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6.1 The Right Lens For Portrait Photography

You can take a photo of anything with any lens you like, but the results may be unsettling—especially when shooting portraits of people. In this lesson you will see where the sweet spot for focal length is for shooting people. You will also learn how changing your position and focal length can drastically change the composition of the shot.

6.1 The Right Lens For Portrait Photography

You can take a photo of anything you like with any lens, but the results may vary and sometimes they're just plain unsettling. Especially when you're shooting people. In this lesson you'll see where the sweet spot for focal length is when you're shooting people. So this lesson and the next few lessons will deal with focal length, or field of view, and perspective. When we talk about perspective in photography, we are referring to how the subject or scene looks from a particular spot. In order to change perspective, we cannot simply zoom in or zoom out. Because we're still standing in the same spot. What we need to do is move from one spot to another one. In this example, we're gonna look at what happens to the human face when we use different focal lengths, and then change perspective to compose the shot so that the face is roughly the same size in all the images. Let's check it out. All right we're gonna take a look at a quick little demo here. And what we're gonna look at is how focal length and field of view effects the human face. So what we have going on here in the background I have my beautiful wife Rachel. She's gonna be helping us out modeling today. I have a couple of speed lights in octoboxes, they're on stands which you can see, real basic stuff. On my camera here, my Canon 7D have a Tamron 18 to 270 millimeter super zoom. Now this isn't the best lens to do headshots or portraits with but it'll be really fast and convenient so we can see a lot of different focal lengths all at once without having to change lenses. Normally I would throw the 70-200 on here and probably shoot these but we're going to experiment and see what different focal lengths look like on the face. So, real quick camera settings here. I have this set to Manual, 1/250 of a second. I have both flashes set to manual and they're looking pretty good so I don't have to worry about that. What I'm mostly gonna be focused on is changing the focal length and then moving around to recompose the face to be about the same size in all of these shots. Now, what I'm gonna try to do is, you can see which focus points I'm using here. Right? I'm only using five that are right in the center. So it's the center one, the one above, below, and to the right and to the left. And what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna line up the center one right on Rachel's nose and then I'm gonna line the one just below it on her mouth. And that way I'm gonna try and keep the size of her face about the same in all these pictures. So, what we're gonna do is we're gonna start on the widest this lens goes, is 18. Now, we don't really need to do a fisheye because you can image that we already looked at fisheye lenses. It's gonna make the face look pretty wacky. And already at 18, we're gonna see in just a minute that the face is not gonna look its best. But we're gonna do the big focal length changes that are marked on this lens. So I'm gonna do 18 millimeters, 35 millimeters, 50, 70, 100, 200 maybe 150. I'll kinda guessed it where that is. And then 270 which is, is the high as this goes. So I'm gonna get ready up there and I'm gonna start at 18 millimeters, and see what this looks like. All right, so we're gonna start at 18 millimeters here, and 18 millimeters is gonna be right up in her face, [SOUND] and we're just gonna rip right through all the focal lengths here, so 18 millimeters. [SOUND] Good. All right, 35 millimeters, moving back just a little bit. [SOUND] Good. All right, 50 millimeters, here we go. [SOUND] Good. 70 millimeters is gonna be pretty close. [SOUND] 100 millimeters. [SOUND] All right, 150 millimeters. It's not marked on here, I'm just gonna guess where it is. [SOUND] 200 millimeters. Gonna move back a little bit more. [SOUND] All right. And 270 millimeters. Move back just a hair. [SOUND] Great. So let's take a closer look at these images. If we start off by looking at the 18mm focal length, you're going to notice that it doesn't look right. And this is because of what happens when you use a wide angle lens. Like we have mentioned before throughout the course a wide angle lens exaggerates the relative size of foreground objects and makes background objects more distant looking. Well, in the face, what happens is the most, well, in the face the thing that's closest to the foreground or the thing that's closest to the lens is the nose. So what happens is the nose ends up looking kind of unsettlingly large, right? Unnaturally large compared to the rest of the face and it makes the back of the head where the hair and the ears are look smaller. Now as we move up from 18 to 35 millimeters you're gonna see that there's a big difference. And check out what happens to the nose and the back of the head, right? What it's going to look like is the nose is going to push into the face and the hair is going to become bigger. Now I promise you, she did not fluff her hair between these two shots. But at 18 millimeters we can't actually see the part of the hair that we can see at 35 millimeters because we're too close. Now as we move up, I tried to hit 50 millimeters I actually hit 59 millimeters, but 59 and 50 is pretty close. So as you can see, between 35 and 59, there's another kind of compression thing that happens here as well. The nose definitely gets smaller. Particularly if you look at the nostrils here. They look like they're settling down in her face. The hair again looks bigger. You see more of the hair. As we go from 59 to 77 here we're see another little shift, right? It's not drastic. But there's gonna be another little shift. The nose looks a little bit smaller, the hair is looking slightly larger. We're seeing more of that back of the head hair. As we go to 100 millimeters again. The hair looks bigger. The nose is gonna look a little bit smaller. And things are starting to look pretty nice, I'd say. Now as we go from 100 millimeters to 154 millimeters, we see that there's another big difference here. Now this is partially due to the way that she turned her head for this one shot. She slightly turned her head and exposed her left side of her face which is flat against one of the soft boxes. So we're seeing a really flat section of light right here on the left side of her face, her right side of the face. And this is actually where compression can not be so helpful, because she's exposing the wide side of her face because its completely flat against the soft box. So, there's no shading there and it makes that its your left and her right side of her face look unnaturally wide because there's no falloff of light. There's no shading there. There's no dimension there. And when you take something that's flat and you compress it its going to look even flatter. So this actually makes her face look a little bit fatter. Now if she was, if she was a little bit more straight on to the camera, this would have looked a little bit better but she tilted her head. So, in this particular case the compression did not work for us. But as we go to 218 millimeters you can see she's back towards the camera. It's looking a little bit better, but at 218 millimeters. You are seeing a little bit of weirdness happen. Right now her face is looking abnormally flat. Now this is partially due to the very flat lighting that we have but also we're seeing the effects of the compression of these higher focal lengths. It's making these objects look like they're closer together so it's making her nose look like it's closer to her ears, which is basically flattening out her face. And, as we go from 218 millimeters to 270 millimeters, these two focal lengths just look strange. Now between all of these, you're gonna see subtle improvements, right. As we go from 35 to 60 millimeters to 77 millimeters to 100 millimeters you'll see slight shifts. But you'll see dramatic shifts when we jump back and forth. So 35 is the first one that looked reasonable, right? That one looks okay. It's still, it's still a little bit wide, but if we go from 35 to lets say 77, there's a big difference. You're going to see the nose get smaller, and you're going to see the f, the face look much nicer. The hair's going to look nice and big and things are going to be really nice. Now from 77 to 218, you're gonna see another big jump. The face is gonna look much more flat and wide. So to my eye, the sweet spot for making the face look its best is between 100 millimeters and let's say 35 to 50 millimeters, somewhere in there. 35 is probably a little bit on the wide side but that's where the face starts looking right. When we got to 50 or 60 millimeters were more in the zone. Then it's starting to look a little bit better because we're just past that normal focal length, right? 35mm on a crop sensor camera, which I was shooting with, is more similar to a 56mm field of view on a full frame camera which is the normal focal length. So once you get slightly past here, you're gonna see some compression happening. As we look around 59, 77, 100 millimeters, that's right where the face is gonna look its best. It makes her nose look nice and small. It makes the face look really compressed. You know, the proportions aren't exaggerated and we're getting a little bit of that compression effect. Now as we go past there, 150, 200, and 270 millimeters. That's getting to the area where there's maybe a little bit too much compression, and it's making the face look abnormally flat. Now, the flat lighting doesn't help. If we used you know, maybe some more dramatic lighting, that may change things up a little bit, but I think that, you know, 270 millimeters is it's just weird looking. It makes her face look like a pancake. There's just It looks like there's no dimension whatsoever. It's just way too flat. Between the edge of her nose here and her cheek and her ear, with the earring here at 270 millimeters, it just looks like that's all at the same dimension. You can't really tell that any part is much closer to the camera than, you know, any other part so it's way too flat. So probably the area you want to stick to is around 100 mm to let's say 50 mm for making the face look its best. Now, on a full-frame camera, we'd be looking at 160 mm because on this camera, this is a 1.6x crop factor, so 100 mm looks similar to a 160 mm field of view on a full frame camera. And 50 millimeters looks similar to an 80 millimeter field of view on a full frame camera. So now if you're on micro four thirds you may wanna look at around 50 millimeters to 24 millimeters because of that 2x crop factor. But there definitely is a sweet spot to focal length and field of view for making the face look its best. Too wide and it just looks weird. Too narrow, and it just looks too flat. Now that you know where the sweet spot is for making people look great, you're ready to move on to the next lesson. Where you're gonna learn how to use this same idea to compose background and foreground elements differently.

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