Using Compression to Create Compelling Images

Compression is a technique in photography to make objects appear closer to each other than they really are. The method in which to accomplish this goal is in the use of a telephoto lens. The longer the lens reach, the more compression that takes place. At a focal length of 35mm, the image will most resemble what your eye sees. As the focal length grows, the elements within the scene will get pulled closer and closer to each other.

This opens up a whole new world of photographic possibilities that you must train yourself “to see”.

My image, “Vermillion’s Shore” is a classic example as to what compression can accomplish. While scouting the Vermillion Lakes in Banff National Park I took this image with a wide-angle lens. The image is unedited and is only for scouting purposes.

You can clearly see the distance between the elements within the scene. In fact, because we’ve decreased the focal length below 35mm we’ve actually accomplished the opposite of compression. The elements within the scene appear further apart then they really are. I love to photographic layers of color and light and I was instantly drawn to the brown grasses, red bushes, evergreen trees, layered one by one, with snow-covered peaks as a backdrop.

I used a Canon 70-300mm lens, at 105mm on a cropped sensor body for an effective focal length of 168mm to achieve proper compression. I also studied the location for the best light and photographed the scene shortly after sunrise.

Here is the final result. Isn’t it incredible how different it appears than the image taken with a wide-angle lens? Get that telephoto out of your bag, put it on your lens, and start compressing the scene!

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