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Zooming With Your Feet and Your Lens Aren't the Same Thing

A common saying among proponents of prime lenses when confronted with the versatility of zoom lenses is: "Zoom with your feet!" However, that does not produce the same effect. Learn about the difference between changing your crop and changing your perspective in this quick lesson.

In this great video, Jay P. Morgan of The Slanted Lens walks us through the difference between zooming (which is essentially cropping without a resolution penalty) and changing perspective. Why should you care? Because perspective refers to the relative relationships of objects in an image, a relationship photographers frequently exploit to compress or extend the foreground-background distance and size. Watch the video above to see how moving physically closer or farther but keeping the subject the same size in the frame by changing the focal length changes the foreground-background relationship and results in vastly different images. It's a very useful technique to keep in mind when composing shots and something that anyone from portrait to landscape photographers can benefit from knowing. It allows Morgan to get exactly the right ratio of the subject to the skyline he desires while also removing distracting elements from the frame. Just remember: "Move your feet, change your perspective. Zoom in, change your crop."

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Should I tag Jared Polin?

Thank you very much! I always shake my head when people say that.

The problem in the phrasing is, that the "hardware" zoom of a lens is changing the focal length, and not - as most non photographers assume - just getting closer to the image.

If you just want to get closer to your subject to fill the frame, zooming with your feet is totally fine, the improved focus on the subject through the larger focal length, is just a welcome side effect.

If you actually care about composition of the image you do not "zoom", you choose the appropriate focal length and then adjust your position to match the framing you want.

" you choose the appropriate focal length and then adjust your position to match the framing you want."
Spot on! I'm a prime shooter and I usually know the desired focal length I want to work with - regardless of distance to the subject. As a portrait shooter - the focal length is pretty important for avoiding unwanted distortions.
For the sake of the article - yes, zooming with the lens and with your feet will give you different results.

One more video to show that lens perspective is a myth.
Only the distance to subject matters.

"Zoom with your feet" is generally shorthand for "don't be lazy." At shorter, "documentary" focal lengths, you will get better frames if you move around, keeping the best foreground/background relationship with moving subjects, compared to staying on your heels and just zooming in with a 24-70 or the like. But good luck zooming with your feet at 600mm.