Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Shape Shifting Your Model's Face

Shape shifting isn't merely something we see in Sci-Fi & fantasy films and TV shows. It's a big part of photography, especially when shooting portraits of most any kind. The kind of shape shifting I'm referring to is how a lens's focal length will shape, reshape, or misshape a model's face. 

Years ago -- more years than I care to admit -- when I was regularly shooting head shots for lots of Hollywood hopefuls, I quickly discovered the impact of focal length on my subjects' faces as well as it's relationship to the success of my photos and, consequently, the success of my business as a headshot shooter. What I'm referring to is the manner in which lenses of varying focal lengths will distort (or not distort) the shape of a subject's face depending on the lens's focal length.

In a nutshell, the wider or longer the lens, the more it will distort a subject's face. Sometimes those distortions are preferred and desired and sometimes they're unwanted and undesirable. Lens distortions might be obvious or they may be subtle. Regardless, they represent yet another tool or "trick" for photographers to call on.  While my words about distortions might seem to imply that a 50mm lens, i.e., what's called a "normal" lens, would be an ideal lens for headshot photography, I quickly realized -- back in the days when I first pursued headshot photography and, according to my 16-year-old son, a time when dinosaurs still roamed the planet -- that wasn't the case. Instead, a medium telephoto lens is generally thought of as the lens of choice for most portrait photographers, specifically (leastwise, in my opinion), lenses that fall between 85mm and 135mm. For me,  a prime 135mm lens is my personal favorite for headshots or other portraits which mostly or predominantly feature a subject's face.

None of that is to imply that focal length is the only lens-related consideration when shooting portraits. Aperture certainly is a big consideration, as is the distance between the model and the camera.  I prefer to shoot headshots, especially when they're of females, employing wide apertures. For me, the narrow depth of focus at wide apertures is preferable. It helps to further compress the face and, with tack-sharp focus on the eyes, viewers' attentions are drawn to the subject's eyes which is usually where I want them drawn to. When using a 135mm lens set with a wide aperture of, say, f/2.8, the end of the subject's nose is out of focus drawing further attention to the subject's eyes.

Here's a short video tutorial by photographer Jay P. Morgan on the impact of focal length on a model's face. I'm a big fan of Jay's videos. He always does a great job of explaining and illustrating many concepts and techniques, from lighting to lens selection and more, all designed to help you improve your photography.

BTW, I still have a few t-shirts left from the batch I put up for sale the other day. If you're interested in purchasing a Pretty Girl Shooter t-shirt for yourself or someone you know, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
I'm guessing they're going to all be gone very quickly.

Also, if you're interested in enhancing your skills and improving your efficiency as a headshot photographer, you can purchase and download my eBook, Guerrilla Headshots, by CLICKING HERE.

The pretty girl headshot at the top is one I snapped a few years back of the Goddess of Glam, Tera Patrick.  (Click it to enlarge.)  I'll readily admit it's hard to take a bad picture of Tera. The camera just loves her. I used an 85mm prime for the photo.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Showing the differences in the various lenses made the difference in this video. I really didn't see much difference in the longer focal lengths until he got down to the 70mm-20mm range. Biiiig difference there.