Choosing Which Lens to Use Part 2

Previously, I compared the results of a group shot made with a  wide angle and a telephoto lens.

Since I recently did this as demonstration, I thought you might like to see how it went.

I placed my camera on the tripod just so I keep about the same framing, filling the frame each time, for the pictures I took.

The reason: if you change  too many variables between pictures, you won’t be able to account for difference you see in the pictures.

We started inside the classroom with:

  1. Canon 40D
  2. AWB-Auto White Balance
  3. 50 mm
  4. available light



As with most of my demos,  I take the picture, improve the image if possible one step-at-a-time.

First thing I noticed is the color.

When the color doesn’t look right, it’s time to check your White Balance.

The first picture was taken on AWB (auto white balance).

On the bottom picture, all I did was change the White Balance to Florescent.

The class is lit by florescent lights.

My students who are great sports do their impression of the Rockettes.

If this is your first time hearing this term White Balance, it’s time for you to dig out your owner’s manual folks.

Some cameras have 2 florescent light settings. By all means, try both to see which works best.

Moving Outdoors

Whenever you have room, as in you’re not constrained by space, you have more flexibility.

In our group shot situation, simply by moving my group of 5 outdoors, I removed the clutter that was on the wall, even if I leave the aperture the same after accounting for equivalent exposure.

Note: moving outdoors means you need to change the White Balance from Florescent back to AWB or Daylight.


On my cart is my MacBook Pro which is tethered to my camera. Having an assistant is such a luxury. Jesse stands with my collapsible reflector ready to fill the shadows on the faces of the group.

Once outdoors, I stayed with my 50 mm. The exposure was 1/350 f 2.8 ISO 100

Only problem with the lighting was the contrast in my scene at this time of the day, around 6 pm.

That’s where my assistant Jesse steps in.


The group without any fill with a 50 mm lens


The group using a 50 mm lens with Jesse’s fine handling of my collapsible reflector to fill their faces.


Still keeping my people about the same size, I’m filling the frame as best as I can.

This time I’ve set my 80-200 zoom at its maximum 200 mm.

With the 1.6x magnification factor, the lens is actually a 320 mm lens if I were shooting film or with a full sensor digital SLR.

Note that the exposure is still at 1/350 sec at f2.8.

Using a wide angle 17 mm lens


Notice how I can see the roofs of the modular classrooms now? And the trash can on the right.

The moment you put a wide angle lens on, everything in the scene seems to recede.

Objects get smaller.

If you don’t move closer, your picture loses impact.

I remained standing but moved closer, filled the frame as much as possible while keeping my exposure ISO 100 1/350 sec @ f2.8.

My 1st instinct when I notice such distractions is to find a different viewpoint.

Shooting upwards will give you the sky as a cleaner background.

The only problem is, everyone’s feet appears bigger being that they’re closer to the camera.

Hey, I’m not interested in their feet, I want to see their faces!

To make their faces more prominent, you may have to ask your subjects to lean forward.

ISO 100 1/350 sec @f2.8. 17mm lens shooting upwards from about 2 feet from ground.

Finally standing on a chair and shooting downwards on the group, gives me a cleaner more natural look.

You just have to watch for the tree in the background.

Some people have a “thing against having a tree growing out of someone’s head.”

I suppose I’m more forgiving about that.
When you compare the pictures, you’ll see in this example, the wide angle gives me the biggest size of my subjects.

It allows me to fill the frame with my subject.

There are no hard and fast rules.

I just think the bigger your subject is in the viewfinder, the better it looks.

Because not every picture is going to be destined to be printed the size of a billboard, the bigger you make your subjects in the viewfinder, the better.

ISO 100 1/350 sec @ f2.8. What a difference a few inches can make. Standing on a chair and shooting down.


ISO 100 1/350 sec @ f2.8. Here’s the picture again for ease of comparison, taken from normal, eye level.

Please note all pictures taken by me are full frame uncropped to give you an idea of what I actually saw in my viewfinder. Those pictures so generously shared by Carrie were cropped appropriately to illustrate this post.

Ask these questions the next time you have to choose a lens.

  1. Is it bright enough for me to use a long lens without camera shake problems?
  2. What does the background look like?
  3. If it’s cluttered, can I move my subjects elsewhere?
  4. If I can’t move my subjects and I have lights or flash units, can I turn the room lights off?

2 thoughts on “Choosing Which Lens to Use Part 2”

  1. Hello Jo,
    As much as I think a book is a great idea. That would mean I would have to hire an editor, a luxury.

    Besides, this blog keeps it “real” and also affords me the opportunity to interact with my visitors.

    If and when I do get that book, you’ll get a complimentary autographed copy.

  2. Once again, I have to say how much I wish I could take a class with you, Peter. And failing that (because it’s a long commute from India to California), COULD YOU WRITE THAT DAMN BOOK???

Comments are closed.