September 13, 2012

Visual Explanation of “Normal View” in Photography

What is “Normal View”?

intro pic 600px

I must admit, I never really, truly understood what “normal view” was until I started experimenting with a fisheye (15mm) lens. I mean, I knew that it meant that the view through the lens was roughly similar to what my eye might naturally see. But, what does that really mean? What does it look like? How does it effect the kinds of pictures I take and what focal length I use?

For the sake of this post, I will be staying away from the scientific definitions of “normal view”. Science isn’t my strong suit (grin). What I simply want to accomplish is to show you visually the epiphany I experienced with fish eye, so that hopefully, you too, will have an epiphany of understanding “normal view”.
  • Here’s what you need to know:

    1. I got permission from my 12yo to fire off a dozen pictures while he worked out his Latin exercises (yes. When they are 12 years old, and of the male persuasion, it is proper & polite to ask permission rather than to presume acquiescence!).

    2. I set up a tripod, so that every picture, with every lens, at every focal length was taken from the exact same spot.

    3. I photographed this studious landscape at 15mm (fisheye), 24mm, 50mm (normal), 70mm, 105mm and 200mm. The aperture on each lens was the same, f/4.
“Normal” on my full frame camera is right around 50mm (give or take a couple mm). If you shoot with a cropped sensor camera, your “normal” will be a different focal length than my “normal.” Here is my 50mm image:

50mm view

Now watch what happens when I photograph the same scene with my 15mm fisheye:

15mm view

Dramatically different, eh? See how everything gets “pushed away” from me and how much more of the scene is visible? It’s a striking difference isn’t it?!? This is the effect that a wide angle lens has on your photographic image.

Here’s the opposite effect, 200mm:

200mm view

This is dramatic the opposite way. My son is seemingly brought right up close to me, the angle of view is way narrower, and everything is compressed together. This is the effect that a telephoto lens has on your photographic image. And now I’m flashing back to my Sesame Street watching days. Remember the Muppet that ran up close, huffed and puffed, and said “Near.” And then ran away, huffed and puffed, and said “Far.” Normal view neither pushes nor pulls your subject further from or closer to you. The subject visually remains about the same distance from you that your eye naturally sees. And the angle of view (how “wide” your eyes see in front & with limited periphery) is roughly the same also.

The other component of a “normal view” focal length is that compression (how far things are from each other) is about the same as your eye sees. If you look back on the 200mm image, you’ll see that not only is my son brought closer to me, but also the wall behind him is brought closer to him. In contrast, in the 15mm image, my son is pushed far from me and the wall behind him seems WAY BEHIND him.

Here are the images in order: 15mm, 24mm, 50mm, 105mm, and 200mm. Look for the ways that the differing focal lengths effect angle of view, perceived depth, and compression.

15mm view24mm view50mm view105mm view200mm view

And I hope that if you are remotely like my 3-year-ago-self and not totally understanding “normal”, that my fisheye is able to give you a minor epiphany, also. Now, go shoot wide, telephoto … and normal.

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