70-200mm F4 Portrait

Started Apr 16, 2017 | Discussions thread
JimKasson Forum Pro • Posts: 32,097
Re: Portrait peeping?

FingerPainter wrote:

JimKasson wrote:

FingerPainter wrote:

Jim wrote:

I've had the chance to learn by observing and questioning a couple of pros (not formal lessons). One of these pro's subjects included several US Presidents, and many other world leaders and entertainment figures. Another was a goto photographer for professional actors' headshots. I think the photographers knew what they were doing. The preferred subject distance was never under 2.5m when taking portraits of adults, and often over 3m.

To get the framing you used in the second example below from 2.5m on FF, one would need a 200mm lens. To get an actor's tight headshot at 3m one might use a 300mm lens.

Like a 300/2.8 in a studio setting? I've never seen that. Sounds like hard work to hold it.

You've never seen tripods used in studios?

But let me offer a few examples from my own efforts in that realm.

These are all very well executed - better than I could do myself (I still have lots to learn about lighting), yet to my eye, all three are taken from too close, The first is the least objectionable.

Maybe it's a matter of taste.

Probably, at least in part, It can also be a matter of intent.

I find that distant shots with long lenses look "flat" to me. There's also the issue that the eyes seem to be focused at something behind me when I look at the images from a comfortable distance. I already mentioned the lack of rapport when you get too far away.

Yes, that can be real concern.

I'll have specific comments on the bottom image down below.

Sometimes a 135mm FF equivalent works when you're really in tight:


If I were to shoot this immediately-above image with a much longer lens, I would have needed a stepladder to get way up in the air.

I think a stepladder was present in each of those pro's studios.

More, important, I think I would have lost the feeling of intimacy that IMO makes this photograph work.

Perhaps intimacy is not what a photographer of prominent people always strives for.

Here's an data point: Karsh used a 14-inch Commercial Ektar for many of his images. That's about 350mm. The diagonal of an 8x10 neg is about 160mm.

I think you'll find it is actually around 315mm.

Yes, I was thinking of 4x5. I did get the FF equivalent right below.

So he used about a 50mm FF equivalent lens.


If his famous 1941 portrait of Churchill was taken with that setup, the photos during that session were taken from a range of shooting distances between about 2.3m to 2.7m. Karsh was given very little time and knew he had no time to change lenses, and that he'd have to shoot photos of Churchill alone and with the Canadian Prime Minister. Also the available space was restricted. Considering the circumstances, a normal lens seems an appropriate choice.

I'm sure you'd agree that Karsh did not act to achieve "intimacy" with Churchill. His goal was not a conventionally flattering portrait, but rather to bring out belligerence. Belligerence is better portrayed with a shorter shooting distance. When shooting headshots for an actor auditioning for the part of a violent bad-guy, shorten shooting distance and shoot from below eye height, so as to emphasize the chin.

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