I once read an article called “How to choose the right lens for the right situation” and bless my heart I thought “Duh, it’s the distance.” If I want to stand right here and get a close up, I use my 70-200. If I want to stand right here and get a wide angle, I use my 35. Done and done. Well, yes, but there is another thing to consider, and that is lens compression. There are two ways that lens compression affects your photos.
In the same way that yoga pants make your butt look cute (cause of the compression!), lens compression can also make your subject look cuter or less cute. Lens compression is a type of distortion and it can be used to your benefit! Check out the image below From Stephen Eastwood. The subject looks odd and bobble head-y when we are at 19mm. Moving up to 24 and you can start to see her face looks a tad more normal… then 35 and we still have some bobble headness going on… then at 50mm, she looks pretty great. This is why 50mm is such a desirable lens for portraits. But as we go up, you can see the distortion continues on slightly. The top row has almost no noticeable difference but you can see how the this can play a huge role in the lenses you choose.
The second way that this can affect your images is in the background. Lens compression takes your background and zooms it in. Take a look at the image below from this article by Peta Pixel.
The building behind the statue is far away. In the next image, using a higher mm lens, the building seems to move right up to the subject. In the next image, even more so and finally in the last image, the building seems to be directly behind the subject. Crazy, huh?
This image, taken years ago was the first time I REALLY chose a lens based on the compression. The couple had wanted a bridal party pic in front of the mountains. It had to be a wide angle shot since there were so many of them, so I grabbed my 35mm and took a shot. The mountains looked almost non existent. A tiny row waaaaaaaaaayyyy back there. I wish I had the “before” to show you but I wasn’t planning on writing this post back then so I trashed it. 🙁 It clicked in my brain, “Use lens compression to make the mountains bigger!” So I grabbed my 70-200mm, stood REALLY far away from the subjects and zoomed the heck in. The mountains got sucked up and looked way closer than they actually were! I high fived myself and went about my shooting.
If there is ever a background that seems too far away, grab your longest lens and use it to your advantage. Also, if you ever are shooting and it just “looks wrong” and you don’t know why, switch up your lens! It might be the compression that’s throwing you off.