Zoom With Your Feet

Concept: 1 out of 5
Execution: 1 out of 5
Yeah, but: "'Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter."

The Long Version: There's a lot of truly bad photographic advice out there, but I can't think of anything worse than these four simple words: Zoom With Your Feet.

The idea behind it is that moving the camera forward or backwards is equivalent to changing the focal length of a lens. It looks like it's correct; a pair of sneakers can make the subject bigger or smaller in the viewfinder. But ZWYF is an insidious oversimplification: when you move the camera, everything else changes, too.

"Zoom with your feet" fundamentally confuses perspective with proximity.

The closer something is to the camera, the bigger it looks. But moving the camera forward doesn't just enlarge the subject, it enlarges it relative to the background as well. The camera's position sets the spatial relationships within the photo, and even small movements can create huge compositional changes.

Keeping the same camera position and switching to a longer focal length doesn't change the subject's relationship to the camera or the background, it just makes it take up more of the frame. Focal length is a live-action cropping tool, a way of selecting and excluding, using the lens to create a new delineation of space. It's not just a matter of seeing farther away or squeezing more in: choosing the focal length literally defines the photograph.

Whether wide or long, different focal lengths have unique ways of seeing the world because they crop differently sized rectangles out of it. Moving closer with a wide lens doesn't make its rectangle smaller, it makes the subject bigger in it; moving back with a long lens simply does the reverse.

Subject-size and rectangle-size aren't the same things at all.

"Zoom with your feet" needs to be retired from the photographic lexicon. Every photo is a combination of the camera position and the lens's field of view, regardless of what style of lens is used. Primes and zoom lenses both have their advantages, but suggesting that changing camera position is similar to changing focal lengths does a disservice to them both.

last updated 1 feb 2012


  1. Well said Matthew. Never heard such a nonsense during film days...

  2. I agree almost no one talks about perspective anymore. The vast majority of people zoom to change the size of the object in the viewfinder not the perspective of the lens, so for those people the old foot zoom works.


Thewsreviews only permits comments from its associate authors. If that's you, awesome and thanks. If not, you can find the main email address on this page, or talk to us on Twitter.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

contact me...

You can click here for Matthew's e-mail address.