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They say that focal length around 85-135mm is the best for the head and shoulder kind portraits. I've done some tests myself, I can definitely see the differences. The face is more natural looking with less distortions (compared to say 50-70mm). The head is less "bubbly".

But is this really applicable for all face shapes? Are there some faces that will benefit from the distortions? Like for example, if the person desires a more rounded face?

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Hard to see what you're asking. A given focal length and composition will always have the same character due to laws of optics. You're always going to see that effect, it has nothing to do with the subject. If you're asking whether some people look good that way, then yes of course they do — but that's your responsibility as the artist to make that happen.

If you're asking if wide angle portrait photography is a thing — definitely yes... do a web search for wide angle portraits.

But, it's kind of up to the viewer to say whether the person looks better or not.

If you are asking if what the human race has learned about photography in the last (more than) 200 years is correct, then yes, yes it is. Portraits taken with a little zoom are typically more flattering to human subjects.

BTW — I have taken one "famous" portrait in my life, and it was wide angle... a refugee mom seeing her son for the first time after 20 years. I knew him, so I stuck my camera two inches from the kiss. Truly amazing, glad I had that lens that day. Both subjects look great in the photo, and I could not have done it without that lens because I was being pummeled by paparazzi at the time and I could not have backed up.

One more thing I thought of... this is not a focal length effect really, it's solely due to the distance from the subject. If you take your wide angle lens and have the person stand 10 feet away, they will be really small in the photo, but angles and shapes will look normal. If you stick your eyeball two inches from someone's face, and look around, you will see the same effect as the typical 'wide angle portrait' shot.

Here's a great demonstration and explanation: http://petapixel.com/2013/01/11/how-focal-length-affects-your-subjects-apparent-weight-as-seen-with-a-cat/

  • See also some of the visualizations at What does it really mean that telephoto lenses “flatten” scenes? – mattdm Jul 16 '14 at 16:35
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    And I'd love to see your "famous" portrait — do you have a link? – mattdm Jul 16 '14 at 16:36
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    I called the newspaper yesterday and they are looking for it. That photo was run in a small town weekly newspaper, back in 1985 or so and there's no electronic copies going back that far. They are friends of the family so if they can find it, I'll get a copy. – Jasmine Jul 16 '14 at 16:41
  • Sorry I'll have to mod this answer down. I'm not asking how compression works. I understand focal length, distance and perspectives very well. What I'm asking is that, if all human faces benefit from compressed perspectives. – erotsppa Jul 17 '14 at 4:50
  • And that would be a subjective opinion and we don't give those here. All I can say objectively is the effect will be the same for anyone. It is up to the viewer and the artist if it looks good or not. – Jasmine Jul 17 '14 at 16:20

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