Understanding Lens Focal Length: A Beginners Guide for Landscape Photography

The Effect of Different Focal Lengths

As photographers, we tend to break down focal lengths into three sub groups:

  1. Wide Angle,
  2. Standard,
  3. Telephoto.

Wide angles are lenses that give us an image that is wider than a human’s field of view whilst telephotos give us a narrower field of view. In 35mm equivalents, wide angles will be anything from 35mm down to 8mm.

A lens at 8mm would be considered a fisheye lens and would give a field of view of over 130 degrees. Telephotos are generally regarded as anything over 70mm.

Of course many people these days use zoom lenses – these enable us to change the focal length of the lens whist shooting.

They can be broken into sub-sections too. Wide angle zooms will be in the range of 12-35mm, standard zooms from 35-70mm and telephoto zooms 70-300. A sub-genre within this is the super zoom. These typically go from wide-angle through standard to telephoto, for example 28-300mm.

An 18-300 Super Zoom

Wider lenses give the visual appearance of stretching out the distance between the foreground and background. Telephoto lenses do the reverse, making it appear that the background is much closer to the the foreground. This is called perspective and is a vital part of composition. Changing perspective can radically change the look of an image.

A super wide angle stretches out the foreground from the background.


One misconception is that perspective changes when you change lens. If you are in the same place, this is not true, only the field of view changes. However, if for example you change from a telephoto lens to a wide angle lens then move closer or further from your subject, your perspective will change.

Understanding the basics of lens focal length widens the creativity of your composition. By knowing how lens focal length will affect the look of an image, you can choose the lens to suit that shot.

Whatever lens you’re using, whether you have the kit lens, a prime, a mid-range zoom or all 3, you’ll like to want to unleash the power of understanding how to create better B&W images. We have a fantastic course here by none other than LightStlking contributor and professional photographer Kent DuFault.

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