Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Short VS Wide: Portrait 101

I did a little project to help illustrate the difference in lens size since this concept is hard to grasp without visual reference.  I found myself trying to explain this using arm movements the other day and decided I’d do a blog post. People always ask me this sort of question when they are shopping for lens. They want to know what size to get. Photographers throw around the lingo all the time: Short and Wide. To a noob I imagine this sounds like “howerodfh” and “SLKJFdi”….because it did for me at first.

So here are two pictures (both slightly out of focus because I rushed, whoops!)

Both portraits but with two different effects and compositions because of their difference in focal lengths

Both taken approximately two meters from the subject (the first one is actually slightly farther away if you read the specs. This is because my 85mm needs a little more room to focus correctly)

same light scenario

picture A, 85 mm:


Picture B, 24mm:


Drastically different results right!?

It’s your job as the photographer to use focal lenths to your advantage, because as you can see they have an entirely different feel. Your focal length is a crucial decision in your composition.

The 85mm with an open aperture is a flattering distance for portraits. It’s often called a “short” or a “portrait lens”.

The 24mm is my “wide” because as you can see, it’s a wide view. I like to use a wide to allow more background information. What do my surroundings tell me about the subject? It’s not as frequently used for portraiture because there is some lens distortion. Since the lens itself has a greater curve, the subjects face will warp. This 24 lens is so wide that extreme warping happens around the perimeter (much like the artsy fish-eye). I try to keep the subject away from the edges. A wide lens is going to have a tendency for a dark vignette.

Here’s our specs (picture A on the left, B on the right)


You’ll notice a few differences. in exposure and ISO time since the sun was setting ( I took picture B first). I kept the Aperture the same so you could see the differences in depth of field. When you use a short lens, you can see the field of focus more prominently, meaning better bokeh and better isolation of the subject.

***Also I should take a moment to note that I’m working with a full frame sensor. On a cropped sensor camera a 50mm will be the standard “portrait” lens. (Although many prefer the 35mm)

If you’re still a  little lost This little gadget will help you get a feel for how all of the focal lengths compare. The page also has a more in depth explanation as to why the lens  magnifies the way it does. Go read it!


and unrelated: I laugh because every-cotton-pickin-time I take a picture on the self timer, the first picture is me fixing me hair. I’m terrible with timing things apparently and I guess I have  tick about wanting to my hair to look nice…I am a girl after all ….

I wonder if other people  have this problem and I realized that normal people don’t sit on street curbs and take pictures of themselves….


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