So whilst watching a course on DSLR lenses on Lynda.com like the studious media producer I (occasionally) am, I learnt something interesting about focal lengths and their relationship to image depth. The difference between taking a photo whilst standing physically close to an object and taking that same photo from a distance but zoomed in is remarkable.
Standing close, your focal length is smaller (or shorter? Forgive me if my technical jargon isn’t 100%) and so there is a greater sense of depth, allowing you capture a larger amount of the background. Standing further away and zoomed in, your focal length is larger/longer and so the image becomes compressed, making objects in the background appear closer.
To illustrate this, I enlisted the help of a small furry animal called Millie, who happens to live in my house:
As you can see from this effortlessly photogenic feline, close up the photo captures more of the background, whilst zoomed in the image looks more compressed with the background much closer. Personally I prefer the first photo, which accentuates the shape of her head, whereas the second gives her a bit of a Garfield aesthetic.
You can clearly see, however, that even though the photos are framed in a virtually identical way, their overall look is noticeably different. This can work the other way around as well. I took two photo’s of Millie’s brother, Ollie, again close-up and then further away:
This time the zoomed in picture looks better, that compression helping to clearly define his facial features. Granted, the first picture is from a slightly higher angle, but you get the point. This serves to show that there isn’t a set focal length which is best for everything, and that experimentation with different focal lengths can drastically affect the quality of your image.
Because I’m feeling particularly zealous today I’ve also included the comparison in GIF form. Anyone seen discussing the pronunciation in the comments will be blocked.