Comparison Of Tele To Wide Portraits

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American photographer Stephen Eastwood took the time to shoot some portraits using various focal lengths, from 350mm to down to 19mm, in order to demonstrate the effects of focal length on perspective. For each portrait, taken with a full frame 35mm DSLR, he made sure to keep the framing the same – in other words, he moved closer or further away from the subject when changing the focal length.

For the entire range of images, visit his site and scroll sideways.

What’s happening here?
The radical change in perspective is caused by depth compression. If you shoot a portrait of someone from far away, the relative distance between their nose and their ears become minimal, let’s say 5% of the distance from ears to lens, which means that their entire face appears to be the same distance away from the camera, i.e. it looks flat. But if you shoot someone from 5 cm away, the relative distance between their ears and their nose becomes much greater, say 50% of the distance from ears to lens, and therefore the nose becomes much more prominent and the ears seem further away. The face starts to look distorted.

In other words, the focal length of a lens doesn’t cause the distortion, it’s the distance to the subject. So you might think that the best portrait should be shot at the longest focal length possible? Well, not really. At longer distances, the face becomes so “flat” that a pincushion type of distortion becomes a problem. The ideal would be a middle-ground, something closer to the focal length of our natural vision. Of course, none of this information should be considered as rules of photography – depending on the application, you can shoot portraits with any focal length and distance-to-subject you like.

So, which focal length seems the most natural to you? We would say that 100mm seems to be the most flattering in this case. Let us know what you think in the comments!

Via Dean Claassens (via StumbleUpon)

Author: Francois W. Nel
  • In the beginning I was hesitant to use my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens for portrait photos, thinking it was actually meant for macro photography.  And well, I was pleasantly surprised because of its accurate perspective as well as its low light sharpness.

    • Hi Thys, I had a discussion with Dave, one of our salesmen, about this exact same lens and its use for portraiture this morning! Macro primes are typically extremely sharp, even wide open, and as such they are awesome portraiture lenses as well.

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  • Luke

    LOVE my canon 100 Macro 2.8 L!  Takes great portraits!

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  • PhotoshopNerd

    Agreed, I use the 100mm macro for portraits. No problems shooting wide open.

  • Jacques

    Just like real life from the anorexic runway model to the plus size model with no problems

  • Sue Tatham

    I agree – the 100mm is the best for portraits