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Understanding Focal Length

As your skills advance in photography, you begin to understand the importance of using the correct focal length for certain situations. Focal length is expressed in millimeters (mm) and different lenses are capable of shooting at different focal lengths. Some lenses are called "primes" which only shoot at one set focal length while "zoom lenses" can adjust to many different lengths.Usually you can check the focal length on the lens itself. A lens focal length can range from 4mm to over 400mm. The lower the mm the wider the shot.

Shot at 24mm


Shot at 24mm



Simply put, if you are looking through a 16mm lens at a building you can see the entire structure, while standing in the same space, and switching to a 100mm lens, you would then only be able to see the door.


When shooting events I like to start with some establishing shots. This situation will require a wider focal length. This gives the client a good shot of the venues set up. This image was shot around 24mm. It captures a lot of space and gives the viewer a good idea of where we are.


Another situation focal length is important is when taking portraits for groups. For taking group shots, I tend to stick around 35mm. You will be zoomed in enough to show their faces in detail while wide enough to capture multiple people.


Shot at 35mm

Shot at 35mm

Alot of portrait photography for single subjects will be taken between 85mm-200mm. This will bring most of the focus to the subject. When combined with a lower apeture, you can create a very appealing style which blurs the background. This photo below was taken at 200mm. You can see how the subject is set in the foreground while the rest of the scene sits out of focus in the background. I was also standing over 30ft away from the subject.

Shot at 200mm The more you shoot, the more focal length becomes another tool to capture exactly what you are looking for. Exploring different lenses is the best way master this area of photography.

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