Tip of the week: Using lens compression

Although it’s technically a lens distortion, Lens compression can be used to create drama and shoot certain things in a certain way that leads a whole new meaning to the end result. But what is lens compression anyhow?

Misty morning

In essence, Lens compression is the phenomenon where elements in the background appear larger than they really are. How is that? When we shoot with a wide angle lens, we get close to the subject while the wide angle gets more of background elements in the same scene, hence they appear small. When we step back with a telephoto lens, a lot less background elements occupy the same space, hence expanding in view. This makes them look relatively larger.

Funny horse

The effect on the subject; While the subject may be the same size (when we adjust the zoom/distance), background elements will appear smaller (wide angle) or larger (zoom lens). Also the appearance of subject geometry will be affected. While a wide angle lens up close warps the subject geometry like face into a seemingly bulgy shape, a zoom lens gives a flattened look. This is again due to the distance of the face elements being closer and further than the lens. In most cases the distance perception between subject and background also changes.

Sheffield city buildings with dramatic hill background

Some interesting things that can be done with the “Lens compression” effect:

Create funny face drama: Using wide angle lenses up close to someone’s face will create a dramatic and sometimes funny looking effect. Using a high zoom with give a more formal, serious or natural look when combined with the right emotions/situation.

Creating the “big moon” effect: When shooting the moon on a landscape, use the highest possible zoom and you will see that the moon looks a huge lot bigger than it naturally does. Yes this is how those big moon photos come to life. You could shoot a wolf on a cliff with a huge moon in the background without touching photoshop this way.

moon at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple

Creating “depth less” landscape effect: When using a high zoom lens compression over a vast landscape, tree lines and field separations along with other features will look a lot closer than they are. Some very beautiful cascading hill photos are shot this way.

Making Background objects appear large in general: If one wants to show the scale things, for example a pilot standing in front of a giant globemaster, a high zoom lens can be used to achieve the effect, Although the machine might not be covered completely in the frame as a result.

Easily isolate subjects: Longer lens and resulting compression can help you isolate the subject from an otherwise large and confusing background sometimes. This is especially helpful when there a too many elements in the scene when using a wide angle.

I am sure a lot of you use this phenomenon for different effects, I would love to hear about them in comments. Thanks for reading!

Photo credits: Narongrit Dantragoon, Christopher O'grady, Constantin Opris, Alain Lacroix.

Your article must be written in English

August 05, 2019


@Mcardleh: Thank you, I appreciate your comments!

August 05, 2019


Great definition, examples, and models on how this effect can be played around with.  Thanks!

July 31, 2019


@Williamwise1: Thank you for your encouragement, Still learning to write :-)

July 31, 2019


Excellent and concise explanation on the subject of lens compression. Very understandable, compared to some websites! Thanks for writing. William

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