If you have been exploring photography for any length of time then there is a good chance you have come across the term “Lens Compression”. What exactly does it mean? Does it affect my lens? Is it bad for my photos? Does it offer any creative twists to my photography? If you have had any of these or other questions about lens compression you’re in luck because I am going to help you understand what lens compression is and give you some ideas on how to make it work for you in your photos.
What exactly is lens compression?
When you hear talk about lens compression people are talking about what happens in a scene of an image and the proportion/relationship of background and foreground objects. Lens compression is actually a distortion with telephoto lenses. It “compresses” background objects and “stacks” them right on top of objects in the foreground. Take this photo below for instance. This shot was made with my 24-70mm lens at 50mm. This makes a nice, broad capture of the San Jacinto monument in Houston, TX and it’s very long road, right? Yes. Take a look at the black sealant used on the road’s surface. Doesn’t it appear that there is a few thousand feet of asphalt between the sealant and the monument? Yes. This represents normal perspective of what I was seeing – maybe a little wider but pretty close to the actual scale of everything. Now look at the image below.
For this image it might surprise you that I did not move one inch closer to the tower and I have not formatted/cropped the image other than putting my watermark in the lower left. The crop is straight out of camera. The only thing that changed was that I swapped out the lens that was on my camera (which was on my tripod) and I moved to the left a little because a car was coming from behind me. I took my 24-70mm lens off and put on my 70-200mm telephoto lens. Isn’t there a HUGE difference in the perspective? Doesn’t it now appear that the monument is just a short jog down the street? Doesn’t the monument dominate the image now? In fact it takes up more than half of the vertical space in the image now. It is the same scene though. I just used lens compression to my advantage. When you understand lens compression as a rule, you can use it to emphasize size in your image. I had mentioned “stacking” as an effect of lens compression. Stacking is a term used to describe what objects do in relationship to each other when using a telephoto lens. Look at the sealant again in the first image above, now look at the first road sign. See how far away that road sign appears in the first image. In the second image it is defined and much closer to us, right? That is stacking, and it is the exact same thing that is going on with our San Jacinto monument. It is being distorted and appears stacked right on top of the rest of my foreground.
How else can you use lens compression in photography
The next set of images is applying the same rule of lens compression. In my initial shot at the San Jose mission in San Antonio I was up close to the side of the mission. The tree is very large and it was eating up part of my building. The only way I could get a more full building shot was to get very close to the wall and use a very wide angle shot. I opted not to do this because I didn’t want any wide angle lens distortion, which would have made the top of my building lean away from me plus I really liked the tree in the shot. However in my first shot the tree was not adding much to scene, if anything it was taking away from the composition. What I decided to do was again switch to my telephoto lens and back WAAAAAY up. I walked across a huge field which was a good 250+ yards away to the wall on the far side of the property. I popped on my telephoto and viola. Using the same lens compression rules I shrunk the tree down and stacked the building up on top of the tree. Now I was able to get the beautiful tree and the entire building in the shot, all without losing emphasis of the building within my frame.
Conclusion: lens compression is great tool
I hope this helps to clear up lens compression and gives you some ideas on how to implement it into your photography. It can be a fantastic tool that can be used to dramatize size and scale. Play with it the next time you are outdoors and have a long distance to your background. Bring it close to your foreground subjects. Use it on mountains to make them formidable in your background and impose their great size on smaller objects. Use it the next time you are photographing a city and you want to make the skyline look large and grandiose or maybe a bridge and a boat. It even works really well in portrait photography to help blur out a distracting background but that is another lesson.
That is all for now. Thanks for stopping by today.