Zoom to Declutter — Phototip of the Week

So it’s my first “Phototip of the Week”!  I decided to go with an easy, compositional tip that helped me a lot when I was starting out.  This is old hat for pros, but something that often gets overlooked when starting to use long zoom lenses.

Oftentimes, people will ask me what my favorite lens is.  Even though it can be a tough choice, it’s pretty easy for me to pick one simply based on what lens ends up on my camera 90% of the time: my Nikon 70-200 mm 2.8/f. I loooove my long zoom lens.  For lots of reasons.  But the main reason I love it is because it is an awesome compositional tool.

It’s easy to get into the mindset that a long zoom is mainly for taking pictures that are far away, especially as a wedding or sports photographer, who needs to be able to take shots of action happening from a distance (like the ring exchange).  Imagine my surprise, then, when I first started studying photography more seriously and one of my photography mentors (who really knew his technical stuff) told me that a lot of fashion photographers use zooms for portraits.

Without getting too technical, the beauty of the long zoom lens is that it helps to make the background behind the subject larger as you zoom in closer to it.  The effect can often help to de-clutter the background or to soften what might otherwise be harsh lines behind a subject.  This can be particularly useful when shooting against something like a tree line, where branches and leaves can  create a lot of distracting background.

Take these three pictures of my dog Darcy (who is my most accessible subject, gotta love her):

24 mm                                                                                       70 mm                                                                                      200 mm


The thing I want you to pay attention to in the pictures above is the perceived width of the wooden paneling behind Darcy’s snout.  If you notice, as you use the zoom, the panels get wider and softer.  I chose this particular background to give you a measurable way of noticing the difference in zoom — this effect can be even more exaggerated, depending on your distance from the subject.

Anyway, that’s it.  I like nice, clean and soft backgrounds.  The zoom lens is an awesome way for me to achieve these things compositionally. Hope that helps!

ISO 2500, 200 mm, f/2.8, 1/160 sec


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