How focal length and subject distance affects car photography

We’ve all seen these kinds of animations before when it comes to portrait photography. We’ve featured a few of them here on DIYP before where we see how the changing focal length affects the way a subject’s face is rendered. And as with the portrait ones, this one serves as a good example of that point but using cars. Although it’s slightly misrepresenting itself.

As with similar such animations for portraits, this Reel post from liberdamedia leaves out the fact that the distance to the subject has changed, too. And that’s what really affects your perspective – more so than the focal length. But it’s a great example to illustrate how the shot changes as you alter those two variables.

Naturally, when you shorten your focal length to get a wider shot, you need to move closer to your subject to have them fill the same space in the frame. This is what’s causing the perspective distortion. Likewise, when you want to reduce the distortion, you need to move further away. But after you’ve moved back, whether you crop in that wide-angle lens or go to a longer focal length, your perspective won’t change.

The only difference is how much room the car takes up in the frame. This is why you generally want to go to a longer focal length unless capturing the environment is part of the look you’re after. Getting the right distance and perspective can often be more difficult with vehicles than it can with people. For a start, it’s a lot easier for you and your subject to move if you both have legs. Cars are heavy and aren’t as manoeuvrable as people.

But if you’re not quite able to get the shot you’re after, it might just be that you can’t get far enough away from the vehicle to not get that unwanted perspective distortion from being too close with a wide-angle lens. Or, maybe you do want some of that distortion to make the car seem more imposing and do need to get closer.

It’s all personal preference, really. But hopefully, the animation above will help to guide you.

What focal length do you usually use for photographing cars?

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