The secrets of taking good pictures: Distance

Photography expert Tom Langford gives tips to help give your photos a professional touch.

July 17, 2012 12:43
3 minute read.

Chess. (photo credit: Tom Langford)

Tom Langford is an event and commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.

There is a famous quote from the war photographer Robert Capa: If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough.” He was making the important point that the closer you get to the action the more involved and intimate your pictures will appear.

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Choosing the best distance to take a picture from is one of the first choices made by photographers as they prepare to take a shot. If you use the wide-angle end of your zoom lens you can go in close to capture intimate images. If you shoot from a distance and zoom in, your shots will have a cooler, more observational feel. Which end of the zoom you use will affect the emotional impact you want to convey, so it’s vital that you carefully choose the distance even before taking your camera out of the bag.

Snappers can take shots from wherever they are standing and use the zoom to conveniently crop the image. Photographers always move to the distance that will give the effect they are after – they use the zoom only to create the most effective composition from that position.


Explanations are no substitute for experience, so here’s a simple experiment you may like to try: Find a cooperative subject and take two similar pictures, one from about a meter away and the other from as far back as your zoom lens will allow. Just make sure that the subject is the same size in each picture. Let’s look at the examples below:

Tom Langford

This is a cute picture of a girl playing with a soft toy. Because it’s taken close up with the wide-angle end of a zoom you feel as if you are sitting beside her.

Tom Langford

Here is the same picture taken from a few meters away using the telephoto end of the zoom. It’s less intimate and has a more formal quality to it. Shooting with a telephoto lens will often throw the background out of focus and this gives the picture a more artistic effect.

Tom Langford

This is a close up shot taken with my cellphone camera. You are definitely in amongst the action here! If I had had a long zoom lens available I could have stood well back, zoomed in, and taken a shot of the child considering his next move. The effect would have been to give a feeling of detachment, which would exaggerate his concentration on the game.

Good photographs don’t just happen; they are the result of a whole series of informed choices that experienced photographers make instinctively. Choosing the appropriate distance is vital to your progress: Never use your zoom as a lazy way to crop an image: Consciously choose the best position and only then use the zoom to refine the composition. It can be hard work, but the end result will be worth the effort.

Constructive Feedback: If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a picture and I may use in one in my articles with some constructive feedback.  Send one picture only, at a small size to suitable for emails to

If you don’t know how to send a photo by email at a small size please look at my Brief Guide to Picasa:

Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and improvers. Details of his courses and field trips at:

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