Is there a definitive focal length for tight head shots...

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by David Lyga, Dec 9, 2012.

  1. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    ...or do the facial characteristics matter in this determination?

    Fat faces, thin faces, faces with large features in proportion to the head size, handsome faces, homely faces...HOW MUCH COMPACTING DO WE WISH TO IMPART?

    For 35mm, the 'proper range' runs from 80mm through 105mm. Some even swear by, (or swear AT), the mighty 135mm. But what is REALLY the best way to determine this flexible number in order to optimize the results? Do different faces require different aspects? This is a question that is not parsed too often because the 'literature' gets into the way of challenging theory. - David Lyga
     
  2. Jim Rice

    Jim Rice Member

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    As long as it suppresses the urge of the subject's nose to appear too large it's long enough. How large is too large is subjective and dependent on how good God (or the plastic surgeon) has been to them. I have been very happy with an 85/2.8 Sonnar.
     

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  3. Old-N-Feeble

    Old-N-Feeble Member

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    Don't forget to consider head/camera positioning which can either enhance or subdue particular features. Also, don't forget to consider the feel of the final image. It's a combination of subject, distance and desired final effect. I do have a rule of thumb for "very" tight head shots though... I quadruple the diagonal of the usable film size. For 135, if cropped to 8x10, the diagonal is about 38mm so I'd probably use something near 150mm. But this is if I'm actually cropping the hair out of the frame right to the face. If I'm including all the hair and a bit of shoulder (straight on and not to the arms) then I might start with a 105mm. These are just averages... for me. A long nose or chin requires different posing and lenses... subdue those features by shooting them straight on with longer lenses... or accentuate those same features, as one would when "characterizing" someone like Jay Leno, by doing the opposite.
     
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  4. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    It's better to think in terms of distance thn to think in terms of focal length. The thing that controls the perspective distortion is distance from the subject. You should first decide what perspective you want, then choose the lens you need. Doing the opposite is allowing your equipment to control you.

    If you don't have a long enough lens you can always crop reasonably. Just be careful about focus. Also, you can use a zoom lens and just don't admit it if you think it will damage your internet cred.
     
  5. Slixtiesix

    Slixtiesix Subscriber

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    I would put the ideal focal length somewhere between 85mm and 135mm with 35mm, 135mm and 180mm with medium format, depending, as said, on the subject´s face and framing, if you want to keep a somewhat intimate and not to much compressed look. I really think the facial proportions do matter in this regard. I have seen many portraits of children made with an 80mm in medium format (which is about 45mm in 35mm) and they looked great. Portraying an adult with a rather large nose with an 80mm lens on the other hand is a real crime.
     
  6. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    There really are alternate preferences with how much one wants the features compacted. One is not 'right' over the other. 'Character' might be imparted with shorter lengths and 'subtlety' with the longer lengths.

    Obviously, as we all should know, distance from the subject is the REAL determinant for perspective here, as elsewhere. But, since adult heads are usually about the same size, that 'distance qualification' becomes somewhat moot if you seek uncropped, tight shots. - David Lyga
     
  7. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    For 35mm I use 80 to 135mm. Best is 135mm because it gives a more reasonable working distance. I swear BY it!
     
  8. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    You know Brian, I have also felt that way but was always afraid to say that because it is 'incorrect'. The 135 allows a smoother face to be photographed and I do not find the 'telephoto' effect damaging. All the literature says that we are wrong, however, but I guess we do what seems best for our perception of attractiveness. The 135 seems to eliminate a lot of rough edges. - David Lyga
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    There's no hard and fast rule. Pick the lens you like that works for the DOF characteristics you want and that's fast enough for the amount of light you have. My favorite 35mm portrait lens is a Zeiss 85/1.4 ZE, because it's fast and seems to be designed with the aesthetic of classic large format portrait lenses in mind. For a really smooth background, there's nothing that says you couldn't use a 200mm or 300mm lens for portraits, as long as you've got enough space to move back.
     
  10. fmajor

    fmajor Member

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    On 35mm I have tried and tried to get portraits from a 135mm focal-length that i really like. I know there are some photog's who have genuinely mastered this length, but i've just not gotten it and it's wickedly frustrating. I can't fault my gear - i have a great lens (Minolta MD Tele Rokkor-X 135mm f3.5), but somehow cannot find the sweet spot that others have exploited.... The 135mm is great for other things i've shot, but faces/features seem less 'natural' (for lack of better adjectives) - arrgghhhhhh.

    I'm not shooting much 35mm anymore (or anything really - i'm in a rat stinkin' slump....), but if i was, i'd be seriously looking at a MC Rokkor-X 85mm f1.7.

    I have made some great (to my amateur eyes) portraits with my 58mm f1.4 (and a few w/a 50mm), but it requires me to be rather close to fill the frame appropriately. I typically only do portraits of my family, but these focal lengths seem a shade wide. Additionally, there are times when a little distance would help without the "compression" (? - again, bumping into failed adjectives) the 135mm provides.

    Though i'm not an accomplished photographer, i am aware of the different FOV each focal length provides (though haven't memorized them - i'm such a slacker....). The frustrating part of this is that simply 'foot-zooming' doesn't always settle the challenge of subject compression of the tele's or the detail expansion of the wides as it related to subject inclusion in the FOV.

    David Lyga, thanks for starting this thread. Thanks also to all you more experienced photographers for your input.

    This is the kind of gear question that i strongly prefer (over the 'which is better - Canon, Contax, Leica, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus or Pentax?' type threads), but see as often.
     
  11. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    If you don't know what focal length to use David, I suggest you try a 75-150 zoom lens they are very useful in these situations.
     
  12. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    100mm,135mm... 200mm all have their detractors and followers. Even macro lenses of 180mm have been used for portraiture.
    Modern zooms are right at home in changing conditions and the optical performance will not be a factor for portraiture compared to primes.
     
  13. Slixtiesix

    Slixtiesix Subscriber

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  15. Old-N-Feeble

    Old-N-Feeble Member

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    Slixtiesix... those are excellent examples.
     
  16. PentaxBronica

    PentaxBronica Member

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    Well, nobody's mentioned 120mm yet!

    One thing to consider if shooting hand-held - with a 135mm lens you really want a shutter speed of 1/250 or higher to avoid shake. With a 120mm or shorter you can use 1/125. Not a problem under studio lights but if you're doing a bit of street photography without hauling a flash around then it can make all the difference.
     
  17. agnosticnikon

    agnosticnikon Member

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    I was always a believer in the 85mm or 105mm focal length school for 35mm film. Maybe 15 years ago one of my neighbors asked me to take a head shot for her for work. So after I got done with the usual shots using the 105mm in her case, I asked her if she would sit for a few experimental shots. (I knew she would) So I put my 300mm lens on and with a minimum focus of about 13' took a few shots. Then I put on my cheapie 500mm Makinon reflex lens that had macro(?) focusing, and took a few more tight shots. I had the lab print up some 4x6 prints for proofs and showed them to her, and she picked out one of the 105mm shots as her choice for work. But she also like the long lens shots too, even though they changed her appearance quite a bit. (and yes she had a normal nose) She had me make a 5x7 of one of the 500mm shots because she was so intrigued by it.
    So I guess you could say that it wouldn't hurt to check with your subject, as they might actually like something different, and experimenting can be fun!
     
  18. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    How far away do you want to be? That determines your perspective. Then choose a lens that frames it the way you want without wasting a bunch of film area.

    If you try to figure it out with mathematics it is very complicated, because, as you know, angle of view changes as you focus closer. That effect is greater with bigger format cameras.

    A head-shoulder picture with a 20x24" camera is taken under conditions where the viewing angle is about one-half that of the angle of view at infinity. A head-shoulders picture with a Minox is taken under conditions where the angle of view is nearly identical to that at infinity.
     
  19. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    A 105 mm is what I prefer for a tight portrait shot. As more of the body is included you can progress to shorter lenses.
     
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  20. StoneNYC

    StoneNYC Subscriber

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    Just want to reiterate these are great


    ~Stone

    The Noteworthy Ones - Mamiya: 7 II, RZ67 Pro II / Canon: 1V, AE-1 / Kodak: No 1 Pocket Autographic, No 1A Pocket Autographic

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
  21. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    There is another way to figure this.

    Start by deciding on your print size. Put something that size as a sample where the print will be hung.

    With your camera stand where it will normally be viewed from. Zoom or switch lenses until the sample is tightly framed.

    Use the focal length you find to shoot the portrait. This gives the viewer the same view as the camera.

    Wide angle shots only look distorted when viewed from to far away or put another way printed too small for the intended viewing distance.
     
  22. darinwc

    darinwc Subscriber

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    If you are doing studio work, a 135mm may have some advantages.
    At 85mm you will only be about 3 feet from your subjects. This is pretty close, and you may risk throwing a shadow on your subject.

    With a 135mm, you are about 6 feet away (for head shots), which is a much more comfortable distance.
     
  23. MikeTime

    MikeTime Member

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    My preference is for very tight, sometimes confrontational, headshots. I use 50's (Nikkors, Makro-Planar, Planar) and 85's, (2.0/85 Nikkor, 1.4/85 Planar C/Y or 2.8/85 Sonnar C/Y), all at wide openings (although up very close f4.0 and 2.8 work best.

    I don't mind a bit of distortion. I like my portraits to be very intimate. Male subjects only.

    For some examples go to my Flickr, where I'm Miked700. http://www.flickr.com/photos/66360321@N06/sets/72157628580833673/
     
  24. Old-N-Feeble

    Old-N-Feeble Member

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    I disagree that wide-angle distortion is only noticeable if prints are viewed from too far away. Our minds are very aware that the print is flat so any wide-angle distortions are very noticeable regardless of viewing distance. Even if viewed very closely wide-angle distortion is quite plain to see because, again, our minds know the image is planar. Whether or not any type of distortion is acceptable or preferable is up to the viewer.
     
  25. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Depth of Field

    To me the most important thing to consider is depth of field, and I like to make portraits using an aperture around 18-25mm.

    25mm aperture with a 50mm lens is f/2 (50/2=25). With a 35mm lens it's f/1.4 (35/1.4=25). Magically, 50mm at f/2.8 = 18mm, and 35mm at f/2 = 17.5mm. Using a 100mm lens I need f/5.6 or f/4. Etc.
    This is completely regardless of format. If I were using my 5x7, which has a 210mm lens, I'd be using f/8 or f/11. 210/8=25mm and change. Etc...

    Attached are a couple of portraits, all with different lenses, but similar aperture. To me the lens focal length doesn't matter so much.
     

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  26. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    For 35mm I like my 105, as it's the longest lens for 35 I currently have. When I had a 135, I liked that. I've used a 180 with great results outdoors, might be a bit long for most studios.

    I'll be getting an 85, and I'll like that too. 50 is too short. If you're restricted to a 135 or longer, try using a half or three-quarter profile for less apparent compression if you don't like compression.