Lenses for photographing people...

Started Apr 8, 2013 | Discussions
richj20
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Lenses for photographing people...
Apr 8, 2013

From time to time, discussions emerge about the the ideal lens (whatever that means) for photographing people.

Well, unless you specifically have your "ideal lens" mounted, or are carrying two camera bodies, you might not be prepared for the unexpected opportunity to use your "ideal lens."

I've always felt that most any lens can do a pretty good job photographing people, depending on various factors, such as the  background -- which you can't always control with candid opportunities, in which many of my photographs are taken.

I've looked back at some recent and past photographs of people taken with various lenses and focal lengths. Here are a few. I've indicated the focal length followed by (= ) to give the full frame equivalent.

- Richard

1. Panasonic 7-14mm f/4

@14mm (=28mm)

2. Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6

@14mm (-28mm)

@23mm 9+46mm)

@33mm (=66mm)

@34mm (=68mm)

@45mm (=90mm)

@45mm (=90mm)

3. Panasonic 20mm f/1.7

(=40mm)

(=40mm)

4. Canon EFS-17-55mm f/2.8

@55mm (=88mm)

@55mm (=88mm)


5. Panasonic 45mm f/2.8

(=90mm) [marathon runner]

6. Canon EFS-60mm f/2.8

(=96mm) [she let me photograph in her garden and afterwards I asked to take a quick closeup]

7. Canon EF-85mm f/1.8

(=136mm)

(=136mm)

8. Olympus 40-150mm/Panasonic 45-150mm

@103mm (=206mm)

@150mm (=300mm)

@150mm (-300mm)

@150mm (=300mm

s_grins
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to richj20, Apr 8, 2013

Based on you experience, what lenses would you recommend for photographing people?

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Marathonianbull
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to richj20, Apr 9, 2013

I have just figured out that I like all your pictures stemming from the 14mm (x2) & 45mm (x2) focal lengths, no matter the lens involved. Interesting, no!?

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Albert Ang
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to richj20, Apr 9, 2013

richj20 wrote:

I've always felt that most any lens can do a pretty good job photographing people, depending on various factors, such as the  background -- which you can't always control with candid opportunities, in which many of my photographs are taken.

The lighting and the object matter too

I like the shot @150mm. But it has nothing to do with the lens focal length, it's the soft light (I presumed it's on a cloudy day) and her wonderful expression which make the photo.

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richj20
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to s_grins, Apr 9, 2013

s_grins wrote:

Based on you experience, what lenses would you recommend for photographing people?

I have no recommendations for others.

In my view, it's an area of photography that elicits very opinionated ideas from people, and is best left for each person to experiment for her/himself!

- Richard

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richj20
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to Marathonianbull, Apr 9, 2013

Marathonianbull wrote:

I have just figured out that I like all your pictures stemming from the 14mm (x2) & 45mm (x2) focal lengths, no matter the lens involved. Interesting, no!?

Yes, indeed!

- Richard

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richj20
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to Albert Ang, Apr 9, 2013

Albert Ang wrote:

richj20 wrote:

I've always felt that most any lens can do a pretty good job photographing people, depending on various factors, such as the  background -- which you can't always control with candid opportunities, in which many of my photographs are taken.

The lighting and the object matter too

Yes, numerous factors come into play. In setting up a session to photograph someone, we can usually control the lighting and background. But in candid situations, this isn't always possible, such as the photograph of the man with hat and sunglasses @150mm: he is sitting in a boat getting ready to dock, with the light hitting him directly on the face -- not the best of lighting! -- but he liked the pose/expression (I do also).

I like the shot @150mm. But it has nothing to do with the lens focal length, it's the soft light (I presumed it's on a cloudy day) and her wonderful expression which make the photo.

You are correct. This was also candid, hand held. She (a neighbor) looked to the side watching a cat on the sidewalk, and as she smiled, I clicked.

- Richard

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LucaBrasi
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to richj20, Apr 9, 2013

Your wonderful photos, taken with a variety of lenses reminds me of the lyrics from Crosby, Stills and Nash: "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." Luca

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richj20
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to s_grins, Apr 9, 2013

s_grins wrote:

Based on you experience, what lenses would you recommend for photographing people?

In reconsidering your question -- I didn't mean to be dismissive in my response. So, I'll go out on a limb with recommendations, based on my experiences:

  • Outdoors: Panasonic 45-150mm
  • Indoors, with tripod: Panasonic 45-150mm
  • Indoors, hand held: Panasonic 20mm f/1.7; Panasonic-Leica 45mm f/2.8

Here is one with the 45mm f/2.8 -- this young lad just got a Bingo!

- Richard

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richj20
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to LucaBrasi, Apr 9, 2013

LucaBrasi wrote:

Your wonderful photos, taken with a variety of lenses reminds me of the lyrics from Crosby, Stills and Nash: "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." Luca

Thanks -- I'll have to remember those lyrics!

- Richard

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OniMirage
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to richj20, Apr 9, 2013

The full frame equivalent of ideal focal length for portraits is < 50mm. It has only to do with rendering the subject accurately without distortion. That's it.

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clengman
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to OniMirage, Apr 9, 2013

The full frame equivalent of ideal focal length for portraits is < 50mm. It has only to do with rendering the subject accurately without distortion. That's it.

This is bull. First, where do you come up with "less than 50mm?" Second, what's your definition of rendering accurately? If you take a head shot with a 14mm lens, the camera just recorded exactly what that subject looks like from that distance. That is an accurate rendering. The features may appear distorted relative to the image you have of that person in your mind's eye, but if you put your eye at the same distance that the camera was when you took that head shot at 14mm, your eye will see the same "distortion" that the camera did.

You're talking about aesthetics, not accuracy. The camera is always accurate. The human eye/brain combination applies all sorts of non-optical a priori information before presenting the "perception" that you think you are "seeing".

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s_grins
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to OniMirage, Apr 9, 2013

OniMirage wrote:

The full frame equivalent of ideal focal length for portraits is < 50mm. It has only to do with rendering the subject accurately without distortion. That's it.

I think this a great answer (maybe little inaccurate)

I think that short focus (WA) lenses are very sensetive to leveling and tilt, you have to move them out from the subject. Convenient focus lens begins with 50mm and up to 80mm. But, you can use shorter and longer focus it you want to let's say, shorten a little big nose or stretch a little short chin.

All the rules here are the basis for deviation.

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G1Houston
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All lenses can be used to photograph people, but
In reply to richj20, Apr 9, 2013

The key factors to consider are to avoid distortion as you get closer to the person and to maintain proper working distance.  Basically, to generalize it,

If you want "environmental portrait," showing a person in his/her environment, you need a wider (35 mm and down) lens.

If you want head or head and shoulder shots, you need a longer lens (e.g., 85mm and up).

If you want to emphasize body parts, lips, toes, skin tone, etc, you need a macro lens.

If you need to blur the background (because you cannot eliminate clutters), you need a long and fast lens.

Of course you can also use a 300mm lens for environment portrait, provided that the very long work distance is not a problem.

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OniMirage
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to clengman, Apr 9, 2013

clengman wrote:

The full frame equivalent of ideal focal length for portraits is < 50mm. It has only to do with rendering the subject accurately without distortion. That's it.

This is bull. First, where do you come up with "less than 50mm?" Second, what's your definition of rendering accurately? If you take a head shot with a 14mm lens, the camera just recorded exactly what that subject looks like from that distance. That is an accurate rendering. The features may appear distorted relative to the image you have of that person in your mind's eye, but if you put your eye at the same distance that the camera was when you took that head shot at 14mm, your eye will see the same "distortion" that the camera did.

You're talking about aesthetics, not accuracy. The camera is always accurate. The human eye/brain combination applies all sorts of non-optical a priori information before presenting the "perception" that you think you are "seeing".

Um the opening in the symbol is greater than.

http://www.mathsisfun.com/equal-less-greater.html

Distortion...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide-angle_lens

The camera captures a flat plane, a lens adds focal length, a lens is not perfect and can add distortion. In the case of wide angles this can be bad up close for portraits if you intend to be try and capture a faithful head shot for instance.

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OniMirage
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to s_grins, Apr 9, 2013

s_grins wrote:

OniMirage wrote:

The full frame equivalent of ideal focal length for portraits is < 50mm. It has only to do with rendering the subject accurately without distortion. That's it.

I think this a great answer (maybe little inaccurate)

I think that short focus (WA) lenses are very sensetive to leveling and tilt, you have to move them out from the subject. Convenient focus lens begins with 50mm and up to 80mm. But, you can use shorter and longer focus it you want to let's say, shorten a little big nose or stretch a little short chin.

All the rules here are the basis for deviation.

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Indeed anything can be used for a portrait. Knowing how certain focal lengths behave is important if you have multiple options to capture your image and time to set up. 50+ just tends to be easier to get pleasing results, flatter with less average distortion.

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LMNCT
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to richj20, Apr 9, 2013

Very nice work. It seems that any lens can be a "people" lens in the hands of a good photographer.  Good for you!

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Hen3ry
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...yes, but -- examples
In reply to richj20, Apr 9, 2013

richj20 wrote:

s_grins wrote:

Based on you experience, what lenses would you recommend for photographing people?

In reconsidering your question -- I didn't mean to be dismissive in my response. So, I'll go out on a limb with recommendations, based on my experiences:

  • Outdoors: Panasonic 45-150mm
  • Indoors, with tripod: Panasonic 45-150mm
  • Indoors, hand held: Panasonic 20mm f/1.7; Panasonic-Leica 45mm f/2.8

Hiya Rich

Fine example, but rather than specific lenses, I would suggest that focal lengths/apertures would be more helpful to all.

I tend to go Oly f1.8 45 for most portraits, indoors or out -- it’s the focal length that matters -- with back-up from my second (of two, the other is the Panny 14) walk around lenses -- the Oly 40-150.

Nice work on the wide angle portraits -- you show excellent control of the distortion that naturally occurs -- makes me envious.

When I use the Panny 14 or the Oly 9-18 (at or very near the 9mm end) for portraiture I am either deliberately going for the distortion or backing off a bit to get a fair bit of "environment" in.

A few examples of mine:

Oly 45

Panny 14

Oly 40-150

Oly 45

Oly 9-18

40-150

Cheers, geoff

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clengman
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...
In reply to OniMirage, Apr 9, 2013

clengman wrote:

The full frame equivalent of ideal focal length for portraits is < 50mm. It has only to do with rendering the subject accurately without distortion. That's it.

This is bull. First, where do you come up with "less than 50mm?" Second, what's your definition of rendering accurately? If you take a head shot with a 14mm lens, the camera just recorded exactly what that subject looks like from that distance. That is an accurate rendering. The features may appear distorted relative to the image you have of that person in your mind's eye, but if you put your eye at the same distance that the camera was when you took that head shot at 14mm, your eye will see the same "distortion" that the camera did.

You're talking about aesthetics, not accuracy. The camera is always accurate. The human eye/brain combination applies all sorts of non-optical a priori information before presenting the "perception" that you think you are "seeing".

Um the opening in the symbol is greater than.

http://www.mathsisfun.com/equal-less-greater.html

Distortion...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide-angle_lens

The camera captures a flat plane, a lens adds focal length, a lens is not perfect and can add distortion. In the case of wide angles this can be bad up close for portraits if you intend to be try and capture a faithful head shot for instance.

Sorry buddy that's a "less than" as in 5 < 10.

Focal length doesn't add distortion. The camera's position relative to the subject can give the appearance of distortion. People think that focal length adds distortion because you have to move closer to the subject for equal framing with a wider lens compared to a longer lens. That's it.

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richj20
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Re: Lenses for photographing people...yes, but -- examples
In reply to Hen3ry, Apr 10, 2013

Hen3ry wrote:

richj20 wrote:

s_grins wrote:

Based on you experience, what lenses would you recommend for photographing people?

In reconsidering your question -- I didn't mean to be dismissive in my response. So, I'll go out on a limb with recommendations, based on my experiences:

  • Outdoors: Panasonic 45-150mm
  • Indoors, with tripod: Panasonic 45-150mm
  • Indoors, hand held: Panasonic 20mm f/1.7; Panasonic-Leica 45mm f/2.8

Hiya Rich

Fine example, but rather than specific lenses, I would suggest that focal lengths/apertures would be more helpful to all.

I wouldn't attempt to do that! Too many variables. As I indicated in my earlier post, it's such an individual thing, so that each person should test to evaluate the results at different focal lengths!

See my new thread, which shows one person taken at different focal lengths.

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51261265

- Richard

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