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Exercise: Taking ugly self-portraits

From: Foundations of Photography: Lenses

Video: Exercise: Taking ugly self-portraits

In the last video we looked at how your choice of camera position and focal length dramatically changes the sense of space in your scene. This was the whole business where I shot a portrait of Ben out on the lawn in front of a tree and there was a building around, and as I moved around we saw the tree get closer and farther. In that example you might think, "Oh, okay, I get it, in big spaces, there's a big compression of depth or change of sense of depth in the scene," and that's true, but it's important to understand that that depth compression, that stretching and squashing thing, also happens at a micro level on everything in your scene, and this can really get you when you're shooting portraits.

Exercise: Taking ugly self-portraits

In the last video we looked at how your choice of camera position and focal length dramatically changes the sense of space in your scene. This was the whole business where I shot a portrait of Ben out on the lawn in front of a tree and there was a building around, and as I moved around we saw the tree get closer and farther. In that example you might think, "Oh, okay, I get it, in big spaces, there's a big compression of depth or change of sense of depth in the scene," and that's true, but it's important to understand that that depth compression, that stretching and squashing thing, also happens at a micro level on everything in your scene, and this can really get you when you're shooting portraits.

Here is what I mean. I'm going to take a shot of him now and because I'm standing kind of far away I've got to zoom in. So I got my lens zoomed all the way unto 105 millimeters and I'm focusing on him and I'm taking my shot and if you look at this picture, we have a very nice portrait. You can see that camera there in the background looks a certain distance from him and he has struck this very dramatic pose. Now I'm going to shoot it again, I'm going to move closer and because I'm moving closer, if I want to frame the shot in the same way, I've got to zoom out.

So again, my camera position dictates a particular focal length if I want a particular framing. So I'm going to try and take what is basically the same shot and here it is. Now first off, look at that camera in the background. It looks like it's farther away than it was before. As we saw before, the entire sense of space in the scene is different. Things that were close up now appear further away. There's been a change in the depth compression in the scene. More significantly though, look at his face. It's completely different from one image to the other.

His nose is bigger when I'm closer in shooting wide-angle than it is here, where I'm farther back and shooting telephoto. In the telephoto shot, look at this, his hair looks at it's much larger compared to the wide-angle shot here, where it looks like we've actually done something to his hair, and you saw it. We didn't do anything at all,.I just moved in closer. The distance from his nose to ear is different in the wide-angle shot. His entire face has been stretched and squished from one shot to another, and it makes them look very, very different. Now one is not necessarily right and one is not necessarily wrong, but they are very different images.

One is perhaps a little more flattering. This wide-angle shot is possibly a truer indication of his character. The thing to understand here and really notice is that where I stand and my associated focal length really has a huge bearing on how he looks. That's why very often portrait lenses are a particular focal length. It's generally accepted that a good portrait lens is one that's a little bit longer than normal. So on this camera, which has a full frame sensor, normal focal length, that is one that has the same field view of my eye, is about 50 millimeters, so something a little longer than that, usually around at 80 to 85 is a nice portrait lens, because that extra bit of telephotoness will compress features some and that's a little more flattering.

Also when you're looking for portrait lens, you typically want to a fast portrait lens, that is one whose aperture can open very wide, because that's going to give you the ability to really blur out backgrounds and that shallow depth of field you're going to be able to get when you do that is possibly going to soften skin tones a little bit. Remember to keep the eyes in focus. So the big lesson here is that the depth compression that you have control of as you choose different camera positions and associated focal lengths is not just about controlling the sense of space in the scene. It's also about controlling the amount of distortion on people's faces or any particular object that you're shooting.

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Foundations of Photography: Lenses

37 video lessons · 52852 viewers

Ben Long
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