What is focal length and how does it affect a dog photo?

I got an e-mail from a reader, asking for more information about focal length. What is it? How does it affect my photo? When do I use what length?

As my English is a bit off when it comes to those terms, I did what any sane woman does. I googled. And I came across an excellent article that explains the basics so well hat I don’t need to!


All I need to do is translate into dog photography 🙂

So we took two lenses, one 17-70 and one 75-300, and took some photos, the Princess and I. I apologise in advance for the lack of originality and aesthetic quality…Thes photos only purpose is to show what happens when you zoom in and out.

I started with tele 300mm and ended with wide angle 17mm. Aperture is set at f/5,6, because that is the largest one I have on my 300mm (I don’t have a super expensive telelens). I wanted to show what happens to the photo even if I move my feet to keep her the same size in the frame.


300mm. Blurry background at f/5,6. Tele makes her and the bushes in the background look like they are close together.



At 140 mm you see a big difference. The background is less blurry and appears to be at a longer distance from her.



At 55mm it’s even more obvious. This I find to be a good lenght for portraits.


At a crop camera such as I have 35mm equals (more or less) what we see with our eyes, no zoom, no wide-angle.  If you have a full frame this effect is at 50mm.



Wide angle distorts the photo and exaggerates distace, making things near the camera big and things away from the camera small. The nose and ears gets really long. The distortion is more visible near the frame, not as much in the center.

Now scroll up and compare the photos. Quite a difference!

Next I stayed in “roughly) the same place and zoomed in.




Small dog, lots of grass. Note that she looks really three-dimensional, the head is big and the body small.




At 35mm she looks “normal”. The grass starts to get a bit blurry.



75mm. Nice portrait! except for the crop, of course…but she looks in proportion and the grass is nicely blurred.


At 140mm I had to change format, to make some of her fit in…



And at 300mm I had to take a step back, because the camera needed me to be a little bit further away to be able to focus. And I had some trouble holding the camera still. 

Ask 10 photographers what focal length is the best, and you get 10 different replies. We like different styles, and we work differently to get the same effect. It all depends on what you want to see in your photo!

But I really do think that you should think about the effect that the focal length has on the photo. Don’t just zoom in because the dog is far away, zoom in because you want that effect! Otherwise use your feet and get closer to the dog.

So…what do I use, and why?

Almost never tele. Why? Because I can’t hold it steady. It’s a training thing, I know, and maybe I will change my mind. But it’n not JUST that, I often like to bring in the background in my photos, and I like to be closer to the dog and feel more connected. I use 50mm, 35mm, and 17mm, depending on what style I want. Portrait? 50mm. A bit of environment? 35mm. A funny photo? 17mm.

2 thoughts on “What is focal length and how does it affect a dog photo?

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