We’ve always heard a saying that a camera adds ten pounds, and that’s true to a certain degree. Choosing the best lens for your portrait image always depends on the impact you want to make. The same portrait of a person taken with different lenses reveals how far the lens, and how far you are from the subject, changes the way the person appears in the picture.
If you look at these series of portraits taken by Dan Vojtech, you can immediately see the difference between how the face gets smaller and more blurred as the photographer uses wide-angle lenses, and how it continues to become more proportionate when the focal length increases.
It is a common myth that the distortion we see in the wide-angle lens images has to do with the lens itself, but surprisingly, it has to do with the real distance between the photographer and the subject.
When photographing with a telephoto lens (above 50mm), the photographer must shift farther away from the subject for two reasons: one is to fill the frame, and two is to allow the lens to focus. The greater the focal length of the lens, the longer the focal length of the lens is for that lens (unless, of course, you have a macro lens, but that’s for another story).
So, of course, when filming with longer lenses, the photographer is forced to stand back. But if you try to hold the same frame and use a wide-angle lens, the photographer is forced to move closer and closer to the subject. And as that happens, objects that are closest to the lens look bigger than things that are farther out, such as a person’s nose (especially mine).
So there is also no universal concept on using a specific lens for portraiture. There are a lot of laws in photography, and they can all be broken. Photographers have been known to film images with wide-angle lenses. As a photojournalist, I like to use wide-angle lenses for environmental portraits, where I have to give the audience not a photo of someone’s profile, but also a sense of place. For example, what does this person do for a living?
Of course, I have to use telephoto lenses on days where I’m physically unable to get close to my subject, such as news conferences, where they are generally held at a distance from the person we want to photograph.
So, the perfect way for you to figure out what lens best matches your needs, look at wide-angle portraits and telephoto lenses, to see what you want best. Only note, don’t get too close to your wide-angle lens, or you’ll end up with grotesquely skewed portraits and possibly disgruntled customers!
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