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by Bart Arondson

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A 35mm prime on a full format body (or 24mm on cropped) is a great lens to walk around with. But when one gets too close to someone to take a picture, invariably some of their features are exaggerated (noses are popular targets in that regard). Yet, sometimes all you have in a given moment is a wide prime.

Are there any tips and tricks to getting good shots of people, 3/4 portrait or closer say, and still keep them looking good?

Journalists use these lenses all the time, so there must be something to it.

For example, should I avoid putting people too close to the center of the frame?

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3  
This distortion is the result of perspective, not focal length. Back up for a flatter perspective and take other corrective action to compose as desired. Experiment with shooting much closer with a wider angle to experience the opposite. –  Skaperen Feb 12 '13 at 3:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Actually to avoid distortion the opposite of what you said holds true.

  • Move faces or features you don't want to distort such as fingers away from the edge of the frame
  • Keep the lens parallel to the subject if at all possible
  • Step back and shoot, planning to crop to the desired framing later
  • Consider using the distortion to your advantage for "fun" shots; typically works best with kids
  • Keep in mind what you can distort without much of an issue, such as legs or torso sections(vertically) and use this to your advantage
  • Correction can be applied in post production so use this if possible

Journalists won't likely get in the face of a subject with a lens like this, they will produce more environmental type shots.

Finally, don't be afraid to pick up a tiny inexpensive 50mm prime or pancake lens to being with you. They aren't expensive and will really be more flattering for your subject in the end!

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As a photojournalist I must say I prefer a fixed aperture lens with some versatility, say a 2.8 24-70mm. This allows for more of the real world variables you run into. Wide angles are great for so many things, but it's so nice, especially in instances like you're describing, to zoom to 50mm and make a portrait.

However, portraits can be made with wide primes.

  • Keep your camera plane parallel with the subject (or use the distortion to your advantage)
  • Move people/faces/subject to the CENTER of the frame. Distortion happens at the edges OR if you are too close.
  • To avoid the "clown nose" back up a few feet and prepare to crop AND/OR use your environment to frame your subject. This can be an effective way to mask distortion.
  • In a true portrait (you are controlling the scene, not just working with it) make sure your subject is looking at the camera.

I've shot for years using a wide angle lens with countless assignments requiring a portrait of sorts. For me the big save always come with simple composition. Pay careful attention to the corners and look for distortion before you shoot. It can be done, I promise.

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The traditional normal lens on a full frame is a 50mm, in part because it is much less likely to cause the distortions you are concerned with. The traditional full frame portrait lens is 100mm, because at that length, a well composed portrait is free of the distortions.

As others have said, back up.

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