Focal length and character

As my camera has a cropped sensor  the equivalent full frame focal length is in brackets .

 I used the following:

17-35mm      lens                              =  (full frame 27—–56mm)

 28-75 mm    lens                              =  (full frame 44—–120mm) 

 70-200 mm  lens                              =  (full frame 112—–320mm) 

As a rule I use between 50-85mm when taking face/head & shoulders shots.

This equals 80mm -136 full frame, which creates a more flattering perspective for a portrait.  Shorter focal lengths can distort facial features creating a caricature type portrait, hardly flattering. An altered viewpoint can be used to  generate a comical image, often seen in magazines and adverts.

Using a shorter focal length to capture a close up portrait also involves physically getting closer , unless you are really comfortable with your subject this could be problematic. I have come across some images by an American photographer, Terry Way, of his sons. Rather than using a longer focal length he has chosen to use shorter focal lengths, 17mm—–24, altering the perspective. The viewpoint is intended “to explore the thought processes going on inside a child’s head” Pg 14, Wilson David, Better picture guide to Portrait Photography , Switzerland, RotoVision 2001.Copy in scrap book

 28——–75 Lens         F2.8         1/80           ISO 250          Daylight Indoors 

 @ 17mm   

Ha , all facial features are distorted.  The wider angle and my viewpoint has exaggerated my subjects nose out of all proportion, and causes the image to  misrepresent the truth. Her head seems too big for her shoulders.  Additionally the shorter focal length draws the eye into the frame, the subject almost seems to be coming out towards the viewer. Not a flattering portrait!

  @ 28mm

My subjects nose is still exaggerated at this focal length. Although on my cropped sensor this is getting nearer a standard focal length. Again not a flattering portrait.

@ 37mm

Less exaggeration now of my subjects features, but still not exceptionally flattering. I feel her nose is still too prominent to create a truly flattering portrayal.

  @ 51mm

My subject is now looking more like herself! At 51mm on my cropped sensor this is equal to about 81mm full frame.

 @ 60mm

Even better for flattering my subject

@ 75mm

Comparable to 120 full frame this focal length creates a pleasing portrait. Shame my subjects expression is not  great, especially when compared with the portrait taken @ 200mm.  Details such as skin texture ,which create character, have not been smoothed out, and her features have remained in proportion.



70——-200 Lens @200mm       F4           1/160        ISO 400      Flash with diffuser

This is not a focal length I usually use indoors but had just had a brand new L series Canon lens and was itching to try it out. Composed in the viewfinder , not cropped post shutter. This focal length flatters the subject as all her features, especially the nose, are less prominent, but it creates a flatter composition. This focal length is useful when taking outdoor shots unobtrusively. However using this length seems to have  smoothed out her skin & wrinkles ,there are less visible flaws, does this cause the image to lose some of its impact? However I do like her facial expression and twinkling eyes. Overall a good focal length for a flattering portrait.


35mm intimate portrait.

I decided to attempt a more intimate portrait using a shorter focal length.  My normal preference is for longer focal lengths  but I feel this image is reasonably successful  as it does not distort my subjects features in a grotesque way. Obviously I stood further away but was still closer than if using a telephoto lens. This physical closeness was important to show a more personal view of my subject.  I have learnt from this exercise not to be too complacent , I would not usually even contemplate taking a portrait with this focal length, it made me consider more what I was trying to convey and how to achieve it. 

F2.8       1/80          35mm      ISO 250         Daylight WB


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: