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How Focal Length Affects Your Photos

How Focal Length Affects Photos

Focal length affects your photos in 3 different ways. First, focal length affects your camera’s angle-of-view. This is a measure of how zoomed-in or zoomed-out you are. Second, focal length affects your photo’s sharpness. Finally, focal length affects the perceived distance between your photo’s foreground and background.

As you can see, your focal length affects far more than just magnification. Yet, the creative power of focal lengths is often overlooked. Therefore, here are those effects in detail and how you can exploit them to take better photos. Read Ultimate Guide to Focal Length | Jump to Conclusion

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Table of Contents

  1. Focal Length Explained Simply
  2. How Focal Length affects your photos
    1. 1. Angle of View
    2. 2. Sharpness
    3. 3. Perspective
  3. Conclusion

Focal Length Explained Simply

Focal length is measured in millimeters, and at the most basic level, is a measure of magnification.

For instance, a 28mm lens produces a wide angle of view and is ideal for landscapes, group photos, and everyday photography.

Focal Length angle of view comparison

Whereas a high-magnification, longer focal length such as 500mm is perfect for photographing distant subjects. If you would like to know everything about focal length, check out what is Focal Length in photography

If you want to know what your camera’s focal length is, it is usually printed on the lens itself.

How Focal length affects your photos

How Focal Length affects your photos

Focal length affects your photos in 3 ways.

  1. Angle of View
  2. Sharpness
  3. Perspective

1. Angle of View

Focal length affects your photo’s angle of view. Measured in degrees, the wider your angle of view, the more your camera’s lens can see.

For example, a short focal length such as 18mm produces a wide 100-degree angle of view on a full-frame camera. This is ideal for capturing vast landscapes, wide group photos, and up-close objects.

How Focal Length affects your photos

Whereas longer focal lengths such as 200mm produce a narrow 12-degree angle of view. This results in a magnified view and is ideal for photographing distant subjects.

A Fur Seal at Moeraki, NZ

2. Sharpness

Focal length affects the sharpness of your photo as longer focal lengths have reduced depth-of-field. Read: What is Depth of Field.

For example, if you have a very shallow depth-of-field, everything immediately in front and behind your in-focus subject will appear blurred. This is an excellent effect and is often used for portraits.

Focal Length of Lens

But what if you want everything to appear sharp?

Shorter focal lengths such as 18mm feature deep depth-of-field. As a result, it is far easier to get both your photo’s foreground and background to appear sharp. For this reason, short focal lengths are popular for landscape photography.

Road to Mount Cook

3. Perspective

Focal length affects the perceived distance between your photo’s foreground and background. This is a hugely powerful trick that can revolutionize your photography.

For example, the illustration below presents two similar photos taken with two different focal lengths. Note how different the backgrounds appear in each.

As you can see, using shorter focal lengths such as 18mm makes the background appear small and distant.

Whereas a longer focal length such as 170mm appears to shrink the distance between your photo’s foreground and background. This is a neat trick which you can use to pump up and dramatize your landscape photos.

However, choosing the wrong focal length can negatively affect your photos. For example, using a short focal length for portraits will enlarge your subject’s nose and shrink their eyes and ears. It is for the reason why we all have ugly passport photos. Read Do Cameras Distort my Face.

Furthermore, short focal lengths can diminish your landscape photos by shrinking distant scenery. In the past, you may have taken photos where things appeared smaller than they were in real life. If so, it’s probably because you used a short focal length.


If you thought your zoom lens was just for getting closer to your subject, think again. In fact, you can use focal length to blur backgrounds, make distant scenery more dramatic, and the person you are photographing more attractive.

However, the opposite is also true. Using the wrong focal length affects your photos in a bad way. For instance, you can distort your subject’s face or reduce an impressive landscape to a flat, uninspired mediocrity.

Therefore, I would like you try something a little different. The next time you are photographing something up close, try stepping back and take the photo whilst zoomed-in. Alternatively, use short focal lengths at point-blank range.

Obviously, you will end up with some rather bad photos. But when it clicks, and it will, your photography will take a giant leap forward. Return to Introduction

Let me know how you get on in the comments below. Good luck!

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