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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wide angle lens meets the portrait

Often we're told that portrait images need to be taken with a short telephoto lens - somewhere in the 85-135mm range. But that's for portraits where your subject is the only thing in the frame.

There's a second type of portrait called an environmental portrait, and this is where the wide angle lens comes into its own.

The idea of the environmental portrait is to show the area around your subject, where they live and work. What makes them tick.

In a regular portrait a wide angle lens tends to do horrible things to people. Remember yesterday when I talked about how it makes things close to the camera look big, and faraway things look small. Well when you photograph a person the nose is the closest thing to the camera (can you say giant schnoz?) and the ears are the farthest thing away and the distortion created by the lens won't endear you to anybody - particularly your subject.

But when the subject of your photo is near the centre of the image and not too close to the camera, they look quite normal. And you get to include a lot of space around them which shows their environment. But again, just like our lanscape yesterday, you need to be reasonably close to something to get that feeling of intimacy. Stand too far back and everything will be too small in the frame and you'll lose impact.

For this shot here of Kelly, my guide on a tour to Arnhemland in the Northern Territory, I had already shot some short telephoto portraits of her at work but really wanted to show the amazing landscape she worked in. I also wanted to show how she managed to interest the people on her tour.

So whenI figured out that I needed her, her 'office' and a whole bunch of other people as well...well I reached for the wide angle and moved in close. Now the trick with using a wide angle lens to shoot more than one person spread randomly throughout the frame is something called separation.

What separation means is that one person's head isn't sticking out of another's, rocks aren't sticking out of people's skulls and everybody (as much as possible) is separated from each other. You can see I've done that here by having a slightly lower angle and making sure people are framed against a blue sky. I've also moved around to the left a bit so that that small man in the background (well he looks small because it's a wide angle lens!) is clearly separated from the lady and the gentleman in the right hand foreground.

So you can use a wide angle lens for portraits as well - environmental portraits that is. Just remember, you have to be reasonably close for that feeling of intimacy. That means you can't get sneaky photos of people when you're using this lens, but you will get some really great results.


Adam said...

While people may have different views still good things should always be appreciated. Yours is a nice blog. Liked it!!!

Paul Dymond said...

Thanks Adam, I'm glad you like it. I try to appreciate the good things in life!