Spatial Relationships and Distortion

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We all know that the main difference between a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens is the angle of view. Compared to a wide angle lens, telephoto lenses have a much smaller or tighter field of view which means that it can only capture a small part of a scene. Another difference between the two types of lenses is how they can manipulate the spatial relationships between the different objects in your photo.

Spatial relationship simply refers to how close or far an object is to another object. If objects of the same size are next to each other when you look at them then we perceive them to have the same size. If one of the objects is farther behind then the object closer to you will look bigger. Things are a little different once you start looking through your viewfinder.

For illustration purposes, here are two same-sized bowls on a dining table.

I then moved the blue bowl about 2 feet behind the yellow bowl. For the photo below, I used a 50mm lens, which closely approximates how we normally see.

For the next photo, I used a wide angle lens set at 18mm. Compared to the first photo; you can see that the blue bowl is noticeably smaller even though the two bowls were never physically moved.

The last photo was taken with a telephoto lens set at 200mm. The blue bowl now looks about the same size as the yellow bowl.

The two photos taken with a wide angle and telephoto lens illustrate spatial distortion. Wide angle lenses exaggerate the physical distance between two objects. This is the reason why wide angle lenses are almost never used for headshots. The nose of your subject will look bigger than the rest of his face since the distance between the nose to the face is exaggerated.


CC Photo by Aitor Escauriaza

Telephoto lenses on the other hand, is said to flatten a photo since it makes the objects in your photo closer to each other than they really are.

Knowing these simple facts can give you new ways to explore your photography with. Want to make your subject look taller? Shoot from below using a wide angle lens to exaggerate the distance from their feet to their head. This gives the impression of power. It can also make your subject look fat so use sparingly and with good judgment. Want to make your subject look shorter? Shoot from above using a telephoto lens to “compress” his height. This also makes people look thinner.

The great thing about the holidays is there are always more family and friends around to practice on. Take advantage of this. Happy holidays, everyone!

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