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.
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.
While visiting Boston over the Memorial Day weekend, we experienced a moving memorial to the fallen soldiers of Boston: 20,000 flags in the middle of The Boston Commons. Each flag represented a Massachusetts citizen who died in wars and military conflicts during the last 100 years. By shooting low (with the camera nearly on the ground as I knelt in front of the first line of flags) I was able to eliminate the distracting background of visitors and keep the focus on this sea of flags that really puts into perspective the staggering number of lives lost. The 50mm focal length setting combined with a wider open aperture of f/5.3 helped to compress the flags to give the image a painterly feeling as the seemingly never-ending rows of flags dissolves into the background.
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.