Headshots - camera to subject distance?

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flatpicknut
flatpicknut Contributing Member • Posts: 639
Headshots - camera to subject distance?

I hesitate to ask this because I'm pretty sure it will result in conditioned responses based on "everybody knows..." information. Yet here I go.

I've been using clam shell lighting lately because it tends to be kinder to the skin problems of teenage thespians. I've repeatedly seen stern guidance that the camera "MUST be at least 15 feet away to avoid distortion" (or some similar distance), but the clam shell examples I've seen often have the camera just on the other side of a reflector or light, maybe 4 to 6 feet away. In many cases the lip of an upper softbox actually rests on the lens, and the subject is nearly touching the lower reflector on the other side. In a few cases I've seen folks shoot with a 70-200 from a bit farther back, through the gap between the upper light and the lower light or reflector, but this poses obvious challenges in trying to not get either modifier or the light stand in the shot.

With a clam shell-type setup, I shoot with a full frame camera and typically at 70mm on a 24-70 lens (I use that because the thespians always want a few pics of themselves with their best buds, so I zoom out for that, then zoom back to 70mm for the headshot). For other styles of lighting I've usually used a 70-200 or 100-400 lens at about 135mm (but getting the wide angle shot with their friends is a problem then).

Yes, I can see some distortion when I shoot this close, as compared to longer focal lengths, but I like the images. (It seems like I'm seeing more and more wide angle shots in movies and online (and especially in selfies and other pics from cell phones) so I'm wondering if maybe I'm just getting used to the distortion?

Anyway, are all the photogs who use the clam shell in this way "wrong"? Is there some other issue that mitigates the relatively short distance? Do headshots have different rules than general portraiture? Is the popularly quoted distance based on getting more of the body, so that up close is ok for a chest and head picture?

Below is an example headshot from a couple of weeks ago, cropped in a bit. I've also included a picture of the setup for this headshot. (I always try to give a little space around the subject so I can choose between portrait and landscape oriented pictures, so I usually crop a bit in the end.)

Sample from clam shell lighting setup. This has been cropped a bit and was shot at 70mm on a full frame camera.

A sort-of clam shell lighting setup used for the headshot. I'm experimenting with a light below as well as with a passive reflector. I like the flexibility of the lower light and like the speed of setup and teardown with the passive reflector.

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Doug Brock

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