Understanding Camera Lenses to Take Compelling Photos

By Freepik 7 days ago

Understanding camera lenses and focal length is important for knowing your camera.

When it comes to photography, concepts such as ISO, shutter speed, stabilizer, etc. get full attention. However, not everyone knows the importance of working with the right lens and focal length to take quality and compelling photos.

At Freepik, we want our contributors to make the most of their photos and get more downloads. Read the post and find out which lenses and focal length are most suitable for your photos, depending on the subject you’re shooting.

What is Lens Focal Length?

The focal length is the distance between the lens nodal point and the sensor or film, at the focal plane, recording the image. It’s expressed in millimeters and determines the field of view, that’s to say, how much of the scene is captured. So, depending on the focal length, you’ll capture a wider angle or fewer elements within the scene.

Nowadays, not all lenses have the same size, and it depends on the materials used by the manufacturer.

focal length

So, taking into account the coverage angle, we can talk about three main types of lenses: wide lenses, normal lenses, and telephoto lenses. Obviously, there’re variations and subtypes within each group, but these are the basic ones.

lens types focal length

Depending on the effect you want to get or the subject you’re taking a picture of, the lenses you use may be different. Let’s see what’s the difference between these lenses and which focal length is the best option in each case.

Comparing Focal Length Ranges

When choosing a lens, we need to take into account how we want the lens to interpret the subject, its size, and the distance between the elements within a scene.

To give you a better idea of how focal length works, we’ve shot some subjects using different focal length ranges, and we compare them below.

1. Group of objects

It’s a close up of four beers. We’ve taken three shots of the same items using a different lens each time. As you can see, the results are not the same in each photo. Let’s see why:

group of objects

  • 105mm (telephoto): the distance between the bottles is almost unnoticeable. 
  • 50mm (normal or standard lenses): bottles are subtly separated, and the perspective changes slightly. 
  • 24mm (wide lenses): the distance between bottles is clear now. The bottle at the front is twice bigger than the one at the back. Some distortion can be appreciated in the first bottle, where the center of the bottle bends outwards (it’s also called barrel distortion).
2. High-angle shot of objects

We’ve used the same objects, but this time we’ve shot them using a high angle perspective. In this example, we’ll see how perspective is shown using different focal lengths.

high angle shot

  • 105mm (telephoto): the actual size and shape are maintained. 
  • 50mm (normal or standard lenses): a subtle distortion appears in the next of the bottle and at the bottom. 
  • 24mm (wide lenses): the distortion is apparent. As you can see, in this case, the dimensions of the bottle’s neck are quite similar to the bottle’s base. 
3. Single object

In the following example, we work with a single object. In this case, we’ve used a close-up angle, although the picture has been taken from a slightly lower point of view than the subject.

  • 105mm (telephoto): this focal length maintains the bottle’s proportions. 
  • 50mm (normal or standard lenses): there’s a subtle distortion.
  • 24mm (wide lenses): in this case, the distortion is also apparent. Here happens something similar to the first example: the central part is wider (barrel distortion). 

Tip: If you use this photo for commercial use, the one taken with a telephoto lens would be most suitable as it does not distort the object.

At this point, you may wonder: is it the same with people? In the following example, we’ve tested the focal length with two portraits. Let’s see the results:

4. Portrait with model

This is a close-up portrait where we’ve used the same focal lengths we’ve been working. And this is the result:

portrait focal length

  • 105mm (telephoto): as you can see, the telephoto lens captures the model correctly, without distortion nor blur. 
  • 50mm (normal or standard lenses): with this lens, the subject is closer because the field of view is narrower. There’s some distortion, but it could be used to take a portrait with a unique touch. 
  • 24mm (wide lenses): with a wide lens, the distance is smaller, and thus, the subject is entirely distorted. 

Tip: when working on fashion photoshoots, telephoto lenses are usually the best option. If you’re working on a graphic photoshoot instead, a standard lens would be optimal. In the case of wide lenses, it could be used for comic purposes, for instance.

5. Medium shot with model

In the last example, we’ve used a medium shot instead of a close-up shot working with the same model. 

medium shot focal length

  • 105mm (telephoto): the distance between us and the subject is bigger.
  • 50mm (normal or standard lenses): this time, the subject is closer, and distortion is almost unnoticeable. 
  • 24mm (wide lenses): again, this lens shows a distorted subject. 

Tip: the lens you use will depend on the effect you want to get, and the story you want to tell. 

Choosing the right lens

Below we share with you some tips on the type of lens that you could use depending on the shot. Take the following tips as a guide and remember that the focal length may vary depending on the effect you want to get:

  • Close up: the telephoto lens is the best option (85mm or more).
  • Medium shot: 50mm or telephoto.
  • Medium shot with models within a specific setting (i.e., landscape): from 35mm to 50mm lens.
  • Group of people: 35mm or normal lens. 
  • Still lifes: 70mm or telephoto lens.
  • Landscapes with models: from 24mm to telephoto lenses. 
  • Landscapes: wide, normal, and telephoto lenses could work.
  • Architecture: from 24mm to telephoto lens.
  • Interiors: from 24mm (frontal shots) to 50mm.

Remember that choosing the lens is as important as the setting, the subjects, and the story. Thus, understanding the difference between focal length ranges is essential to get compelling photos that really tell what you want to communicate. 

Take these tips into account when preparing your next submissions and create quality pictures. If you aren’t a contributor yet and want to join our creative community, click on the button below.

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