Focal Length has a dramatic effect on photographs. The whole image is transformed. When you shoot at wide angle the elements in the image are spaced out not just in terms of field of view (from side to side), but also from front to back with foreground and background elements looking to have more distance between them. As you increase your focal length, the field of view is narrowed and the elements in the background appear to move closer to the foreground elements. Check out the video above and the images below to see how each of the focal lengths impacts the look of the photos.
This illustration is taken from the same distance for each shot.
In the second illustration I have changed camera position with each shot to try to frame the subject the same in each photograph. It shows dramatically how the background creeps up on the subject with each increase in focal length. I have moved from approx 1 feet from the subject, in the first photo to about 30 feet away in the last photo to be able to give the subject the same framing.
A long focal length is ideal for zooming in on distant subjects so that they appear to be closer to the camera position. Short focal lengths are best for getting more of the scene into the photograph, or if you are unable to move back to get more of the scene in with a longer focal length.
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