Photographing wide-angle portraits
In photographing wide-angle portraits, we have to make the decision whether we want to embrace the wide-angle distortion (such as Bill Brandt famously did), or have a more natural approach where the wide-angle is used to show more of the environment and to help with a dynamic composition.
With this photo of Anastasiya, I wanted to include these massive billboards 5th Avenue. That meant I had to use a wide focal length. In this example, I had my 24-7mm zoom racked to 24mm.
The idea here is that we need to be purposeful. Better to shoot in a more controlled way with a specific idea in mind, than afterwards think to yourself, “if only their hands and feet weren’t so distorted.” It needs to be a conscious decision at some point. Control.
So if the intention is to use a wide-angle lens for a portrait, and not have crazy distortion, there are a few things we should look out for:
- Shoot from waist-high if you can. Then you have about the same distance to your subject’s feet as their face. Think of how photographers used twin-lens reflex cameras hanging from their neck – the camera was about belly-button height. This helps minimizing perspective distortion. Shooting from lower down also prevents you from shooting ‘down’ on your subject.
- If you shoot from a lower angle, as in these two examples above, then you are likely to get severe perspective distortion – you can see that Anastasiya’ hands and arms look much larger in the frame compared to her face. The way around this is to move further away – don’t shoot so close-up, and then, as in this case, have your subject lean forward ever so slightly. This will help correct the distortion. That’s what we did with this frame.
- With a wide-angle lens, try to keep your subject central – the closer they are to the edge of the frame, the more stretched-out their features will look. Oddly-shaped, distorted heads aren’t attractive for portraits!
Post-processing the photo
The main image shown at the top was boosted a bit with some mild HDR via the Aurora HDR software.
Photo gear used during this photo session
This pull-back shot (and a comparison without flash) will show the effect the off-camera flash had, and how it was positioned. In this instance, I had my assistant hold up the Profoto B1 flash (B&H / Amazon), with the Profoto OCF (2′) Octa Softbox (B&H / Amazon). (The Octa softbox also needs the OCF speedring to mount to the Profoto B1 or B2 flash.)
I like this setup because it is powerful, but the softbox is small enough to not be unwieldy out on the streets in New York.
- 1/200 @ f/5.6 @ 200 ISO
- Nikon D810
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR @ 24mm
- Profoto B1 TTL flash (B&H / Amazon)
- Profoto OCF (2?) Octa Softbox (B&H / Amazon)
- Photo sessions: Posing, lighting & context
- Posing technique – Adjusting a pose with incremental changes
- Posing tip – Check the wrists and hands
- Composition for full-length portraits – step back!