Shoot like a Pro

Creative use of focal length

Written by Gail Bjork

Focal length selection can be used creatively when composing a shot, beyond simply getting more or less of a scene into the frame. The focal length you choose plays an important role in composition and the “feel” of an image.

Varying focal lengths of DSLR lense

Varying focal lengths of DSLR lens

Compact digital camera zoom lens
Compact digital camera zoom lens

Focal length indicates whether a lens is wide angle, telephoto or anywhere in between.

Generally speaking, using wide angle is ideal for shooting scenes such as landscapes and cityscapes, group photos and room interiors. For portraits, a mid-range focal length is a good choice. Long telephoto lengths are ideal for photographing wildlife and distant subjects.

Focal length as a creative tool

Focal length selection can be used creatively when composing a shot, beyond simply getting more or less of a scene into the frame. The focal length you choose plays an important role in composition and the “feel” of an image.

Wide angle effectively exaggerates distance and shrinks distant subjects. Telephoto compresses distance without shrinking distant subjects.

Selecting a focal length to achieve the effect you want can be just as important as selecting the right aperture and shutter speed. Focal length can also be used to vary the emphasis on an object/subject.

Natural history photographer Deb Tappan contributed to this article.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.