In professional portrait photography lens choice is the single most important factor in creating pleasing images that our clients will love and buy. It’s our job to make people look better than in real life not worse by using a lens that creates unattractive distortion.
All lenses create distortion, so it’s our job to only use a focal length that distorts in a good way. That’s why I use the Most Telephoto I have at my disposal within a given environment. That will always give me the good distortion known as compression distortion.
The telephoto lens, especially at 200mm and beyond, will compress a scene, pushing your subject INTO the background and, coupled with a relatively wide aperture will, at the same time, SEPARATE them from the background with really nice out of focus bokeh as in this image…
f4.5 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
As you can see the out of focus specular highlights have been turned into nice soft bokeh mostly due to the 200mm focal length NOT A WIDE OPEN APERTURE as many photographers believe. I could have used f2.8, but that would create the possibility of an unsharp subject due to lack of depth-of-field. Besides, even the most expensive lenses are not their sharpest wide open. That why I use an aperture of f4.5 for individual portraits; I get good depth-of-field AND nice bokeh!
Don’t use wide angle lenses for portraits!
I don’t use wide angle lenses for portraits because for adequate head sizes, using a wide angle lens, you must move in close to the subject(s), which causes very unattractive extension distortion. All lenses distort in some way—but this type of distortion where the closest part of your subject to the lens becomes unnaturally larger happens naturally with ALL lenses, however Short Lenses will Amplify this effect.
The telephoto lens forces the photographer to Back-Up changing the scenes perspective—compressing the scene and making the subject look great.
Here’s a side-by-side example I took during a student one-on-one class showing these effects…
Notice how the 70mm lens is making her forehead, nose and chin larger—those parts of her face are being PULLED towards the camera. I choose to use 70mm as my wide example to make my point about wide angle (extension) distortion because most photographers probably would consider 70mm to be telephoto! Besides it would be too easy to show extension distortion using a 50mm or 35mm lens.
Looking at the image done at 200mm all those features of her face are pushed AWAY from the camera using Compression Distortion creating a much more pleasant portrait.
In addition the backgrounds look very different even though I used exactly the same aperture (f4.5) on each image. Because I used my lens at 200mm that background is much more defocused and less distracting than the image using the “wide-angel” lens.
I apply this technique in ALL of my portrait photography. I always use the most telephoto I can use even in group portraits.
My Go-To focal lengths for Portraits:
Groups: 135mm to 150mm
Individuals: 200mm to 300mm
Have questions? Don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week
Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training Site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client Site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com