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Exploring Lens Perspectives: Wide-Angle, Normal, Telephoto

4 different lenses for Sony mirrorless cameras. Understanding lens perspective.

Lenses (ranging from a normal and wide angle vs telephoto lens) bring a distinct characteristic to a photograph, influencing aspects like the field of view, depth perception, and distortion.

In this blog post, we’ll better understand how lens perspective shapes the photographic image. So without further ado, let’s dive in!

Understanding Lens Perspective – Explaining the Terms

Lens perspective is about how your lens interprets the spatial relationship of the subjects within the frame. Different lenses provide varied perspectives, hence giving your photos a distinct feel.

You might’ve heard the terms extension distortion and compression distorsion but didn’t quite get what they mean. Well, let’s see:

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Extension Distortion

Think about standing close to a skyscraper and looking up. It seems enormously tall and imposing, and the top appears much smaller due to the angle.

This is akin to “extension distortion,” which you experience when taking a close-up shot with a wide-angle lens: the subject is magnified, and the background seems far off.

Close up photo of a motorbike

Compression Distorsion

Now imagine you decide to step back several blocks and view the same skyscraper. Suddenly, it seems less towering. The building’s top and base appear more proportional to each other, and nearby buildings seem closer to the skyscraper than they did before.

This is like “compression distortion,” which happens when you use a telephoto lens: it creates an impression of less depth, making the subject and the background seem more compact or closer together.

italian architecture

Many photographers, upon observing the distinct visual effects created by wide-angle and telephoto lenses, conclude that wide-angle lenses tend to warp a scene, while telephoto lenses seem to condense it. 

However, this perspective neglects the fundamental factor behind these alterations: the position and movement of the camera itself. 

What truly influences these perceived distortions is the spatial relationship between the camera and the subject it’s capturing. So it’s not lens compression itself.

Play Video about youtube thumbnail image for the video about lens compression and why it doesn't exist.

What is happening here?

What’s happening in both cases? You’re changing your location, your distance from the object of interest, not the thing itself. The camera lens doesn’t alter reality; it just changes our perception based on its field of view and distance from the subject.

Picture photographing a person standing 1 foot away from you, with a building 50 feet behind them. If you step back a foot, the person’s size in the frame reduces by half, but the building only shrinks 1/51st of its size in the frame. 

So, as you step back, the person appears to shrink faster in the frame than the building due to their closer proximity to the camera.

This illusion of perspective becomes even more dramatic when you consider objects at vast distances, like the moon. If you wanted the moon to appear half its size in a photo, you’d need to move an additional 93 million miles away, which isn’t feasible, so the moon appears the same size no matter where you are on Earth.

Photo of a beautiful landscape moon

Many photographers might not know how much the camera-to-subject distance impacts perspective distortion. Understanding this principle could influence how you plan and compose your shots.

Real-life Example of Shifting Perspective

Suppose you’re standing on the street and looking at a small car parked several feet away. There’s also a tall skyscraper further down the street. Now, hold up a small stick, close one eye, and position it to appear more elevated than the skyscraper. At this moment, the small stick, though its actual size is significantly smaller than the skyscraper, appears more prominent due to the perspective created by the closer distance to your eye.

Now move the stick farther from you, maybe arm’s length away. As you do this, the stick appears to shrink while the skyscraper’s size remains unchanged. The stick seems smaller even though its size didn’t change. What’s happening is the shift in perspective due to the change in distance between you and the stick.

Finally, keep the stick at arm’s length and step back away from it. As you do this, the stick remains the same size, but the skyscraper now appears smaller. This change in size relationship, the perspective, comes from changing your distance from the subject, the stick, and not from adjusting the subjects’ size.

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Different Perspectives: Type of Lenses

When it comes to photography, the choice of camera lenses can significantly influence the final result. From versatile zoom lenses to artistic prime lenses, each type offers unique perspectives, allowing creatives to capture their vision with precision and creativity.

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Wide-Angle Lenses – The Grand Storytellers

In my experience, wide-angle lenses, typically 10mm to 35mm, are phenomenal for capturing sweeping landscapes, buildings and architecture.

Photo of a building, presumably a church in Spain.

These lenses also exaggerate perspective, making objects closer to the lens seem larger while pushing away the background. This might make a portrait of a person look almost like a caricature.

Imagine telling a toddler a story. You exaggerate and make grand gestures. Wide-angle lenses do precisely that. They love exaggerating – making closer objects look more prominent and pushing the background far away.

PRO TIP: When using a wide-angle lens, try getting close to your main subject. It creates a sense of drama in your photo.

Black and white portrait of a young woman taken with wide-angle lens

Normal Lenses: The Truth-Sayers

Normal lenses, around 50mm, offer a perspective that is incredibly close to the human eye. They strike a balance – not too much, not too little, just right!

Perfect for your portrait photography, sneaky street photography, and those daily “Kodak moments.”

Portrait photo of a young boy sitting in a cart car, smiling

Normal Lenses: The Truth-Sayers

Telephoto lenses, usually above 70mm, compress perspective. They are great for wildlife, sports photography, and portrait photography, as they allow for close-ups without physically moving closer.

Want that lion’s close-up without becoming its lunch or that player’s shot without running the field? These lenses are your ticket!

PRO TIP: Telephoto lenses can magnify camera shake. Use a tripod or increase your shutter speed to combat this.

Frequently Asked Questions

The choice of lens for perspective dramatically depends on the desired effect. A wide-angle lens (14-35mm on a full-frame camera) can give you a dramatic view, exaggerating the distance between objects in the foreground and background, thus providing a greater sense of depth. A normal lens (around 50mm) presents a perspective that closely matches the human eye, making the photo look natural to viewers. Telephoto lenses (70mm and above) tend to compress the perspective, making objects appear closer together than they are.

Lenses affect perspective by altering the perception of spatial relationships between objects. A wide-angle lens exaggerates the distance between foreground and background elements, giving an increased sense of depth. On the other hand, a telephoto lens compresses the sense of depth, making objects in the frame appear closer to each other than they are.

Wide-angle lenses can distort subjects, mainly when close to the lens. This distortion is called “barrel distortion,” where straight lines appear to bend outward from the center of the image. Portrait photography can make facial features look unnaturally large when the subject is too close. However, in landscapes, interiors, and architecture, this effect can be used creatively to exaggerate the sense of depth or size.

Telephoto lenses are known for creating a pincushion effect because of their design and the way they bend light to magnify distant subjects. This can result in optical distortion where straight lines near the edge of the image curve inward. Not all telephoto lenses cause this, and many modern lenses and post-processing software can correct it.

Final Thoughts: Which Lens Should I Choose?

I’ve found that each lens – wide-angle, normal, and telephoto – paints a distinctive stroke on the canvas of photography. 

Understanding your vision for each shot is the first step to choosing the right lens. Once you’ve figured out what you want to capture, it will be easier to pick a lens that offers the perfect perspective.

Moreover, remember that you can always change things up in post-processing.

Ansel Adams, the grandmaster of photography, once said, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” Well, standing in the right place with the right lens, now that’s a winning combination!

And if you want to add a bonus to this perfect mix, check out our other informative articles on OhMyCamera.

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Aleksandrs Karevs

Aleksandrs Karevs

Hi, my name is Aleksandrs and I am a full-stack digital marketer passionate about digital photography. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V. Read full story here.

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Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

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