Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths

Started Apr 10, 2013 | Discussions thread
G1Houston
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to richj20, Apr 11, 2013
  • And this from a post by G1Houston: "However, there is really no good reason to use a WA lens for head and shoulder shot." Well, what if that is the lens I have mounted at the moment and it's not convenient to switch lenses? Consider the following photograph, which I posted in another thread. I was photographing in the courtyard and plaza of our historic Spanish Mission Inn. I was using my Panasonic 7-14mm lens because of the close confinement. I struck up a conversation with a tourist. We admired each other's hats, so we each took a quick snap. I knew from experience that @14mm (=28mm) I could back away 4 or 5 feet and later crop for a head and shoulder shot. So, I stepped back and moved a bit to the side and clicked. I think it works:

My point is that IF you had the choice to pick a lens to make a good and easy head-shoulder shot, you should reach for the 45 or 75 mm lens first, depending on the working distance.  If you ONLY had the 7-14 at the time, then, of course, that is the lens you have to use.  If people understand why in general a WA lens is to be avoided for head shots, they could plan ahead to avoid perspective distortion, like you did — stepping back and cropping. Alternatively, one could have also decided to take advantage of the strength of the WA lens to make an environmental portrait to show more of the left side in order to illustrate what the guy was seeing.

Understanding the strength and weakness of each type of lens can help people to pick the right tools for the job.  The reason that a 85mm lens for the FF is generally considered the best lens for head shot is because you could just aim the lens at someone, frame it, and shoot, and the head in the picture will end up mostly geometrically correct.  You don't have worry to about at what distance you can get the head framed, and whether or not you need to crop.

Does a good portrait have to be geometrically correct?  Of course not as one can use the distortion artistically to make a point.  The difference here is that the photographer can visualize the distortion in order to use it properly.  If one just clicks away without even knowing that there is distortion then it is entirely by chance that a good picture is produced.

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