Lens Compression

A week or so ago I read a post about a photography technique known as “lens compression.” Perhaps the best known use of this technique is in the creation of “giant Sun” photos, where a silhouetted figure in the foreground is surrounded by an enormous giant orange disc.

At it’s core, lens compression is about relative distances, which is why it’s normally associated with long focal lengths. When an object is viewed at a distance, the relative distance between foreground and background objects doesn’t appear to be as great. This creates the illusion objects in the background are closer than they, in reality, are. If I understand the effect correctly, it’s the same optical illusion which causes the Moon or Sun to look larger when there are foreground objects in front of it, or when distant mountains appear to be near by when they might really be a day’s journey distant.

If you’re interested in learning more, a detailed explanation for this effect can be found at this site.

Since discovering how to create this effect I’ve been excited to try it out for myself, and last night I was finally able to attempt it. My wife and I strolled down to the river near sunset, and she volunteered to stand near the bank while I took my camera back up toward the road. I extended my focal length to 300mm and took some photos. And there is was!

I wasn’t able to capture her silhouette against the solar disc, as I was slightly above her and would have needed to be shooting with my camera near the ground 1. Even so, the compression effect appeared in the way the shimmering of the waters appear to be drawn closer the silhouette in the foreground. It’s not bad for a first attempt! I’m going to play with this technique a lot this Summer.

Silhouette in the foreground against a shimmering river
Nikon D7000 with 55-300mm lens
ISO 100

  1. This would have been possible, as I was using my remote, but I didn’t want to press my luck! 


  1. chrisjwilson says:

    Nice effect. I’m often stuck at 35mm making this kind of effect…erm tricky? The advantage of having a changeable lens I guess.

    1. wezlo says:

      Yah, though it is possible with the 35 if your minimum focal distance is small enough. Great post today, by the way. For those who don’t read Chris’s blog, check it out – http://christopherjwilson.com/avoid-making-bad-street-photos/

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