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Focal Length and Composition

beginners photography workshop

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Focal length is how much magnification your lens has. Composition is how you arrange the elements of your photo. So why would focal length (or amount of zoom) have an impact on composition?

If you’ve watched my Focal Length Explained videos you’ll already know it can do much more than just make far off things come closer. Choosing the right focal length can affect how your photo looks as well.

So it stands to reason that these two are best mates who can help you create much more interesting images. This is why they are my 3rd and 4th Building Blocks of Photography. Learn how to marry them together and you’ll see a dramatic improvement in your imagery.

Last year after completing my Lanzarote Photo Workshop I thought about a common scenario we’ve all faced. We’re on holiday and see something we like. We hop out of our hire car, zoom in and out a bit from the roadside and snap a quick pic.

You may get away with it if the light’s great, but if it isn’t you must make sure the composition is as good as it can be to make up for it a bit. The best way is to go back when the light is better but that’s not always possible, so I made this video at a location we go on the workshop to shoot sunrise, but went late morning when the light wasn’t so great and shot it from a different angle to create the holiday scenario.

All it takes is a little thought and a few minutes to make a better photo. Instead of snapping the first thing you see, experiment a little. Try composing the shot, then moving closer and widening (shortening the zoom) as you do so you can see what it looks like.

Then walk back out again without changing the focal length to see what that looks like. These are just experiments and believe it or not, many long tome pro photographers do this so they can find the best shot they can. Or at least, the one they like best, because it’s all subjective right?

You don’t have to keep the shots you don’t like do you. Just remember to play with your focal length as you compose a picture because it can make all the difference.

This is one reason I prefer zoom lenses to prime lenses. If using a prime, you'd not only have to carry several with you, you;d have to keep changing them to see what works. Or you'd have to crop the image, sometimes quite heavily and that means throwing away pixels. As well as doing some pretty heavy duty pre-visualising as you look through the viewfinder.

It's always better to get your shot right in the camera when you shoot it, than trying to find them afterwards in post production, which can be very time consuming.

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