On Distance and Focal Length

Copyright 2013 Marc Allen Mintz

Copyright 2013 Marc Allen Mintz

A quickie on how distance to subject and focal length can affect the mood of your photographs…

Among the many choices photographers have when creating an image, these are two of the biggies.  You’ve heard numbers tossed around in millimeters, right?  Say like 35mm- you often hear that associated with traditional consumer film cameras.  You also hear it when talking about detachable lenses for SLRs, which is what we’re about to get into.  But without getting too technical, and I’m far from a gearhead, the focal length refers to the relationship between the distance of a subject to your camera’s film/sensor plane as interpreted through the lens.

Sorry, it’s easier to show than explain.  Up top we have a photo of Jessi standing in a cornfield.  It was shot at 35mm, a fairly wide angle.  We get a broad perspective of the scene.  There’s a sense of depth and openness.  And along with Jessi’s expression (a nervous smile that says, “Why. Is he. Taking. A picture of me. In. A cornfield?”), I think it adds to her sense of vulnerability in the photo.  And it’s important to note I’m only standing 5 feet away or so.

On the other hand, the photo below is shot at 120mm, in the telephoto range.  Notice how the scene seems compressed.  It has a narrower field of view.  The corn looks really close together and Jessi’s squeezed into it.  Now she’s looking a bit more mischievous (and confident) and I’d argue the focal length and increased distance from Jessi (I’m standing 10-12 feet further back now) to the camera is adding to this sense of playfulness in the photo.

So we have the same scene, same subject, same camera, but the whole mood is changed because of the difference in focal length and distance, as well as a subtle tweak in Jessi’s expression.

Copyright 2013 Marc Allen Mintz

Copyright 2013 Marc Allen Mintz

Alright, I’ll admit the real reason for this post.  I was recently reminded again of how awesome my camera must be to produce the images that come out of it.  I gotta say, it’s kinda frustrating that in the days when “everyone’s a  photographer”, hardly anybody knows exactly what goes into consistently making good photographs.  F-stop, shutter speed, ISO, positioning, flash, modifiers, and focal length are just some of the choices a photographer has to make in order to capture a scene with intent.  If only it were as easy as having a fancy camera and pressing a button!

Here’s my final portfolio selection from this shoot….badass-ness!

Copyright 2013 Marc Allen Mintz

Copyright 2013 Marc Allen Mintz


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