Choose the best focal length for a shot

Changing your focal length can create drastically different takes on the same close-up shot. Follow this guide to find out more.

One of the greatest attributes of photography is the ability to show the world around us in ways that we donít normally see it. Wide-angle lenses create a sense of place by taking in more than the human eye can normally see.

One of the greatest attributes of photography is the ability to show the world around us in ways that we don’t normally see it.

Wide-angle lenses create a sense of place by taking in more than the human eye can normally see. Telephoto lenses also have an ability to reach out and extract a small slice of a distant subject due to their narrower field of view and, in turn, theyre good at eliminating clutter. Dedicated macro lenses can get you closer and reveal detail that would otherwise go unseen.

While macro lenses might be the first choice for committed close-up photography, both wide angles and telephotos can produce dramatic results. The optical characteristics of a wide-angle lens ( 7mm-40mm), whether you intend shooting close-ups or open vistas, include an incredible field of view, perspective and distortion effects. Theyre useful for showing a subject in close-up while placing it in context with its surroundings.

A telephoto lens gives you both a narrower field of view and allows for extra space to set up additional equipment. They can produce soft, diffused foregrounds and backgrounds, which are perfect for plant portraits. Wide-angle and medium telephoto (70mm-300mm) zooms let you compose innumerable images from a static position.

24mm

When used for close-up work, ultra-wide angle lenses can distort the view unnaturally which isn’t appealing, unless you want to include the background.

35mm

The nearest lens to what the human eye sees. With the advent of wide-angle zooms, this focal length isn’t as popular as it used to be.

70mm

An underrated focal length that’s within the range of most modern telephoto zoom lenses. Most models offer superb quality rendition.

Why working distance is so important

The longer the focal length of the lens you use, the more camera-to-subject working distance youll have for the same magnification. Wary subjects such as insects and small reptiles wont usually allow a close approach so using a longer lens is essential.

Support

A longer lens used in conjunction with a solid tripod will enable you to arrange your camera equipment without disturbing your subject.

Lighting

Modifying light via fill-in flash or by positioning a reflector or diffuser sheet allows is made easier by a comfortable distance between you and the subject.

Longer focal lengths

If the background is far enough away from the subject and a wide apertures used, the backdrop will be rendered as a soft block of colour.

120mm

An advantage of the 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens is the ability to select and compose images from a static position using a single lens.

200mm

This gives you extra working distance. The improved background control can make a real difference in the shots you’ll end up capturing.

300mm

A surprising choice for close-ups, but it’s the work-horse of many pros. Great for creating a false perspective by compressing objects on different planes.