Ok everybody knows 35mm is not the most flattering focal length for a portrait and by portrait I mean somewhere from chest and above... and of course it gets worse as we get closer to the subject. So if I find myself in a situation that that 35mm is the only lens at hand and want to still make it work do you think one way would be if I go much farther back and shoot the subject knowing that later I am going to crop it much tighter? Would that help with less distortion?


Yes, to a degree. The distance helps perspective, but the cropping can remove many pixels of image size.

The key for portrait perspective is to stand back a bit. The camera standing back at least about six feet, and 8 or 10 feet is considered better in the formal studios. What focal length this could use for a desired field of view would depend on the camera sensor size. Use the focal length that gives the desired view when standing back, but it is the distance that fixes perspective (enlarged noses, etc).

We guys may not ever notice the problem, and the ladies may not realize exactly why they don't like the picture, but they will like those standing back a bit better. It's more like their idea of their picture.

For the 35 mm film format, the 105 mm lens was considered classically good for head and shoulders portraits, because the focal length required standing back at a good distance to see the view.

But not all portraits are head and shoulder, some are chest and up, or waist and up, or some might be even full length standing portraits, or even group shots. It is OK to use a shorter lens for the wider view, as needed, but standing back at least about six feet is still important. I prefer 8 or 10 feet, which is necessarily a longer lens.

You didn't mention sensor size, but most cameras today use a smaller sensor with shorter focal lengths to still get the same view. That's fine too, but standing back at least about six feet is still important. The right lens is the one that gives the desired view from the proper distance.

Standing back and zooming in as desired for the view is fine, no problem. It can still be just a head shot if desired, but the key is standing back a bit.

Standing back and then cropping for the field of view you want will help the perspective, but cropping costs many pixels, the image may not print as large then as you would like.

  • Thanks, yeah it is the 50 meg X1D camera so that's why I am thinking there would be enough resolution to crop when needed. – Brandon Oct 30 '18 at 19:11
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    @Brandon Just keep in mind, a 2X linear crop reduces the areal image size (megapixels, resolution, whatever) by 4X. Cropping a shot taken with a 35mm lens to resemble a shot taken with a 70mm lens reduces 50MP to 12.5MP. – Michael C Oct 30 '18 at 19:38

I disagree. Make your limitation your weapon!

There are many, and I mean many types of portraits. A wide angle lens can give you another perspective, so USE IT!

You have more room for the surroundings, use them. You have potentially more difference between sizes of planes, use them.

Take a look at this google search.

Personally... I love wide angle! I know 35 mm is not really a wide angle, especially o smaller sensors, but you get the idea.

You actually can make awsome portraits taking advantage of the lens distortion.

But if you want to stick to a classical portrait, go and rent the proper lens for the need. Especially if it is a paid work. You have a problem if you sacrifice resolution to make a choppy crop.

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    yes I am doing environmental portrait - hobby work ! - and have rented 24mm and 35mm ... was just wanting to know if for a pic or two felt a tighter portrait is better would my solution work or not – Brandon Oct 31 '18 at 14:18
  • "You have a problem if you sacrifice resolution to make a choppy crop." That all depends on the needed resolution for the intended usage. For instance, anything over 180x180 pixels is overkill for a facebook profile photo. Even a 3840x2160 pixel 4K screen is only 8.3 MP. If you crop a 50 MP image down to 12.5 MP, you still have more resolution than you need to show it on a 4K screen. – Michael C Oct 31 '18 at 19:58

The worst thing you can do is to make the choice when taking the shot. Take both images, then compare at home and take the one you prefer.

If you see a pattern arise over time of always choosing one image over the other, keep doing that.

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    The worst thing you can do is wear your human model out by learning as you go when shooting them. Know what works and what doesn't before the session and you can get what you need while the model is still fresh. – Michael C Oct 30 '18 at 18:58

Yes, it would help, and it would be a feasible way if you need to have a "classic" portrait (i.e. flat faces). There are two down-sides to using the "wrong" focal length for portraits:

  1. Increased depth of field because of distance: Subject separation will probably not be as strong as with, say, a 100mm f/1.4 wide open. As @Michael Clark and @WayneF pointed out, DoF (depth of field) has to do with magnification, so if you zoom your 35mm shot to the same crop as a 100mm one would offer, the DoF would be the same (with the same aperture).
  2. Image quality post-cropping: You will have to crop a lot, so noise will become more visible.
  3. (Optional) It will be harder to spot minor "defects" in the progress of the shooting: Most likely, you will have to check every picture after taking it for closed eyes, misfocus,... - things that you can spot more easily with an optical viewfinder when using the "proper" focal length.

Still, if you have no other option and want a portrait with the "face-flatness" of a tele-lens, then increasing the distance at least a bit will be the best approach I can think of.

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    @MichaelClark I'm not saying you are wrong, but...Why is hyperfocal distance a feature of focal length and aperture size, then, and not of the image circle, as well? Because the concept of "acceptable focus" is dependent on the magnification? – flolilo Oct 30 '18 at 19:01
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    @flolilolilo Hyperfocal distance is also based on DoF. When the enlargement ratio changes, so does the hyperfocal distance for the same focal length, aperture, and sensor size. Lens markings are almost always based on the assumption of a 36x24mm image size enlarged to 8x10 inches for viewing at 12 inches. If any of those factors change, the hyperfocal also changes. – Michael C Oct 30 '18 at 19:29
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    @Tetsujin If you back up twice as far with the 100/1.4 to frame the subject the same as you would have with the 50/1.4, there's a lot less difference than shooting from the same distance with both. Likewise, of you shoot at the same distance and crop the 50mm to match the FoV of the 100mm, you also decrease the DoF to roughly the same as the uncropped 100mm shot. – Michael C Oct 30 '18 at 19:31
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    Yes, Depth of Field is entirely dependent on Magnification (lets call it enlargement, because larger simply shows any focus blur better). Standard DOF CoC historically assumes an 8x10 inch print viewed at 10 inches (25 cm). CoC is Diagonal of sensor / 1442 (or sometimes 1500). 35mm film size computes CoC of 0.03 mm from 1442, or 0.029 mm from 1500 - we see both, more commonly 0.03. Enlargement of that sensor size to the enlarged print size magnifies acceptable CoC (the least detail our eye can see). DoF is computed from CoC. And hyperfocal computes that same DoF from CoC. – WayneF Oct 30 '18 at 19:47
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    @MichaelClark I do not think what you say is correct (that the depth of field is simply a function of magnification). With a long focal length focused to something close with, say, f 2.0 you can not recognize anything in the background at all. Magnifying an image taken with a wide angle lens to the same cutout would still have the background recognizable, I believe. Do you have image examples supporting your claim? – Peter - Reinstate Monica Oct 31 '18 at 0:13

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