Project 7: Focal length and character

This project required a number of shots using the same framing but depicting the effects of different focal lengths.  I used a range from 17mm to 100mm on full frame, but I’ve chosen not to include those wider than 24mm as the distortion was too severe.

My comments against each image appear immediately below the image.

P7-A: 100mm, ISO100, 1/250 @ f5.6

This moderate telephoto focal length produces pleasing and flattering results.  In particular, I think that it’s useful for rendering noses in a pleasing proportion.  The length of the lens, coupled with a reasonably close working distance also enables the use of a shallow depth of field to throw any background distractions out of focus.

P6-B: 67mm, ISO 100, 1/250th @ f5.6

Taken with a shorter focal length than I usually use for portraits, (my favourite is 85mm), this image is still pleasing.  I note that some features, the nose in particular, have become slightly more pronounced and the reduced depth of field has made the background slightly more prominent.  Nevertheless, this is a usable focal length for portraits particularly when working in confined conditions where there may be insufficient working distance to use a longer telephoto.

P6-C: 47mm, ISO 100, 1/25o @ f5.6

This focal length renders an image that is very close to that perceived by the human eye.  Again this is a  pleasant image but it is marginally less flattering than the preceding image.  A useable focal length for portraits but probably the shortest that I am comfortable working with – where the portrait is intended to be flattering.  The increased depth of field and wider field of view mean that the background is progressively becoming more prominent.

P6-D: 35mm, ISO 100, 1/250th @ f5.6

Now working in much greater proximity to the model and at the minimum focusing distance in order to maintain the framing.  This focal length is beginning to exaggerate  aspects of the face.  The nose and chin are much more prominent whilst the ears and hairline appear smaller.  The prominence of the features nearer to the camera now detracts from the most important element of a portrait – the eyes.  The image is beginning to take on some of the characteristics of a caricature.

P6-E: 24mm, ISO 100, 1/250th @ f5.6

Using a 24mm focal length means that those plains of the face that are closest to the camera have become significantly distorted.  The images is beginning to adopt some of the characteristics of a fish-eye lens with close central features, e.g. the nose, appearing ‘front of stage’ whilst the surrounding features apparently recede.  Perhaps useful for full length portraits, when space is tight, or when exaggerated perspective adds to the interest of the image, as can be seen, a 24mm does not flatter the subject when used for a full face portrait.

In reflecting on the learning from this exercise, as usual I have picked up points that go wider than the particular assignment.  Like all the assignments, my approach to this one was to put together a shot list, work out what I hoped to do and agree a time with my subject.  Not for the first time in this part of the course, I found the light quite difficult to manage.  For portraits I hope for some cloud cover to soften and diffuse the light.  However, on this and several other projects I have been confronted with quite harsh sunlight and given the time of year, the sun low in the sky.  This has meant that the model finds the light too bright to face and there is a higher risk of inadvertent squinting.  Placing the model sideways on to the light then produces a ‘hot-spot’ on one side of the face and perhaps harsh shadows on the other side.  Sometimes I have corrected this with a reflector – which does produce very nice lighting.  However, it’s very hard to do this when you’re on your own as a photographer – perhaps I need to find an assistant or splash out on a reflector holder arm – but then that means I’d also be taking a lighting stand to location.

The other approach I’ve adopted to try and fix this lighting issue is to shoot in ‘open shade’.    I’m having mixed results with this as in the locations I am using, shade is rarely ‘open’ and shadows from light filtering through trees etc. can be a real problem.  Clearly I shall have to take more care in thinking about the lighting potential when I am scouting for locations for my portrait shots.


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