Open

by damned truths

submit your photo


Hall of Fame
View past winners from this year

Please participate in Meta
and help us grow.

Take the 2-minute tour ×
Photography Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional, enthusiast and amateur photographers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Perspective is a matter of distance and has an effect on facial features and the observed three-dimensional feeling in a two-dimensional photograph. Proper lighting is a big part of this, but that's another question. First I'd choose the distance between camera and subject. I prefer close-up portraits that show only the head and partial shoulder, if even that much. How close to my subject should I go to have natural facial proportions, given that I have a choise with it? Not talking about candid photos taken at opportunity.

My problem is that I don't feel comfortable to be at so short distance to a person I'm photographing. If the situation allows I want to be several meters away from subject, but then with too long distance the result is a "flat" face.

These images were shot from distances between under 1 meter to over 4 meters:
portraits image
You see I'm only a beginner in portraits, trying to learn as I go on.

Quote from cameras.about.com "Perspective in photography refers to the dimension of objects and the spatial relationship between them."

In a portrait photo we use distance between camera and the subject in such way to create a pleasing and hopefully natural looking perspective. I like a pretty tight crop of only face, neck and usually only one shoulder fully inside frame, sometimes not even that much. I believe it is priority to be at the right distance, and secondary to choose the right focal length of lens. I hope I'm clear enough that I am not asking for recommendations for lens focal lengths. This question is about the distance between camera and subject's face.

At what distance do experienced portrait photographers take their head and shoulder shots?

share|improve this question
1  
I don't understand why there is a difference between the "distance from the subject" to "what lens to use". Assuming you're not gonna shot and crop, once you selected your lens and you want to shot head and shoulder portraits there is only one distance that will give you that and you don't have to know it exactly, just put your lens on and go the the point where only the head and shoulder fit into the frame. –  Itay Gal Nov 23 '13 at 9:31
1  
It is because I want to choose distance first. Lens choice is secondary. Besides, I have no prime lens yet, so I'll be using a zoom lens and after a while I'll take a look at the focal lengths I've used most, and with that I'll go to buy a prime. –  Esa Paulasto Nov 23 '13 at 11:15
    
In his answer to another question, @StanRogers said "The zoom is for getting the correct framing when shooting from the right distance." (bolding by me) –  Esa Paulasto Nov 23 '13 at 12:04
    
I added another update to my answer. –  Itay Gal Nov 23 '13 at 13:43
1  

3 Answers 3

It really depends on the kind of shot and what conditions allow. That's why I answered in terms of focal lengths.) Shooting around the 65-85mm effective range is generally considered the most natural and most common, but if you want to flatten the image more, you can push it out to the 105-155 range. There are also some shots that work well in the 24-50 range, particularly when people aren't directly facing the camera or when you really want them to pop out from the scene and have maximum background blur with a short distance to the background.

I wouldn't describe the look up close as caricature or funny, but it is certainly a different look. It also generally seems to help if there is just a bit of barrel distortion to give it that slight fisheye look that makes the facial features appear to stand out less. Some of my favorite photos I've taken of my wife are actually shot in this range, but they are more face and neck focused, but it gives them a very intimate feel like you are right there with the person (that is if you can pull the shot off without facial features being a distraction.)

I also find I tend to like being fairly close for at least a couple of head and shoulder kiss or pre-kiss shots at weddings. This is again because it benefits from the intimacy that the close angle gives and since they are facing each other, noses stand out less. Again however, exactly how you compose and angle the shot is key to making it work when working in that close and it certainly isn't for every (or even most) shots.

As far as physical distance goes, I'd estimate I'm often within the 3 feet to 6 feet range though depending on the type of shot I'm getting though. 10 feet or 12 feet for more body or full body.

share|improve this answer
    
Good points. I agree that "standard" wideangle isn't so wide as to really exaggerate facial features - I was thinking more about the case of ultrawide where it's obvious that the distortion is a deliberate artistic decision. –  JohannesD Nov 22 '13 at 15:40
    
@JohannesD - ok, that makes sense. I've heard others make the argument that even a wide angle with minimal barrel distortion makes faces look like a funhouse mirror due to the slight stretching and curved feel they create. I'd certainly agree that it's a highly specialized shot if you are using a fisheye. –  AJ Henderson Nov 22 '13 at 16:00
    
Not necessarily a fisheye - just a rectilinear ultrawide like Canon's 10-24 EF-S. I'm talking about effects like these - clearly rectilinear, not fisheye. –  JohannesD Nov 22 '13 at 17:07
    
Ok, in that case those are what I was thinking of. There are some samples of what I'm talking about in the gallery from my sister's wedding. It's probably not quite as strong as the sample you posted, but some of those shots are certainly using that effect. –  AJ Henderson Nov 22 '13 at 17:13

The primary reason you don't want to use wideangle lenses for portraiture is perspective distortion. You have to get close to the subject, and that perspective greatly emphasizes some facial features such as the size and shape of the nose in a very unflattering manner. On the other hand, if you're purposely going for a "funny" or "caricature" look (and know your subject has no problem with it) a (ultra)wideangle lens might be just what you want. The close perspective often works nicely when photographing toddlers or pets. I also agree with AJ Henderson's point that it can be a useful tool for giving a photo an intimate feel.

85-135mm lenses (or 50-85 on APS-C) are long enough to give a flattering perspective but not so long that you need to back off so far that things get completely impractical. They're also long enough that the background will be magnified and blurred so as to not be distracting.

share|improve this answer
    
I edited the question to better express what the question is. –  Esa Paulasto Nov 22 '13 at 17:14
1  
@EsaPaulasto: ~50mm on APS-C is fine for head+shoulder portraits, perspective-wise, but if you wish to keep a bit distance, 85mm is probably better for you. Or then just try to get comfortable getting close to people you photograph :) –  JohannesD Nov 22 '13 at 18:38

I would say the focal length (or you might say the distance to the subject) doesn't really matter. You should use a lens/focal length with a minimal distortion and probably you'll want a nice bokeh too.

Usually, lenses with minimal distortion and nice bokeh have short focal length (50mm-105mm) and also bigger aperture. Big aperture (F/1.4-F/2.8) will reduce the DOF, thus, creating a better out of focus background (bokeh).

According to this, theoretically, you can take a good portrait shot with a 500mm lens, the problem is that you'll have to stand far a way from your subject, you'll have to be very steady to avoid loss of sharpness and you probably won't have a 500mm lens with a 1.8 aperture.

Regardless the lens you choose I would recommend using a big aperture and placing your subject as far as you can from the background. This will improve the bokeh and will emphasize your subject.

I use my Canon 50mm F/1.8 and sigma 105 F/2.8 for portraits, both give nice results, both are prime lenses. I'm stating that because prime lenses quality (in terms of sharpness and distortion) is usually better then zoom lenses and this also affects the result. I find it hard to believe someone will throw thousands of dollars to buy a 600mm prime lens to take some portrait shots while he can enjoy the good quality of a cheap 50mm lens.

EDIT

When taking the perspective in account, you'll probably get a classic perspective for portraits in with 50mm-100mm lenses. Having said that, portraits can vary.

You might go for the clasic portrait which be something like that:

Zakynthos

Or you might prefer a portrait that tells more about the person, his life, the atmosphere etc.. and here you can go "crazy" with the angle and the focal length, like this one:

enter image description here

EDIT 2

You said you want to choose the distance first and then the lens. In my opinion it's not the best thing to do. I prefer selecting the best lens for the photo and then the rest.

In a prime lens there is no question (as I stated in the comment to your question). With a zoom lens I would say that it depends on your lens.

  1. I would avoid very wide angle - it creates unnatural perspective and most of the time not a flattering distortion.

  2. I would check in what focal length my lens does not distort the image.

  3. I would try to get the focal length with the widest aperture (In case it changes and not fixed)

Again, I don't think that you'll get a correct absolute answer that will say "3 meters". I've never seen a photographer with a meter. As far as I know, you should choose your best lens first and then set the focal length + aperture that will give the best result. The distance is only the outcome after optimizing the other parameters.

share|improve this answer
5  
When you are talking about perspective, the ONLY thing that matters is subject distance. The perspective of a subject at 20 feet is identical whether the focal length is 17mm or 170mm. In fact, if you crop the 17mm photo to the same FoV as the 170mm photo, you have the exact same photo other than the differences in resolution caused by cropping most of the photo taken with the 17mm lens. The reason the 50mm f/1.8 works well for 3/4 or full body portraits, especially with an APS-C body, is that it allows you to fill the frame with the subject from a distance that provides pleasing perspective. –  Michael Clark Nov 22 '13 at 11:41
    
The same is true of the 105mm lens: It allows you to shoot at about the same distance that provides flattering perspective (as you would for a 3/4 body shot with a 50mm lens) when you only want head shots. –  Michael Clark Nov 22 '13 at 11:43
    
@MichaelClark I wasn't talking about perspective. Perspective should not matter in portrait (assuming you're not going to shoot a portrait with an 11mm lens) at least if you want to focus only on the person and not the background. Google "protrait" and see in the Images section that all the photos only focus on the person and the background is so blur that you can't guess the focal length or see any effect of the perspective. –  Itay Gal Nov 22 '13 at 13:39
    
@EsaPaulasto, I don't measure the distance, I put on my prime lens and move to the spot I think it's best for the photo I wanna take. –  Itay Gal Nov 22 '13 at 13:40
    
Nice sample photos, I like them. But this answer is not saying what I want to hear. However, I want you to know the downvote is not from me. –  Esa Paulasto Nov 24 '13 at 10:10

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.