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Using a zoom lens to isolate a subject | Family Photography Hints Tips and Advice

Even if you use a modest compact camera for your family photography, you probably have the ability to zoom in (use the camera to get closer) to your subject. Generally, people simply see this as a way of getting closer to what they want to photograph, but you may also have noticed that the look and feel of the shot changes. You can use this these properties to your advantage if you know a few simple things.

family photography

This is Panda (we’re not always very imaginative with names in our household). Panda was a present all the way from China to Oscar just after he was born. Panda is about the size of a two-year-old toddler.

This first shot has been taken the same way you might take shots of a young child – about five feet away with the default lens. It’s easy to understand why so many shots are taken this way in family photography; you can stand close to your child, so why wouldn’t you?

Immediately, you notice a few things: there’s a lot of background and it is only slightly out of focus. Compact cameras are made on the assumption that people want as much to be in focus as possible – and if you were shooting a landscape this would be true.

However, in this case the background is very “busy” and “cluttered” with a lot going on that detracts and distracts from Panda. The shot becomes a bit of a mess because Panda is not isolated from the background.





family photographyHowever, by walking back away from Panda (about 12 feet away in this case) and then zooming in so he fills the frame in the same way, notice how different the background now looks.

Firstly, there is less of it and secondly it is far more out of focus. This has the desired effect of separating the subject from the background and creating a cleaner, less cluttered shot.


Now it’s your turn:

Grab your camera and position a willing subject or your own Panda in a spot that is at least about five feet from you and at least 10 feet from the background. Initially, you might find it better to experiement outside where you have more space.

Stand close and take a shot using the wide angle (W) setting on your lens.

Now move back at least three steps – further if you have the space – and zoom in so your subject is about the same size as in your first shot and take another shot.

Can you see the difference? Which effect works better for you?

Continue to try several positions and settings until you understand how your camera and lens creates different looks.

Do you feel an improvement? Would you use this in some of your family photography? Do let me know what you think.

And, most of all, enjoy yourself . . .


This post is a one in a series on Family Photography hints, tips and advice that I will be posting in the run up to Christmas. Please add a comment here or on my Facebook page if there is any aspect of your photography you’d like some help with.

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