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© Ute Reckhorn

© Ute Reckhorn

How to Find the Perfect Focal Length


  • 3 min read

There are many different focal lengths to choose from when considering a lens for your camera, and it is important to know when it is appropriate to use each one. Lens focal length is the determination of how much of a scene is shown in a photograph as well as how much the scene is magnified. The lens's focal length is measured in millimeters (mm), which is the distance between the lens and the image sensor when the subject is in focus.

Different focal lengths are commonly used in different scenarios. I will write about wide-angle, standard, and telephoto lenses and describe the scenarios in which they are typically used.

Wide angle lenses (typically 30mm and lower) are often used for landscape and indoor architecture photography. These lenses make indoor spaces appear larger, which is why they are used in real estate photography. However, they tend to distort an image, especially at the edges and when the subject is very close to the camera. This is why they are not popular portrait lenses.

 

Wide angle lenses can be used for environmental portraits, however. One of my favorite Lensbaby wide-angle lenses is the Trio28. The 28mm focal length is not ultra-wide, where the image will be very distorted, but it allows a lot of the scene to appear. Since it's such a compact and versatile lens, I often use it for everyday documents. As seen below, I have used it to take photos of my daughter playing in the ocean. It captures the scene as well as the action and, in Lensbaby fashion, creates that beautiful blur around the edges to help pull the viewer into the scene.

 

Standard lenses are those between 35mm and 70mm and are most often used for portraits, everyday documentaries, and street photography. A 50 mm lens (often called the nifty fifty) is very popular and most closely replicates what the human eye sees. I use my Lensbaby Velvet 56mm for portraits often and appreciate that I never have to worry about distortion. The longer focal length creates bokeh which is often admired in a portrait, especially at wider apertures. These standard focal lengths also allow for in-home and small studio photography since you can be relatively close (but not too close like with the wide-angle lenses) to the subject.

 

Another Lensbaby lens that is closest to a standard lens is the Sol45. Although different from a typical nifty fifty, it does have a focal length that is very similar to what we see as humans. It does create this beautiful dreamy blur on the edges, which, again, is the beauty of the Lensbaby. I often use it for portraits and just everyday indoor and outdoor captures, as can be seen in the photos of my daughter below.

 


"One of my favorite Lensbaby wide-angle lenses is the Trio28."


 

Telephoto lenses are anything above 70mm and are used for portraits, sports, events, and wildlife photography. The biggest advantage of a long lens is that you can capture subjects that are far away. Longer focal lengths create a really creamy background and produce beautiful bokeh, which is why it can be used for portrait photography. While the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm is still on my wish list, I often shoot with the Sigma 105mm for portraits of my kids. I like that with a longer focal length. I can stand back and let my kids play while I frame my composition and wait for a moment.

 

Sigma 105


 

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Magda Stolte

Magda Stolte is a hobbyist photography who likes to take photos of her kids, everyday life, self-portraiture, and nature. She enjoys the outdoors and spending time with family.

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