Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths

Started Apr 10, 2013 | Discussions
richj20
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Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
Apr 10, 2013

In another thread, I posted photographs of people taken at different focal lengths. I thought it would be useful to do a test with the same person at different focal lengths, so I enlisted the help of my neighbor.

The test wasn't as controlled as I would have liked: he changed is head angle slightly a few times, but I think an overall impression can be gotten.

(I'd like to get a manequin and do a similar test!)

Also, I moved his location when the sun became harsh on the face.

I positioned the tripod to frame approximately a head-shoulders pose, and moved back accordingly as I changed focal lengths from 12mm (a little less than 2 feet from lens to face) to 150mm (about 14 feet from lens to face).

Here they are -- focal lengths in m4/3 format, so double them to get full frame equivalent.

- Richard

12mm

14mm

17mm

25mm

35mm

45mm

76mm

100mm

150mm

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BingoCharlie
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013

So what have you concluded from this experiment?

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007peter
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Suggestion for a ReShoot, love the 1st photo the best
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013

Thanks for your effort, but due to the changing lighting + different angles, the test isn't useful.  For example, I like the 1st photo the best because it has the best exposure and lighting.  You lose the light on 3rd and 4th photo, and the color balance is also quite different.

May I suggest a reshoot:

  • 1. Use a Tripod on a 2 seconds timer.  This way your camera is FIXED in place
  • 2. No Fence as Background.  Try to find a long Open Space as your Background.  This way, we can see how focal length affect Telephoto-Compression on noisy background
  • 3. Try to shoot within an hour under the same lighting, same light angle
  • 4. use MANUAL EXPOSURE and fixed that exposure.  So each photo doesn't look wildly different from another
  • 5. use MANUAL WHITE BALANCE, so each photo share the same color balance
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richj20
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to BingoCharlie, Apr 10, 2013

BingoCharlie wrote:

So what have you concluded from this experiment?

That there isn't too much difference. If I couldn't see them side by side, I wouldn't think that any were completely unacceptable!

- Richard

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richj20
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Re: Suggestion for a ReShoot, love the 1st photo the best
In reply to 007peter, Apr 10, 2013

007peter wrote:

Thanks for your effort, but due to the changing lighting + different angles, the test isn't useful.

Thanks for the comments. I'm aware of what you describe, but here I was curious as to how the face changed at the different focal lengths.

I'll consider doing another test under the conditions you outline.

- Richard

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forpetessake
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013

richj20 wrote:

BingoCharlie wrote:

So what have you concluded from this experiment?

That there isn't too much difference. If I couldn't see them side by side, I wouldn't think that any were completely unacceptable!

- Richard

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You confirmed what traditionally was considered a good FL for people portraits 80-135mm in FF equivalent (most portrait lenses used to be 90-105mm). Below that the image becomes distorted and cartoonish, above that it becomes flat.

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Anders W
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Re: Suggestion for a ReShoot, love the 1st photo the best
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013

richj20 wrote:

007peter wrote:

Thanks for your effort, but due to the changing lighting + different angles, the test isn't useful.

Thanks for the comments. I'm aware of what you describe, but here I was curious as to how the face changed at the different focal lengths.

I'll consider doing another test under the conditions you outline.

One additional consideration on top of those already mentioned: One of several reasons why longer FLs (45 up) are preferred to shorter (25 down) for head-and-should portraits is that the shorter FLs will give rise to perspective distortion (compared to how we usually see things with our naked eyes) of the face, exaggerating the size of proximate features (e.g., the nose) compared to more distant ones (e.g., the eyes and ears). By having the model turn his face to the side, you reduce the importance of that element. So have the model turn his face to the camera next time.

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Aleo Veuliah
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013

You have taken a good portrait with almost focal lengths. Nice to see the differences.


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Matz03
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013

thanks for posting these, I was most interested in seeing the 25mm and 45mm perspective and wow, even bigger difference that I thought!  The age old rule is that a 50mm equivalent (your 25mm image) lens is bad for head shots and it obviously shows.  Your 45mm picture finally doesn't show that distortion and going up from there doesn't change things too much.

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Setter Dog
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to Matz03, Apr 10, 2013

Well,....color me easy to please, but they all look good to these old eyes. Nice job.

Jack

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richj20
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Re: Suggestion for a ReShoot, love the 1st photo the best
In reply to Anders W, Apr 10, 2013

Anders W wrote:

One additional consideration on top of those already mentioned: One of several reasons why longer FLs (45 up) are preferred to shorter (25 down) for head-and-should portraits is that the shorter FLs will give rise to perspective distortion (compared to how we usually see things with our naked eyes) of the face, exaggerating the size of proximate features (e.g., the nose) compared to more distant ones (e.g., the eyes and ears). By having the model turn his face to the side, you reduce the importance of that element. So have the model turn his face to the camera next time.

Well, face-on is the pose that attracts me the least, so I tend to avoid it. I know what happens, as you describe!

- Richard

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richj20
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to Aleo Veuliah, Apr 10, 2013

Aleo Veuliah wrote:

You have taken a good portrait with almost focal lengths. Nice to see the differences.

Thanks, Aleo, I'm glad it's been useful!

- Richard

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richj20
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to Matz03, Apr 10, 2013

Matz03 wrote:

thanks for posting these, I was most interested in seeing the 25mm and 45mm perspective and wow, even bigger difference that I thought!  The age old rule is that a 50mm equivalent (your 25mm image) lens is bad for head shots and it obviously shows.  Your 45mm picture finally doesn't show that distortion and going up from there doesn't change things too much.

You are welcome, and I'm glad they've been helpful!

- Richard

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richj20
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to Setter Dog, Apr 10, 2013

Setter Dog wrote:

Well,....color me easy to please, but they all look good to these old eyes. Nice job.

Jack

Thanks, Jack, it was fun to do.

- Richard

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richj20
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to forpetessake, Apr 10, 2013

forpetessake wrote:

You confirmed what traditionally was considered a good FL for people portraits 80-135mm in FF equivalent (most portrait lenses used to be 90-105mm). Below that the image becomes distorted and cartoonish, above that it becomes flat.

I'm glad it's been helpful.

- Richard

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Sudo Nimh
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to Matz03, Apr 10, 2013

Matz03 wrote:

thanks for posting these, I was most interested in seeing the 25mm and 45mm perspective and wow, even bigger difference that I thought!  The age old rule is that a 50mm equivalent (your 25mm image) lens is bad for head shots and it obviously shows.  Your 45mm picture finally doesn't show that distortion and going up from there doesn't change things too much.

I see the big difference between 17mm and 25mm. At 17mm and shorter, you feel close to the subject. I actually like that close feel for a lot of head shots, especially of young kids with their flawless complexions and especially when there's something interesting in the background.

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gianstam
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Re: Photographing a Person: Distance
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013

Your test confirms my opinion about portraits.

The photographer must be too close to his subject (for several reasons)

richj20 wrote:

In another thread, I posted photographs of people taken at different focal lengths. I thought it would be useful to do a test with the same person at different focal lengths, so I enlisted the help of my neighbor.

The test wasn't as controlled as I would have liked: he changed is head angle slightly a few times, but I think an overall impression can be gotten.

(I'd like to get a manequin and do a similar test!)

Also, I moved his location when the sun became harsh on the face.

I positioned the tripod to frame approximately a head-shoulders pose, and moved back accordingly as I changed focal lengths from 12mm (a little less than 2 feet from lens to face) to 150mm (about 14 feet from lens to face).

Here they are -- focal lengths in m4/3 format, so double them to get full frame equivalent.

- Richard

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Vlad S
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Similar test under controlled conditions
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013
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.Sam.
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Re: Photographing a Person: A test of focal lengths
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013

Thanks for the effort.

Obviously the 12mm doesn't look too pleasing. The rest seem to "useful" in a pinch. However, in my view the 45mm (e-90mm) stands out, and looks the best.

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RoelHendrickx
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Interesting... - I did the same in a LANDSCAPE setting
In reply to richj20, Apr 10, 2013

This is an interesting exercize, but the effects you show are fairly limited (note : I use "limited" not in a derogatory way, but more like an indication of the controlled state of your experiment).

There is some distortion on the face in the wider focal lengths (slightly elongated face, but well controlled, because your angle of view is good : this would be more obvious if you shot from higher to low or from lower to high).  Starting from 25mm, there is not really that much difference anymore between the shots.

That is the fact, IMHO, because you placed your model close to a neutral background.

The differences in view would be more spectacular, if you placed your model in a wide-open landscape setting (or even in a garden or room with a bit more space between him and the background) : then we would see the longer FL shots evolve from still environmental until a shot where the face is isolated against blurred and compressed neutrality.

While hiking the Libyan desert, I did a similar little test, when I was explaining to our guide Rhyssa (who became my test subject) the effect of focal length on perspective.

In that case, I was not aiming to show distortions on a body or face, but rather the relationship between a person and his surroundings.  This is relevant for portrait photographers who do not necessarily want to isolate the subject, but rather show it in his environment (and decide how much of that environment should be shown).

I used 4 focal lengths (using two lenses), trying to keep the person roughly the same size in the frame (but handheld and without calculating : this was on the fly in a few minutes), in order to show how dramatically the background would change.

Obviously the effects will be different depending on the kind of environment and the distance from the subject to the nearest objects : it works differently in a living room than in a mountainrange.

It is another test obviously - yours shows me that the face (portrait) itself is not influenced dramatically by focal lengths above 25mm (50 mm EFL).  Thank you for that.

Just for the heck of it (not meaning to hijack your thread), here is my series of four:

(If for some reason the photos do not show up as embedded - it happens sometimes - click on the space with the little red cross and you should see them...)

FL of 14mm:

FL of 54 mm:

FL of 104mm:

FL of 200 mm:

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