PHOTO TIP #1
I recently had the experience of being on the other end of a photography transaction. The occasion was a big, traditional one in which formal portraiture would take place on the sidelines. Like anyone else who wants to look their best in photos, I had to do my homework first. After studying the work of several firms, then narrowing down the individual shooters working for a single company, I found my artist. His job was to cover all the potential images except the formal portraits; that job was delegated to a woman whose sample work I did not have the privilege of seeing.
When the day of the grand event arrived, I eventually went before this woman’s camera, in front of her nicely rendered gray backdrop. But, to my astonishment, there was something quite incongruous about the camera held before me, along with the proximity of its holder to me, her subject.
It was the lens. At first I wondered if she mistakenly put a wide angle one on, and would discover her mistake momentarily. The fact that she was standing so close also suggested an error. But no, for after directing our poses, she snapped away. And I could not stop thinking about how short that lens was! Though I was dying to know the focal length of the lens, she knew I was also a photographer, and I didn’t want to appear critically nosey at a time when her concentration was paramount to achieving good work.
Since I had asked that the images be shot in Raw format and simply given to me on disc, the first thing I did upon receiving the disc was to check the meta data on the images. She had been shooting with a 35mm lens (52mm in the old world of film). Then, of course, I looked at the images per se. And there it was – protruding faces looming toward the camera. While the photos are acceptable by liberal standards, they are definitely not all they could be. In other words, she was using a (in optical terms) “normal” focal length lens, one which comes closest to representing human vision. The problem is that you don’t want to use such a lens for formal portraits if the goal is to make people look their best.
Under the circumstances described above, think LONG lens. A long focal-length lens flattens perspective, minimizing the 3-dimensionality of facial features. It also gives you a shallow depth-of-field, which tends to further flatter the subject by softening the areas in front of and behind the person. The approach is to lock focus on the eyes and, depending on the f-stop setting, the rest tends to take care of itself. If you have a situation in which the depth-of-field is too shallow with such a lens, you can always lengthen it by stopping down the aperture from, say, f/4 to f/8 or f/11 (which in turn will necessitate stronger light intensity or a slower shutter speed to compensate for the adjustment). Using, for instance, a 70mm lens (a 105mm with film), you have an ideal portrait lens, and it will force you to step back away from your subject. This is sometimes a good thing, since it tends to make the person feel less intimidated.
A pro should regard all of this as second nature. And the more often you practice this, the sooner you will, too – especially after seeing the results.