Digital Photography Tip: Focal Length In Portraits

August 16, 2012

Digital Photography Tip: Focal Length In Portraits

The focal length that you use when photographing people’s faces—portraits—can have a big effect on the final photo.

First, what are we talking about when we say ‘focal length’? Basically, when we talk about focal length, we’re talking about how much you’re zooming in. The focal length determines, among other things, how much your subject is magnified and the lens’ angle of view.

A shorter focal length lens is often called a wide-angle lens. A wide-angle lens visually pulls back from the scene and, therefore allows you to capture a large area in a single image. For that reason, wide-angle lenses are great for photographing landscapes.

But a wide angle lens can tend to distort facial features in a less than attractive way, making noses, mouths and eyes look oddly widely and disproportionate. That’s not usually a good look.

On the other hand, telephoto lenses—lenses with a longer focal length—tend to create more pleasing facial features and are generally a better option for portrait photography.

That’s not to say that you can’t mix it up and use a wide-angle lens for portraits. Have fun and experiment! After all, isn’t that what photography is about? Just be on the lookout for odd distortions that your subject may not find attractive!

For Further Reading…

How Focal Length Changes the Shape of the Face in Portraiture

The Ideal Focal Length for Portraiture: A Photographer’s Experiment




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