Sally Jane Photographic Art

Fact Sheet 4


Pet Photography - Focal Length

A very common mistake that people make is to get into the habit of thinking of the zoom feature of their camera as just being there to take objects in the distance. Or, similarly, to assume that the focal length the camera starts up in is some kind of neutral setting to be used as a default unless taking objects that are far away. Not all cameras have a zoom of course, some are fixed focus and if yours is one of these than you can skip to the next section. For the rest of you with digital cameras with a zoom there are two types; optical zoom and digital zoom. If your camera only has a digital zoom then forget it, it basically doesn't have a zoom at all. A digital zoom only blows up the image the same as you can on a PC. In doing so you lose picture quality. If this is your type of camera and you have even the most basic of image editing software on your PC then it is not worth using the digital zoom on your camera at all so skip to the next section.

OK, so that has whittles the field down a bit. Now let's discuss optical zoom. This is the good old fashioned type of zoom through the lens as it has been for decades. With a compact camera, i.e. one where you don't have separate lenses to fix to the camera body, you will have a lens that can to some extent change from wide angle, through normal, to zoom. When you turn the camera on, in the majority of cases, the camera will be in its fully wide angle state. This is set as a default because the majority of the time you will be taking views and that is exactly what it was meant for. In order to get the full view into the same space that a zoom lens would have the image is distorted. We don't notice this until you try to take something with straight parallel lines. Have you ever noticed how the edges of buildings sometimes appear curved? This is wide angle distortion. Now apply this to a face. Take a photo of a friends face with the camera in its default wide angle mode and the result will likely not impress. The face will be distorted showing a slightly larger nose and more puffy cheeks than normal. The effect will be subtle and may go unnoticed until you compare it with one that has been taken on a longer focal length. It is, however, often the reason why women in particular, hate seeing photographs of themselves. That's right folks, we really don't look like that in real life!

So what should we do about it in order to get the best shots for our pet portraits? It's simple really, use the lens at about half zoom and just get back a little from your subject so that it fits nicely in frame. Don't use full zoom if you have more than 3 x optical as it can then be harder to get a sharp image without a tripod and full zoom can in itself produce distortion.


One other thing to mention on a similar point is your position relative to your subject. As a rule of thumb, and this is a rule that can be broken but you need to understand it first, try to be on the same level as your pet. By that I mean, eye level. This is particularly important if you are going to remove the background later. Looking square onto your pet rather than down on him, or up his nostrils, will produce a far more balanced shot. Like I say, once you are happy with what your angle is doing to the final image then you can experiment by breaking this rule.