Compression is Real

Started 10 months ago | Discussions thread
jrtrent Veteran Member • Posts: 4,952
Re: Go out and try it

FingerPainter wrote:

jrtrent wrote:

Mike CH wrote:

jrtrent wrote:

stevedavidsonphotography wrote:

When you stand in the same spot and zoom in and out everything in the frame will become equally larger and smaller.

And doesn't that echo what the quoted excerpt says? If you zoom wider than normal, then distant things in the scene look smaller and farther away; if you zoom longer than normal, those distant things look bigger and closer than normal.

And yet the relationship of those distant things to the closer things remains the same. Change the distance and the relationship between the closer and distant things changes.

True, but... Foreground and background change the same in size when you zoom. As long as you remain in place, that is.

Go out and try it out.

So many people refer to old articles they’ve read, things they’ve heard or learned back when. It reminds me of “science” in the dark ages where people would rather interpret yet again what some old Greek has written thousand years ago instead of performing an experiment.


So, go out and try it out, instead.

Going out and trying it is always good advice, and I have done so many times over the years. For example, I once thought of getting the compact package of the Canon SL1 with their 40mm pancake lens, but it would have been a 64mm equivalent focal length. I used my current camera and a zoom lens to go out and take a lot of different pictures, comparing the 64mm equivalent focal length with my usual 52.5mm equivalent, and concluded that the Canon package would be a little too far outside the bounds of normalcy for me.

How about you? In my previous post I suggested, "If you take a variety of shots of normal scenes (that is, those with both near and distant items included; not, for example, a brick wall or reproduction of a flat painting) with 24, 50, and 105mm equivalent focal lengths, I think you will clearly see the exaggerated perspective of the 24, the compressed perspective of the 105, and the normal perspective of the 50mm."

Yes, and I use those differences consciously. Always using a normal focal length often makes for boring, un-artistic photography (I know, tell it to HCB).

Unartistic certainly applies to my own pictures, though I don't find them boring because they serve their purpose of helping me to remember people, places, and events I care about.

I think it's significant that for decades many hobbyists used reasonably simple cameras with fixed, normal focal length prime lenses (numerous box cameras, folding cameras, and TLR's). I doubt they thought their pictures were boring and unartistic just because they used the one focal length available to them.

They don't have to be those exact focal lengths, of course, but have you tried something similar and not seen a difference in how the images look?

I often plan my photos around such differences. In portrait photography I learned to be a liar. I am not often interested in using a normal focal length when I am framing H&S. I want to make the subject look better than that - better than they look in real life. So I take an H&S shot (twice head height in 4:5 aspect ratio portrait orientation) from at least 3m (10') away and use a focal length of around 150mm to 200mm to get the desired framing. If I was interested in accuracy, as for an ID photo, I'd shoot from 1.5-1.8m away (5'-6') and use a focal length of around 100mm. Note that I'm still not using a normal lens. If I used a normal lens (43mm) to get a H&S shot without cropping, I'd have to shoot from about 0.7m (2'3") and I'd get ugly distortion. Note also that the desired effect (compression for flattery, lack of compression for accuracy) drives the distance, and then the distance and desired framing drives the focal length choice. It's a poor portraitist that starts with a focal length and lets it drive the framing or shooting distance.

Perhaps you're right, but then, I'm not a portraitist. I'm not sure I've ever taken a head and shoulders shot. When I take pictures of people, it is in the context of an activity, and I'm backed up enough so that the normal lens gets in both the person and at least their immediate surroundings so I can see in the picture where they were and what they were doing.

When shooting landscapes I'll choose the focal length according to the effect I want to achieve. If I want to emphasize the vast expanse of a prairie or desert scene, I'll use a wide or ultra-wide angle lens. If I want to emphasize the height of a distant mountain, I'll use a long telephoto lens.

I also choose my focal length according to the effect I want to achieve, it's just that the effect I want is always to portray items in the scene so that the size and distance of various scene elements look natural to me. For that, I find that a normal focal length lens works best for me.

When I look at my own pictures, the abnormality of even moderately wide angle and long focal length lenses is easy to see;

When I look at tightly framed portraits, the abnormality of using a normal lens is easy for me to see.

I'm sure you're right. Perhaps that's why the recommended focal length for portraits is often to use a short telephoto of up to about 105mm. It's just one opinion, but the author of the article below has found that she prefers lenses of 70-100 mm and a working distance of 6-10 ft.

with other people's pictures, it can be more difficult because I wasn't there when they took the picture and don't know for sure what things actually looked like. Even so, haven't you looked at a photography exhibit or the challenges here at DPReview and not occasionally been able to say to yourself, "That must have been taken with a wideangle lens," or "I can sure see the compression effect in that photo"?

Yes. But that alone doesn't make them look wrong.

Not saying they're wrong at all, just that it isn't the look I'm after, and that it is the normal focal length that gives me what I want in my pictures, no matter the subject or shooting distance. If I had an interest in portraiture, sports, macro, or wildlife photography, I'm sure that other focal lengths would be useful, too.

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