I’ll often have people taking my online classes with the BPSOP submit a photo and then talk about how they should have used a telephoto lens to compress the elements in the composition.
It also happens during my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” workshops when right before we go out shooting I’ll be asked by one of my fellow photographers if we’re going to be somewhere where they could use a telephoto to compress everything.
Ok, let’s get to the crux of the conversation: Lens compression will occur when you use a telephoto lens, but the compression is not a result of the lens or its focal length.
So then what exactly is meant by lens compression? Why don’t we call it lens compression for the sake of the article even if we know that it doesn’t have anything to do with the lens.
When we decide to use a long lens for whatever reason, we need to stand back from our subject to do so. It’s the camera to subject distance that will give the viewer the feeling of compression..why you ask?
Because the camera to subject ratio will give the impression that distant objects are larger than they actually are; giving the appearance that the background has pulled in closer to the subject.
In the photo above, I was shooting for the Sears Annual Report and I wanted to focus on just the commuter. I shot with a 300mmF/2.8 lens at it widest aperture. In doing so it pulled the train in closer making it appear as if the train is huge behind him.
Conversely, a wide angle lens has a much wider field of vision so the opposite will occur. In other words, to keep the subject the same size as you do with the telephoto you’ll have to get much closer. Because we’re so close, objects near to us will correspond in size making the background elements smaller and seem farther away.
So if we’re looking at a small historical church in the viewfinder and visually it looks closer to the parishioners whose portrait you’re taking, it’s not because perspective has gotten compressed but simply because in the viewfinder we see a smaller portion of it.
Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com, and check out my workshop schedule at the top of this blog. Come shoot with me sometime. On July 30th I begin my 29th year at the Maine Media Workshops. I’ve had the same week since the beginning. It’s the week of the Lobster Festival down the road in Rockland. It offers a completely different set of photo ops than one would expect when coming to photograph the coastline, lighthouses, and fishing villages of Maine. Come join me and spend a week completely immersed in your love for photography.
Send me a photo and question to: AskJoeB@gmail.com, and I’ll create a video critique for you.