I went out for a scout this afternoon to find some new places to take pictures. As well as finding good locations, I needed to know which lenses to bring next time. None of the stuff in this article is ground-breaking but I think it’s a useful rule of thumb (literally).
For now, let’s forget about lens focal lengths in millimetres and think of the angular field of view of a lens. Hold your arm out straight in front of you. You can judge the angular size of a distant object by comparing it against the angular size of different parts of your hand.
|Little finger, or Index fingernail||1°|
|Thumb at its widest part||2°|
|First, second and third fingers together||5°|
|Width of palm or knuckles||10°|
|Distance between index and little fingers||15°|
So when you get home, you’ve got a list of places and the field of view you need to take each photo. Now you can use this table to figure out which lens you’ll need to give you that coverage. I’ve rounded the focal lengths to the nearest commonly-found focal lengths for APS-C DSLRs, 35mm full-frame (D)SLRs, and medium format cameras.
|Field of view||Focal length|
|APS-C DSLR||35mm FF SLR||6×7 Medium Format|
So to give a real example, if you are out on your scouting walk, and you note that you can cover part of a landscape with the palm of your hand, you know the angle subtended by the landscape is 10° and that you’ll need a 135mm lens for your DSLR when you return.
I hope this is useful to someone – I’ll certainly be using it from now on.