How to Choose the Right Focal Length

October 5th, 2020

Brennan Kauffman

As mentioned in the previous post on long exposure photography, longer lenses can create a different perspective on an image. Wide-angle lenses are phenomenal for creating a wide vibrant landscape. In some cases, you want to have a wider lens such as a 16mm, 24mm, or a 35mm depending on the scene. In these photos, I used a 24-120mm lens at 24mm capturing more in the image which had quite a bit going on, and an 85mm lens to compress the background in closer to the subject. Though the first image is not as sharp as my prime 85mm it is still remarkable how sharp a wide-angle shot can be.

I use both prime, and zoom lenses in landscape and portraiture. Prime lenses are amazing at portraits and landscapes if you take the extra time to frame the subject and want the image at its sharpest. This is due to the lens having less glass and parts which could often soften an image and make it appear less sharp at the edges. Having a lens that has a range of 24-70 or 24-120 is phenomenal in situations where you can’t always swap lens (weather, fast-paced events, environment). The two shots above are using two different lenses that both tell a different story. When using a telephoto lens such as an 85mm, 105mm, or even 300mm the background becomes more distorted and larger than life, the larger the focal length. This can draw someone into an image compared to a wide-angle in which backgrounds would appear smaller. This also can create images where distant objects seem a lot closer to the subject.

One benefit of using a telephoto prime lens is the ability to merge multiple shots into one creating a high-resolution panorama that wouldn't be possible on a wide-angle lens. this creates a perspective that otherwise wouldn't be possible. The image above used 20 images to create one panorama of Boston in which the use of a wide-angle and stitching a few images together would result in detail lost in the buildings due to it being a 24 mp sensor. The end result of using 20 images resulted in an 89mp panorama that I was able to print very large with no visible pixels. Double layer panoramas are another way to utilize a very long lens, maximizing the resolution of an image but they also tend to be more difficult to get right. Though, with proper preparation and time, they are 100% possible to achieve and can look phenomenal.

Camera gear used

Nikon D780

Nikkor 85mm 1.8 

Nikkor 24-120mm f4

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