How far can your camera see?

For a beginner, it is important to be aware of the different types of objective lenses. There are three fundamental categories: normal, telephoto and wide-angle.

Normal lenses have a focal length of around 50 mm. They are conventionally regarded as the workhorse of many photojournalists. 50-mm lenses give pictures correct perspective with little distortion – telephoto lenses are often used for portraits for their more pleasing effect. Normal lenses thrive in documentary and street photography.

Telephoto optics are long-focus lenses that are used to make distant subjects appear magnified. Lenses with a focal length longer than 85 mm are considered telephoto. Long-focus lenses with a large aperture opening are used to remove the subject from its background. Long lenses with a narrow angle are useful when the object of the photograph is far away. They make the feel of distance shorter in the image, but they flatten objects and make them look as if they are closer to each other on the depth axis than they really are.

Wide-angle lenses have short focal lengths. Any lens less than 35 mm focal length are considered wide-angle. Extreme wide-angle lenses with a focal length of less than 21 mm are typically used when shooting architecture, but for a photojournalist they come in handy in crowds, small apartments, nooks and crannies. Wide-angle lenses show a larger area of the event site, but by using them the image looks more distant.


Can you come up with situations, where different lens types could be used deliberately dishonestly, giving the audience a false image of the place, person or a news event?

Keep Reading:

Meeting the subject of photography; Tips for a photographer
Go back to the beginning of this section.

This article was updated on January 10th 2020.