Creative Lens Choice

By Geoff Harris

Your choice of lens is vital when composing your image. We explain how to find the best lens for the right job.

20060430-Dudley _MG_0576

Buying a lens often takes second place to buying a camera but the lens is the part of the camera that actually records our image so therefore should in theory be more important than the camera body.

A good lens should last a lifetime or at least 2-3 camera bodies so it’s worth investing in the best you can afford.

Choosing the right lens for the job is probably the most important compositional decision you will make. Lenses can be divided into three main types.

Wide angle, standard and telephoto. Most cameras come with a standard type lens but for show stopping images go extreme! In the next few pages we look at wide angle and zoom lenses and how to push your composition to the maxnikkor_dx_10_24g_ed.

Wide angle lenses have a huge angle of view and can therefore capture large amounts of detail.

A 50mm lens (35mm digital equivalent) gives approximately the same angle of view as the human eye. So by using a 24mm (17mm digital equivalent) lens or smaller you shoot creative images the eye would never normally see

The other advantage of wide angle lenses is that they have a long depth of field; perfect for landscapes providing front to back sharpness.

Shooting with a wide angle lens means you can get up close and personal with your subjects, because most have a very short focussing distance. This is what really makes them stand out from the crowd. And wide-angle portraits can create some amusing effects such as the shot on the previous page of my cocker spaniel ‘Dudley’ asleep with his head on a pillow.


One of the golden rules for landscape images is to fill your foreground with as much detail as possible. Using a wide angle lens will help get close to the foreground creating an almost three dimensional feel. 20090222-02-328-11-2012 12-43-34This image shot by MyPhotoSchool tutor Tony Worobiec used a 24mm lens on a full frame camera to create this beautiful image that leads you from bottom left out to the top left of the image.

When out shooting landscapes, remember to include as much foreground interest as possible. Using a wide angle lens, will help you get close to the subject for an almost 3D feel to your photograph.

Turn your camera at 90 degrees and shoot portrait mode for even more foreground interest and try and get down to the same height as your subject for real frame filling action.

Shooting From the Hip


You don’t always have to see what you are going to shoot. Because of their large depth of field, you can experiment with a wide angle lens by either shooting from the hip or holding the camera above your head. There is no better place to try this style of photography than carnivals, concerts. parties or processions, such as the image above, taken in Havana, Cuba to celebrate the 80th birthday of President Castro.

You may need to pre focus for a couple of feet/1m to ensure sharp results, but by their nature, wide angle lenses give great depth of field even when the aperture is wide open.

Telephoto Lenses

ZOOM LENS EF 70-200mm f2.8 L IS II USM FRTZoom lenses or long lenses aren’t just the mainstay of the sports or wildlife photographer. Nearly 90% of my images are taken with a 70-200mm lens (28-135mm digital equivalent) and I would go so far as to say it’s one of the most versatile lenses you can own.

However; if you do need to get up close and personal to your subject, where access may be restricted, or is likely to flee in terror, then you can’t beat the super zooms which start from 300mm and go up to 800mm+.

All telephoto lenses, to a greater or lesser extent, have the effect of foreshortening a view; known as ‘picture compression’, where objects look closer in the picture than they are in reality.

This is very useful when shooting compositions with repeating elements. While another effect, is their limited depth of field capabilities, which can be a creative technique in its self.

The Effects of Compression






Compression is an optical illusion created by the effects of the longer zoom lenses.

You can see from the image on the left, how the pillars have been brought together compared to the wider angled shot seen below.

28-11-2012 12-54-49Going in Close


One big advantage of a long lens is being able to get in close and pick out ‘abstract’ details within an overall composition.

Find the smaller parts of the bigger picture and use your zoom to get in really tight.

This shot of a flamingo at a zoo is a good example of this technique.

Abstract Detail


20060812-VX4C7754Animal print or close-ups of eyes make great abstract shots.

For the best results use F/11 for the best quality image and get as parallel to your subject as possible.

Keeping your subject parallel to you, will give you pin sharp focus across the whole image.

This abstract image of a tiger would have worked better had I been ‘straight –on’ as the limited depth of field of the long lens, means I was unable to get sharp focus from top to bottom. Elephants at dusk Botswana

Keeping Your DistanceBengal Tiger, Panthera tigris, male, Bandavgarh National Park, India

Probably the most important aspect of the telephoto lens is its ability to get in close without interfering with your subject.

This makes the super zoom ideally suited for the wildlife and nature photographer, as it allows intimate portraits of birds and mammals without putting yourself or your subject in harm’s way.


















Soft Backgrounds

28-11-2012 13-06-06

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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