Category Archives: 05 Focal lengths

Exercise: Focal lengths and different viewpoints – for cameras with variable focal lengths

The brief:

Find a scene that has enough space in front of it to allow you a choice of viewpoint, from near to far. Avoid a flat subject, it must have some depth. Start with the telephoto lens and make a tightly framed composition with the subject filling the frame. Study the view through the viewfinder very carefully, and remember the limits at the edges of the frame. Take your shot. Change lenses to the wide-angle. Then, in a straight line, walk forward, looking through the viewfinder until the same subject fills the frame. Take the second shot and compare the results.

For this exercise I used my 18 – 55mm kit lens and headed down to the beach to see if I could get some interesting shots. After just having had my sensor cleaned due to a lot of dust that I got on one of the previous exercises I did not want to take the chance of swopping lenses at the beach. (Note to self: buy a sensor cleaning kit). We have some interesting sculptures near Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver, but unfortunately nothing that would have been viable from the beach for the exercise. As I was leaving the beach area I notice a maple tree on the open field near the parking lot and decided to try the exercise on the tree.

Figure 01 - 55mm

Figure 01 – 55mm

One can see the road in front of the tree and just on the right hand side one of the posts of the Lions Gate bridge and in the distance a soccer field and baseball diamond.

Figure 02 - 18mm

Figure 02 – 18mm

The perspective changes quite dramatically at 18mm as can be seen in Figure 02. The bridge is quite visible now and the soccer field and baseball diamond looks as if they are very far away indeed. The expanse of grass looks like it has tripled in depth. Some houses and a fence can also be seen on the left of the frame, which were not visible at 55mm. The tree’s appearance to my eye has also changed a bit – it is almost as if the branches have all been drawn upwards more.

The following day I headed downtown and repeated this exercise with a sculpture of one of the lions that flank the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Figure 03 - 55mm

Figure 03 – 55mm

I was standing on the opposite end of the staircase in front of the other lion when I made this image at 55mm (figure 03). I then walked forward and stopped almost at the edge of the pedestal (when my frame was filled).

Figure 04 - 18mm

Figure 04 – 18mm

The change in perspective is more prominent in this image (figure 04) because of the linear perspective of the inward convergence of the building behind the sculpture and the tree on the right hand side. Fewer stairs are visible, but more detail is visible from the front of the pedestal. Even though this image would probably look better taken with a tilt-shift lens to straighten out the converging lines, I like this image best because it has more of a 3D feel to it than the one in figure 03 which is a bit flat. There is also more a sense of power from this perspective. One could say that the building and tree are may well be paying homage to the lion.

This exercise has made me more aware of the different effects telephoto and wide-angle lenses can have and I will work future scenarios more with various focal lengths to diversify my compositions.


Exercise: Focal lengths (with zoom or interchangeable lenses)

The brief:

Find a view that is open and at the same time has some details in the distance, in the middle of the view. Then, without moving, using a tripod if you have one, take a sequence of photographs, all aimed in the same direction, with whatever range of lenses you have been able to assemble or with different settings on a zoom lens.

For this assignment I headed up Cypress Mountain, one of the local mountains which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics just four years ago. The mountain is about 1,200 metres in height and I stopped off at the main viewpoint which is about three-quarters of the way up the mountain. Unfortunately it was a very hazy day. I was using 70-300mm and 18-55 mm zoom lenses.

Figure 1 - 300mm

Figure 1 – 300mm

My aim was to have the Lions’ Gate Bridge as my middle ground, but as you can see at 300mm (full compression) the bridge does not fit the frame. The bridge is about 2 kilometres from end to end. As there is no other viewpoint higher up, I had to make do with this scenario.

Figure 2 - 200mm

Figure 2 – 200mm

At 200mm more of the foreground comes into view, showing the sandbanks and Stanley Park (the city rain forest) and the city just begins to emerge behind this, the white structure being Canada Place.

Figure 3 - 135mm

Figure 3 – 135mm

At 135mm the bridge is almost entirely in view. The downtown core is showing about 6 city blocks and the container docks with their cranes can be seen in the upper left part of the frame. One can also see Ambleside beach at the bottom right of the frame. At the bottom of the frame the tips of the fir trees on the mountain side start to show.

Figure 4 - 98mm

Figure 4 – 98mm

In figure 4 we can now see that the cypress trees are beginning to form a frame around the bottom of the photograph. The view has widened significantly. About half of the downtown core is showing and a bit more of bridge is revealed – still on supports. The compression of the distant view of the mountains and island is very pronounced and it seems as if the peninsula in front of the mountains is quite close, when in actual fact that area is approximately two hours drive time away.

Figure 5 - 70mm

Figure 5 – 70mm

At 70mm the hazy horizon is in view, with some snow capped mountain ranges and islands in the far distance. The bridge is almost in full view now. The framing at the bottom and sides of the photograph has increased adding a further depth to the image.

Figure 6 - 55mm

Figure 6 – 55mm

In figure 6 the bridge finally is in the whole frame. Most of Stanley Park is now showing as is the downtown core. The highrises of the neighbouring city of Burnaby, left on the horizon, are in view. From 55mm to 18mm the atmospheric haze becomes more pronounced.

Figure 7 - 45mm

Figure 7 – 45mm

At 45mm the trees in the foreground tend to dominate the photograph. The downtown core as well as the West End residential area are now in the frame.

Figure 8 - 35mm

Figure 8 – 35mm

At 35 mm more of the working harbour is showing and more foreground trees come into the frame. There is far less compression of the mountains and island. They are clearly very far away.

Figure 9 - 24mm

Figure 9 – 24mm

At 24mm the wild grass and shrubs in front of the trees come into view. I think the intended focal point (namely the bridge) is lost with the increased foreground. One’s eye skims over the bridge and harbour and comes back to the dominant foreground.

Figure 10 - 18mm

Figure 10 – 18mm

In the final image (figure 10) the barrier wall at the view point now appears in the lower left corner of the frame. The wide angle has flattened out the mountain ranges on the horizon, blending them together with the suburban horizon lines.