What is Lens Compression?

 Tips Tricks Photography Lens Compression

“What lens is that?” “Oh I want THAT lens” “What lens should I buy next?”

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The photographers dilemma… the almighty lens. This question always seems to pop up on forums, pages, and groups; what lens is that? I mean if you look at a photograph and wonder ‘what lens is that’ then you might be a photographer. A few years ago this question wouldn’t have stumped me as a why do people ask that. A few years ago I was one of the people who asked that. So what has changed? Well, I have.

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Just recently creativeLive replayed this course Foundations of a Working Photographer. I watched it again. But this time it has been almost 3 1/2 years since I saw it the first time. And y’all, I can’t tell you how different it is to view something knowing what I now know about photography. It was really eye opening. But back to the point. Lenses. I am pretty sure that the course above was my first ever introduction to lens compression. I understood it back then. I mean that in the most studious way. I understand the mechanics of it. I understood why it happened. I understood how it happened. But it wasn’t until recently that I really understood using compression in my work.

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One thing that I took from this course above was to not buy a lens until you know WHY you are buying it. If you are into photography then you know that is a crazy notion because you want to pretty much buy every lens every minute of every day. But if you are like me, a working photographer with a budget, you can’t just go out and buy what you want on a whim. And you know what… I don’t think you should even if you can. And the reason I don’t think you should is because I don’t really think you would be able to appreciate it.

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So let’s see back then I probably owned a 50mm. Soon after this course I would have grown into the 24-70 and then a few months later the 70-200. I knew I needed every inch of range so that is what I got. But really, looking back I didn’t buy them because I knew how to use them. I bought them because I ‘thought’ I needed them. I thought I was suppose to have them. And, as they all say, hindsight is 20/20.

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So fast forward to watching this today. Today with an updated lens collection, which by some standards still isn’t anything to brag about, I watched with a different mind set. Now you see I understand. I understand why you shouldn’t buy a lens if you don’t know why you need it. And if you don’t know why you need it then you don’t need it.

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 I recently purchased the Canon 200mm 2.8 lens. I wanted the compression. I wanted the beautiful look with less weight of the 70-200. This time I knew exactly what I wanted. So what is compression. It is the ability a lens with a longer focal length has to pull the background closer to the subject. Recently we were in Galveston and one of our favorite spots is at the end of the seawall watching the ships pass by. And thanks to a mishap in the ship channel a lot of ships had come a little closer than usual to shore. I told the kids I could make the ships look a lot closer to them. And funny enough they said ‘really? how?’ and so I did it. (I guess I owe this blog post to them!)

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So the first shot is taken with my 200mm.

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tips tricks photography

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And the second is with the 50mm.

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tips tricks photography

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Both are taken with the exact same settings. I wanted Jack to be around the same size in both, so of course I was back a little farther when using the 200mm and a little closer using the 50.

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But do you see it? Can you see the compression?

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And all I could think about was how glad I was to have not been able to go buy every piece of glass I could. I am so glad that now, 4 years later, I can still say I don’t know hardly anything about photography but I do know something things. And in this moment, I pretty much know exactly why I used a certain lens over another.

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Kristina McCaleb Photography is a Dallas based portrait and lifestyle photographer. I specialize in newborn, children’s and family photography. I am available for travel throughout the United States. I am mom to two very interesting kiddos who like to keep me on my toes. 

For more information please contact me so we can start discussing your session.