Portraits With Wides
K Madhavan Pillai explores some easily achievable, exciting possibilities in portraiture using the wide end of your kit zoom lens or compact camera.
This article was originally published in February 2014.
Contrary to popular notion, your wide angle lens can lend itself quite wonderfully to portraiture. All you need to do is to compose your shots so that you use the typical characteristics of your wide lens for adding drama to the frame, and to avoid certain easily visible errors.
Learn to See Just like Your Lens Sees It
Different lenses and even the various focal lengths within the same wide angle zoom will see your subject rather uniquely. After a bit of use, you will be able to previsualise the effects your lens has on a scene, and how it reacts in different light. This knowledge is critical in portraiture.
The Central Two Thirds Rule
As far as possible, place your subject towards the center of the frame. If you do need to place your subject off-center, avoid using the edges. This will prevent your main subject from appearing unusually distorted. While even the most severe distortions can be used quite well in a photograph, this normally does not work in portraiture.
Becoming Edgy About Edges
Distracting compositional elements tend to find their way into the edges of a photograph. With wide angle lenses, they go unnoticed because the angle of view of the lens is wider than what our eyes are used to. What you include in your frame, and consequently what you exclude, can make or break a potentially prize winning portrait.
Choose Mid-length over Close-ups
Filling the frame with your subject will lead to frightful distortions, even if your subject is in the center. Avoid head-and-shoulder close-ups, and go for mid or full-length shots instead. Also, avoid cropping the arms or elbows in odd ways. Including the hands in the frame usually works well.
Angles and Demons!
Pointing the camera downwards or upwards, and the height from which you shoot, will significantly change how your subject, foreground and background appears. You can make a subject look imposingly tall or extremely short, or even terribly disproportionate.
Are You Too Close for Comfort?
With wide angle lenses, subjects always seem to be farther away in the viewfinder than they actually are. Thus, you may unknowingly end up moving rather close to them while making a picture. Some people might find this uncomfortable and uneasy people will not make good subjects.
A Lens that Lets You Pretend
The large angle of view of a wide, especially ultrawide lenses, lets you pretend that you are shooting something else while your main subject may be positioned on one side of your frame. This is because your subject will not see the lens directly pointing towards him or her, but rather, to one side.
When Backgrounds Tell the Tale
It is easy to get everything in focus with wides, especially at narrow apertures, making it the perfect lens to for stunning environmental portraits, even in cramped or crowded places. To separate your subject from the background, moving slightly closer to your subject, or shooting from a slightly higher or lower position usually does the trick.
A Question of Flare
As prone to flare that wides generally are, using a lens hood is absolutely mandatory. However, in portraits, flare can also be used quite brilliantly. Practiced photographers can get a dreamy, diffused flare, or a sunburst or starburst, because they know how their lens reacts to different kinds of light sources. A bit of technical knowhow, with some trial and error helps. Making wide angle portraits is extremely enjoyable. To start off, all you need to do initially is to compose your frame carefully and eliminate unwanted distractions. Using these tips will give you satisfying results almost immediately, even if you are an absolute beginner in photography.
Need to be Quick with Shooting?
Often, getting good portraits depends on how quick you are. Learning how to set the lens at hyperfocal distances at narrow apertures will enable you to simply point, compose, and shoot, without having to bother with focusing. Experienced street and travel portraitists use their wide angle lenses in this manner.