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[Part 3] Professionals Composition Techniques – Making Good Use of Lenses

With the predominant use of zoom lenses recently, many users have become less aware of the relationship between focal length and angle of view, and the effects unique to the different angles of view. In the following, I will provide an outline of the characteristics of the wide-angle, standard, and telephoto prime lenses as well as some composition techniques. (Written by: Tatsuya Tanaka)

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Wide-angle Lens

(Prime lenses with a focal length of 40mm or below, or zoom lenses with a focal length of approx. 16 to 35mm)

Generally, the focal length of a wide-angle lens is said to be around 24 to 35mm, while those below 20mm are referred to as ultra wide-angle lenses. As the name suggests, wide-angle lenses have a wide angle of view, and are thus capable of capturing a wide area. Particularly popular among them is the 24mm lens, which has an angle of view of 74º in the horizontal and 53º in the vertical orientation, which is close to that of the human eye. Also, wide-angle lenses with a shorter focal length are capable of creating perspective effects, making objects close to the camera appear large and those in the distance small, while distortions are also more significant at the edges of the image. By understanding and making effective use of these characteristics, you will be able to compose shots with a more creative touch.

Generally, the horizontal angle of view of a wide-angle lens is between 60º and 100º. You can make use of this wide angle to produce interesting shots.

A: Angle of View

B: Lens

Capture an open view with a wide-angle lens

I captured a shot of this shallow stream from a low angle. What is most interesting about wide-angle lenses is the choice of the shooting position. Here, I positioned myself in the middle of the river, and made use of the Rule of Thirds composition to feature the bush in the river from an extremely close distance, while making use of the wide angle of view to bring out the expanse of the landscape that extends to the downstream.

Create perspective effects with a wide-angle lens

A hippopotamus object with its mouth widely open. Here, I made use of the perspective effect to direct the viewer's attention from the four sides of the image toward the mouth. I stood extremely close to the subject to create a deformed effect at the same time, producing a photo with a strong impact as if I was about to be eaten up by the hippo.

Tip – A difference of 1mm is significant for wide-angle lenses

When you are using a wide-angle lens, a slight difference in the focal length may yield a significantly different result compared to the case of standard or telephoto lenses. For example, the horizontal angle of view differs by about 7º between the focal lengths of 16mm and 18mm. In the case of a telephoto lens, however, there is only a difference of 3º between the focal lengths of 200mm and 250mm. In other words, the wider the angle of view, the larger the impact of a slight difference on the composition.



Standard Lenses

(Prime lenses with a focal length of approx. 50mm, or zoom lenses with a focal length of approx. 24 to 70mm)

Standard lenses are those with a focal length of about 50mm. The reason this focal length is defined as "standard" is because the impression of the depth and compression effect is close to what we see through our eyes. Note that "standard" in this context has a different meaning from that in "standard zoom lens", which refers to a lens that comes supplied with the camera. The 50mm lens has a horizontal angle of view of 40º and a vertical angle of view of 27º, giving a moderately wide perspective in the horizontal orientation, and an effect equivalent to a focal length of 80mm in the vertical orientation. That is to say, wide-angle or mid-telephoto expression is possible depending on your photographic intention. Also, the 50mm boasts excellent versatility with a closest focusing distance of about 50cm.

Generally, the horizontal angle of view of a standard lens is between 25º and 40º, which falls between that of a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens.

A: Angle of View

B: Lens

Capture street snaps with a standard zoom lens

I stressed the perspective in this street view by using the kissing couple as an accent. Covering a focal length from the wide-angle to the mid-telephoto range, you can use a standard lens to compose a shot flexibly since it does not create an extremely strong perspective effect.

Telephoto Lenses

(Prime lenses with a focal length of 70mm and above, or zoom lenses with a focal length of 70 to 200mm or longer)

Telephoto lenses are lenses with a focal length of at least 70mm. They can be further divided into mid-telephoto, telephoto, and super telephoto lenses according to the focal length. Using a telephoto lens magnifies a distant object, making it appear closer. Additionally, the compression effect also becomes stronger with a longer focal length, allowing for expression with a narrow angle of view and a powerful impact. The mid-telephoto range of 85 to 135mm provides a comfortable sense of distance from the subject. Meanwhile, the focal length range from 150 to 300mm is suitable for capturing a restricted landscape view, and is popular among natural landscape photographers. Any focal length beyond this range falls into the super telephoto class, and such a lens is an essential item in wild bird and sports photography.

Generally, the horizontal angle of view of a telephoto lens is between 10º and 15º. Telephoto lenses have the effect of magnifying a distant object, making it appear closer. However, the angle of view is also narrower.

A: Angle of View

B: Lens

Compression Effect

Positioned at one of the intersection points in a Rule of Thirds composition, I captured the full moon at a focal length of 500mm. Mountains placed in the foreground create a compression effect, making it appear as if they were "pressed" onto the same plane as the moon, when in fact the moon is far behind the mountains.

Close-up Effect

With a peninsula as the backdrop, waves rolling in toward the bay were captured at a focal length of 300mm. The photo below illustrates the result when the same scenery is captured at 50mm. As can be seen here, telephoto lenses are capable of producing a close-up effect that makes a distant object appear closer.

Tatsuya Tanaka

Born in 1956, Tanaka is one of the rare photographers who produce works across a wide variety of genres from an original perspective. These genres range from objects in our daily lives, such as insects and flowers, to landscapes, skyscapes, and celestial bodies. Besides photography, Tanaka has also developed his own approach in post processes including retouch and printing.