Composition: Focal Length

Another technical aspect to composition is focal length.

In skateboarding, the staple focal length is somewhere between 8-16mm. Wow that’s really wide, what lens is that?

A fisheye. The lens non-skateboarders and photographers who don’t skate freak out about. “It’s cheesy, it’s too distorted, it’s cliche.”

As long as people have been pushing their skateboards, the filmers and photographers documenting them have used fisheyes.

I think it’s an act of bashing authority. Another symbol from skateboarding that shows it doesn’t care about adhering to the standards of other lifestyles.

The lens makes everything look bigger, radder, sicker, gnarlier, and sketchy-er. Perfect for what photographers and filmers are trying to do with skateboarding.

I’ll go into the use of a fisheye in another post.

Back to overall photography. If 8-16mm is a super wide angle-of-view fisheye, what’s everything from 20-85mm? That would be your moderate wide angles, through standard primes, to moderate telephoto. From 85 up to 500, 600, 47500mm, is a telephoto lens.

What effect do different focal lengths have on your composing of a photograph? With a long lens, objects can be more compressed together, and you tend to have less depth of field than a shorter/wider lens. With a shorter lens, objects are more spread out, and have more depth of field.


With this shot of Leo Martinez popping a tall switch flip off the ledges at Peace Wall, I decided to shoot with a 70-200mm lens, with it set at 200mm, in order to separate Leo from the busy background. The depth of field is very shallow, and the difference in light qualities between him and the background helps too.

I was inside editing when I heard a ruckus outside. There was an iguana chilling out on the windowsill. 200mm at f/4 was sufficient to set him apart in the frame.

In this photo, I was set to a focal length of 17mm. This made the tiles in front of me stretch out, and the mountains in the background look more distant.

I then switched to a focal length of 200mm, and framed just the tiled rooftop and three separate ridges. The longer focal length compressed the distance, making the objects seem closer together.

The next post will be a surprise, stay tuned!