goes off up the hill in the distance. This is all you need to do, it
doesn’t matter what you practice this with. If you don’t have a Natasha to take
into the street just put your camera bag on a table in the park or something like
that and take the same shot over and over again, changing the focal length and
moving back so that you get the idea of what’s going on
to the environment and then look at all the pictures one after the other.
This isn’t just the realm of a digital SLR you could do the same thing with a
little compact camera anything that has a zoom on it. If you’re cycling along the sea wall you might not want to carry a monster like that.
Natasha would you mind? We’re going to do a very brief one. Here you go, over
there a bit. If I set the zoom to its widest take the same picture of Natasha getting
right into her personal space, good stuff Nat, and then zoom it to it’s
longest zoom, do the same thing move back. You know if you’re at a party and just got a little camera and you think ‘Oh I’ll take a picture…’ There we go, as you can see the
two are very, very different. Don’t just think I’m going to go and try this in
the morning. Once you start treating your zoom lens as a series of prime lenses
and moving yourself around not being lazy, you’ll really set loose the magic
of your camera and your photography. Don’t leave it, get out there right this
minute! Go and try this.

100 thoughts on “Focal Length Explained 1 – Don’t just zoom – MOVE!”

  1. I am using 35mm f1.8 nikor prime lens, n while taking full body shot, iam not able to get blur background, as compared to the face only, although the aperture is widest on both cases. Any tips on this regard?

  2. I had no idea that focal length does this… the whole bokeh thing?…i s that what its called?… so I am confused tho… doesnt aperture manipulate this affect to?… so if i want bokeh, I can mess with focal length AND aperture?

  3. mr. brown i have question. If you have shorter mm lens, you get shorter depth of field like your focus will be sharper including the background? other words we need to find the mm distance from the subject in order to get the sharper image. it that what it is? other question i want to understand, why you get blurred image on your digital camera when you use its maximun zoom but the focal length is there. however, the focus is gone. just want to understand my confusion

  4. forgive me if this is a dumb question, but can’t the 10mm and so on make the background just as blurry so long as the aperture number is small? 1.2 1.4 etc. i have the 50mm at 1.8

  5. I am a total photography noob, but wouldn't there be a similar affect if the photographer simple change the aperture setting? I'd love for someone to explain for me the pros and cons of each method

  6. OR for the most people who want be able to take close up of family and others – get a short telephoto lens eq 75-100 mm fullformat. You get a better performance corner to corner from different distance on all apertures and a bigger aperture as well so you can get the same short depth of field without need to get a cab to the other sida of the park as with a 500 mm 😂
    Get a 35 mm eq for wideangle photos with natural perspective view.
    Learn to master this 2 lenses for every day photos and it will be worth the effort. Get rid of normal zoom. Compact and lightweight to travel with.
    If you know by yourself that you will not want to change lenses – than consider a nifty fifty eq and learn to master that lens.
    A superwideangle is for landscape and others when you want that dramatic effect and super telephoto for acitiviteis, sports and wildlife when you need to get pictures from greater distance.
    But first learn to master the two primelenses 35 and 75-100 or the 50 eq. When you get the DNA of this Focal length you will get the right distance at once so you don't need to move. And you will be faster make your composition and to get to the shoot.
    Regards Magnus

  7. Get out right now and try this… It's currently 2:45am, I hope you don't mind me trying this tomorrow.

  8. Dear Mike. Thank you for such a lucid explanation of propoer use of focal length. Recently I bought a full frame camera body (Nikon D750). For lens I am thinking of buying a 24-70mm f2.8. Will it be suitable for all kind of portraits (full body to close head shot)? Or shall I stick to my Nikkor 50mm f1.8 G lens? Or shall I go for another prime lens 85mm f1.8 G? Is 50 mm good for all kind of portraits? How much can I go backwards to get full body without any distortion or how much can I come forward to get a head shot without any distortion? Sorry to bother you with such a long question. Thanks once again.

  9. Nicely done, thanks for the advice. Rather than provide recommendations for a specific recipe, you encourage us to give it a try to see what we like. Since we'd be using our own kit for this, all the variables of aperture would be addressed by experimentation. I'm a proponent that its not the focal length that is magic, it's the distance to the subject that affects the distortion. Of course, when framing the shot identically, the two are interlinked.

  10. Thank you for this video. I have been trying to get pictures of car with a blurry background for 2 weeks. I was trying to get the minimum f number as possible, so I was getting closer and closer to the car with no improvement. So now I was shopping for lenses with faster apertures… but from your video it looks like what I really need is lens with a long focal length (my highest is 150mm).

  11. OMG never realised how different focal lengths affect my images until I tried your tip (I'm a newbie). Many thxs

  12. Watched this video when it first came out, it just popped up on my side bar, so I watched it again. This video has not lost anything, good pace, good explanation and demonstration what focal lengths do. Good work Mike!

  13. Thanks, Mike. I was actually expecting some technical mathematical stuff but there was none of it. Guess I'll just have to go out side and practice like you said 7 years ago.

  14. In 2019 i found your video extremely useful. I'm noobie in dslr. I want to learn more about photography with dslr. Help me sir

  15. – Oh I'm a Nat photographer
    – National geographic!!!? Wow!
    – No, the model's name is Natasha, we call her Nat for short.
    – Oh!

  16. This is super helpful Mike!
    And Natasha was so smart and Beautiful a model.
    I have a humble request though – can u also mention the camera body u were using? Here u were using D300, not sure about the other.

  17. Keyword here is "perspective". Focal length changes the perspective.

    You should have compensated the apperture number (increase it) as you increase the focal length to highlight how it changes the perspective (by getting rid of the boleh).

  18. Thank you very much, it really have me an idea how it works, what is your preferred distance for portraits for optimum background blur.

  19. The photographer needs to do physical exercise in a regular basis. He's panting like a steam engine! My goodness!

  20. I like prime lens better, sometime 50mm is difficult to get the right shot as you have to move back a lot for a full length body shot …

  21. This video was uploaded in 2012 yet i didn't noticed it untill i red the comment after watching it…Nice dude i am a absolute biggner cant thank you enough for this video

  22. I thought only in this part of the planet old ladies stay at their doors and watch what is going on, but now I see it happens everywhere. 🙂

  23. Proceeds to take a portrait shot of Natasha…
    … completely ignores the standard 50mm focal length which is meant for portraits


  24. Thank you for this video. I worry that I have the wrong lenses for the type of shots I hope to take but this explanation helps me. I’m limited in my mobility so I often don’t get the shots I’m trying to get. I know what I’m trying to get, but just don’t have the knowledge yet. Subscribing for more info.

  25. Great video. I see the differences in the vocal lengths, but which did you consider the best focal length for that photo? Thanks, this is all new to me.

  26. Thank you for this,now i actually understand this topic :-D.Nice work from you and a very good job from Natasha too :-).

  27. At 1:15 when she walked into the full shot I almost lost it lmao. I thought this video must be from 2011-2013, cause let me tell you. I had an ex that wore that same outfit out one night sophomore year of college 😂

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