Flattening the image, or compressing the image, is a nice result achieved when you use a telephoto lens and are situated a distance from your subject. I used this effect to make a romantic engagement photo in the Bayard Cutting Arboretum of my newly engaged niece and her fiancé.
The trees in the distance appear much closer than they actually are. And all the “layers” of background objects appear large and stacked closed together. The closest and furthest objects fall out of focus due to the depth-of-field. I like the compression effect as it gives a very clean and almost painterly feeling to the background that might otherwise be too distracting and take away from the subjects in the frame.
This post by photographylife.com has a great explanation of the effect: “This combination of long lens and camera-to-subject distance gives the viewer the impression that distant objects are larger than they actually are. As a result, it gives the appearance that the background is pulled in closer to the subject. The opposite effect occurs when you use a wide angle lens. When we use a wide lens, we tend to stand much closer to our subjects compared to a telephoto lens. Because of this relative closeness, near objects will look proportionally larger than objects in the distance. As a result, the background elements become much smaller and seem farther away.”
I used a moderate telephoto lens, the Tamron 70-210mm F4, on a crop-sensor camera at 170mm, so my effective focal length was 255mm. I stood a distance away and actually used hand signals as they couldn’t hear me. The effect will be more dramatic by standing even further away and using a 300mm or longer telephoto setting. Next time you are headed out to shoot, bring along your tele lens to experiment with compressing the image.
When sunlight hits colorful fall foliage, it makes a stunning backdrop for your impromptu family portraits. The trick to getting the painterly background look that makes the subject pop off the background is to use a wide open aperture. The portrait here was taken at 70mm with an aperture setting of F/2.8. Focusing on the eyes, the background drops out due to the shallow depth of field into a painterly sparkle of fall colors. If your lens does not open to a fast aperture like F/2.8, use your telephoto lens at its maximum zoom, set the camera to aperture priority and choose the widest aperture opening (most likely F/5.6 or F/6.3) and step in a little bit closer. That combination will drop out the background for a similar look that makes a beautiful portrait suitable for framing and display on your mantle.
As all of the school year activities wind down, and some fun summer times begin, take a step back from it all and zoom in on the moments with your telephoto zoom lens. Not only will you get some more natural expressions, but your subjects will really stand out from the background with your tele lens setting. At the end of the last soccer game of the season, I remained at the side lines while the coaches gave encouragement and praise to their players and zoomed in. I caught a very natural expression on both coach and player. Additionally, while outdoors this summer, pay attention to where the sun is. Try to shoot later in the day when the sun is not so harsh. And look where the sun is hitting your subjects. Here, the sun is lower in the sky and behind the team, which adds a nice rim light to their hair and shoulders. In this lighting situation, set your camera to spot meter, as I did here, to be sure the camera gives the proper exposure for your subjects, and does not “put on sunglasses” because of the bright light behind and make your subjects darker than desired. Look for the metering button on your camera and turn it to spot. When you look through your viewfinder, you will see a the smallest of circles in the center of the frame (see below). Be sure this circle is on your subject, press and hold your shutter release button half way to lock in both focus and exposure, adjust your composition if necessary, and then take the shot by pressing the button the rest of the way.
When you say “landscape” I’m sure the vision you have in your mind is a panorama of a sprawling field, distant mountains or grand canyons taken with a super wide angle setting on your zoom lens. However, telephoto zoom settings can also be used effectively for landscape photos. When you zoom in on the details of your landscape, you can bring out something special. Here, in Nikko, Japan, I captured the majesty of the not-quite peaked fall season by isolating a few brilliantly colored trees clustered together in the still mostly green landscape. The resulting picture says “fall” unlike the wide angle shot I could have taken. Next time you’re shooting landscapes, zoom in and see what interesting detail you can find: a single tree, a mountain peak, a reflection in the lake, and more. When you use the telephoto setting, you compress the distance between objects and achieve a flat, almost painterly 2-D effect.
Today was her last game of the season (they tied 1-1). And today was the first time I shot a game this season. Shooting any sport from the sidelines can be challenging. But I’ve found a few of the following tips to be useful. First, make sure your camera is set to aperture priority and select the widest aperture you can with your lens. This way, your camera will always choose the fastest shutter speed for you. Plus, you’ll bring the focus on your subject since the background will then blur out a little.
Set your ISO a little higher (400 or 800 if sunny; 1000 if overcast) to ensure faster shutter speeds to stop the action. (If you have a point and shoot camera, try setting the camera on the sports mode). Next, put your camera on both the continuous auto focus and continuous shooting mode. If you have to lift your finger after each shot to take the next, you’re guaranteed to miss something. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch a pro shoot, you’ll remember that their finger stays on the shutter release until the ball is out of play! You almost feel as if you’re watching a video when you review their thousands of shots. For sure, knowing the game is a big help since you can anticipate where the action will be. But, if you’re sports-challenged like me, then following the ball through your viewfinder will naturally keep you where the action is and then start pressing the shutter as soon as your child enters the frame. You may also choose to follow your child, but then you sort of miss the game. Another good tip is to not stay in one place. If your child plays on the same side as where you are seated (left wing, e.g.), you may wind up shooting a lot of his or her back. If you venture to the opposing side, on your team’s goal end, you may have a better chance at getting a shot of them facing you rather than the back of their jersey. And of course, your positioning may need to change throughout the game, so be prepared to walk/run the field on a day you plan to take lots of photos. Crouch down once in a while to get a different perspective, and zoom in on details like cleats and balls to make a full story for your album, photo book, scrapbook or digital frame. And last but truly not least, make sure you have a lens that can zoom over a wide range so you can get in close when the action is far down the field (a lens that goes up to around 300mm on a digital SLR is ideal) and you can capture it all as the action gets close to the sidelines by zooming out to a wide angle setting. Additionally, while you still may want to crop in a little closer later on, the closer you are to start, the better quality your cropped photo will be in the end. (ISO 400; 232mm; 1/1250 sec; F/6.3)