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Thread: focal length - head and shoulders

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    Default focal length - head and shoulders

    I have seen two threads in the last 24 hours where a head and shoulders portrait and/or candid was shot with a 30mm prime. I will admit that in the first few months of owning my first Nikon I shot some close-ups of a college girl friend with my only lens, the famous Nikkor 50mm f1.4 and they looked pretty good considering my complete ignorance of how to shoot a portrait. A little later I got a 2x converter and started doing my portraits with that. The following link is a shot from my first for pay portrait shoot of a Russian family. This shot was taken with window light through translucent curtains and no reflector. This was 1971 a year or so before I started my apprenticeship as a portrait photographer with a man named Merlin Parker who had taken the top award in the the PP of Washington wedding album competition three years in a row with his imitation of Monte Zucker's portrait style weddings.

    Russian Girl
    Nikkor 50mm + 2x converter Tri-X (keep in mind I was a rank amateur!)
    http://three-tree-point.blogspot.com...q=russian+girl

    The point of this post is what do you guys think the right focal length is for shooting this kind of shot? The old rules were 85mm or longer for a head and shoulders. Have these rules changed?

    BTW, was it Arnold Newman that did a portrait of Edward Hopper and his wife with a fish lens? But they were not up close to the lens.

    Clay

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    Default Re: focal length - head and shoulders

    The 30mm is a wonderful fast lens! While it would not be my first choice for a portrait As you noted a few people have shown it can be done.

    When I was shooting film, I had only 2 lenses - 50mm and 135mm.

    The 135mm was my preferred focal length. So, 70mm with a 4/3 format camera is what I have used (self portrait for the challenge this month) and I like the Results.

    I don't think the rules have changed so much as that everyone is more willing to experiment with Digital. The reasons of 85mm or longer still hold true - and it is basically because that at this length there is minimal distortion of the facial features.

    If we examine a a shot with say the 30mm, and as long as the original frame was only partially filled and the resultant displayed image was a fairly heavy crop then this may be a reasonable explanation of getting the great portrait shots while using this lens.
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    Default Re: focal length - head and shoulders

    ''The reasons of 85mm or longer still hold true - and it is basically because that at this length there is minimal distortion of the facial features."

    That is the way I understood the issue. A portrait photographer who has mastered the implications of focal length can break the rules with specific goals in mind and make it work, e.g. A.Newman's portrait of Edward and Josephine Hopper. For those who are just getting started it is more likely that breaking the rules will introduce subtle problems into their images that will escape their immediate attention.

    BTW, ran into a guy shooting student's yesterday at the beach. He told me he considers himself a "master" photographer. Here is a link to his web site.

    http://www.photographybysteven.com/seniors.html
    Tell me what you think about his portraits.

    Here is his competition right on the same street:

    http://www.burienstudio.com/SeniorGallery.htm

    Ropel (Burien Studio) also shoots senior's at the same beach. Ropel apprenticed 30 some years ago under Merlin Parker, the same man I did. He showed up after I was off at graduate school. Parker was shooting five sittings an hour and needed a man to help out with the load. Ropel picked it up real fast and was a very promising photographer in late 70s. To some extent his style seems to have fossilized. His work was more impressive 25 years ago than it is now.


    Clay

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    Default Re: focal length - head and shoulders

    I would kill for a 45mm F/1.8.
    "If everything isn't black and white, I say, "Why the hell not?" - John Wayne

    http://wayangfotos.tumblr.com/

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    Default Re: focal length - head and shoulders

    Quote Originally Posted by cantikfotos View Post
    I would kill for a 45mm F/1.8.
    The 50mm f2 is getting close and there is a rebate until the end of July.
    I was real tempted to pick this one up last year until I heard one of the guys on this forum talking about removing the lens during a shoot because it was taking so long to focus. That killed it for me. No point in getting a fast lens for candids in low light if you have to wait for it to focus.

    I need to admit failed memory on something I posted on this topic earlier.
    I took a long hard look at my ballerina shots which I was claiming I took with a 300mm f4.5 Nikkor and I know I used that lens for this shoot but I am almost certain the shots on my blog were NOT 300mm. Probably 200mm Nikkor f4 for the top shot at the bar and either 200mm or 85mm F1.8 for the motion shots.

    http://three-tree-point.blogspot.com/search?q=ballerina

    Clay

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    Default Re: focal length - head and shoulders

    Quote Originally Posted by cstirlingbartholomew View Post
    The 50mm f2 is getting close and there is a rebate until the end of July.
    I was real tempted to pick this one up last year until I heard one of the guys on this forum talking about removing the lens during a shoot because it was taking so long to focus.
    I haven't been impressed with the focusing speed of any macro I've ever owned.......that's why I decided to give the 50mm a pass. I used to have a Nikon 85mm F/1.8 that lived on my F-3 and later F-100. Not too big, fast and fairly inexpensive. IMHO, one of the finest lenses ever made. I just wish we had something equivalent for Olympus.

    Corey
    "If everything isn't black and white, I say, "Why the hell not?" - John Wayne

    http://wayangfotos.tumblr.com/

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    Default Re: focal length - head and shoulders

    Quote Originally Posted by cantikfotos View Post
    I haven't been impressed with the focusing speed of any macro I've ever owned.......that's why I decided to give the 50mm a pass. I used to have a Nikon 85mm F/1.8 that lived on my F-3 and later F-100. Not too big, fast and fairly inexpensive. IMHO, one of the finest lenses ever made. I just wish we had something equivalent for Olympus.

    Corey
    I totally agree on the Nikkor 85mm F/1.8 it was a fine lens. The 200mm f4 '70s vintage was also a great piece of glass. Gave wonderful performance wide open. The 500mm f8 mirror was another story, soft and lots of light fall off at the corners.

    I recently acquired a 14-54 zuk. which will serve as a portrait lens if i can find someone worth shooting. I have become addicted to zooms and 54mm is certainly long enough for any sort of close-up shots.

    Clay

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