Jonathan Fleming's Blog

A Photography Blog

Expand or Compress?

with 8 comments

I thought that after picking up my Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8, my Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens would no longer be a relevant tool in my camera bag. But after having both for some time now, I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t get rid of the Nikkor. Why?

While the Tokina allows faster shutter speeds in lower light due to its constant f/2.8 aperture, the sweet thing about the Nikkor is its much longer focal range. When racked out on my D300s, I get a a full frame equivalent of a 450mm focal length in a compact, lightweight package with the Nikkor 70-300. The reason why this is important to me is that it allows me to really compress the foreground and background elements of a scene using those long focal lengths.

This kind of compression can give your photos real power and subject isolation, and can also help you exclude undesirable surrounding elements from the image you’re trying to create. The images here from Suki’s last shoot this weekend illustrate this point. I received many inquiries after I posted my week 10 photo on flickr (chosen from this series) about where I took the photo. Some people said it looked like Suki was on mars (hah!), and others thought that the background was the sky. Since I shot the photo at 240mm, Suki was compressed so close to the golden background that it was hard for many to tell exactly where she was (the background was all water, as you can see here). This was the exact effect I wanted to create, and I couldn’t have done it without using such a long focal length.

Conversely, using a super wide angle lens expands the foreground and background elements, and gives an exaggerated sense of space around your subject, as can be seen in this photo of Suki, taken with my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8.

Above: This shot was taken at a shorter 70mm. You can see much less compression as a result.

One trick I learned from studying Moose Peterson’s (a very well-known landscape and wildlife photographer) work is to try to avoid composing with your zoom ring. In other words, use your feet to get into position and compose your shot, then select a focal length based on how much you want to expand or compress the elements in the frame. Good advice!

Nikon D300s + AFS Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, varying focal lengths

8 Responses

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  1. these are all wonderful shots.
    its good to experiment

    kseverny

    March 16, 2010 at 4:11 pm

  2. Nice writeup. Some photographers refer to this as “stacking”. I have been trying to tune the technique to work out some ideas I have. I gotta check that guy out though. I learned that from Robert Caputo.

    Nice work.

    rashard

    March 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

  3. Great post!

    Miguel Kieling

    March 18, 2010 at 8:21 am

  4. So interesting to read how you get some of your amazing shots of Suki. She is such a beautiful shiba!

    Karen (sure2talk)

    March 21, 2010 at 12:33 am

  5. I heard a piece of advice just the same as by Peterson’s long ago. I don’t have any zoom ring, so I found it very useful and encouraging:)) BTW Suki-chan looks great in all the shots! She’s got the right light:)

    akane

    March 22, 2010 at 8:52 am

    • Thanks Akane! I suppose you have no choice than to compose with your feet, but I think it has served your photography well. If you ever move to digital and start using zooms (who knows? anything is possible!), you won’t find yourself too reliant on zooming to compose. =)

      Jonathan

      March 22, 2010 at 8:59 am

  6. […] to add a sense of dimension to an otherwise flat image on photo paper or on a computer screen, focal length choice¬†definitely comes into play, but light does as well. I try to put highlights next to shadows in my […]


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