Portraits With Wides

 

K Madhavan Pillai explores some easily achievable, exciting possibilitiesĀ in portraiture using the wide end of your kit zoom lens or compact camera.

If using lens flare is not a part of your repertoire of portrait techniques, you are missing out on a big part of what wide angles are capable of. Photogeaph/M Prabhu

If using lens flare is not a part of your repertoire of portrait techniques, you are missing out on a big part of what wide angles are capable of. Photogeaph/M Prabhu

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 SeesĀ 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.

Getting a candid portrait is a challenge because of your proximity to the subject. You need blend in, be speedy and compose quickly. Practice helps. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Getting a candid portrait is a challenge because of your proximity to the subject. You need blend in, be speedy and compose quickly. Practice helps. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

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.

Wide lenses let you make portraits in spaces where other lenses cannot be used. They also make cramped places look more spacious. Photograph/Anirban Brahma

Wide lenses let you make portraits in spaces where other lenses cannot be used. They also make cramped places look more spacious. Photograph/Anirban Brahma

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.

Wide lenses are great for freezing action. Relative speed with which any action occurs reduces with distance. And apparent distances are greater with wides. Photograph/ Anirban Brahma

Wide lenses are great for freezing action. Relative speed with which any action occurs reduces with distance. And apparent distances are greater with wides. Photograph/ Anirban Brahma

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.

The upper part of this railway station seems to be curved! While many wide users abhor distortion, it can adds to the appeal of an image. Photograph/ K Madhavan Pillai

The upper part of this railway station seems to be curved! While many wide users abhor distortion, it can adds to the appeal of an image. Photograph/ K Madhavan Pillai

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.

Going low to frame a subject against the sky is a good technique to use with wides. Framing foreground action precisely takes skill and effort, though. Photograph/Yarik Mishin

Going low to frame a subject against the sky is a good technique to use with wides. Framing foreground action precisely takes skill and effort, though. Photograph/Yarik Mishin

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.

On the streets, seek permissions before you shoot, especially because you need to move in so close with wide lenses. Photograph/Anirban Brahma

On the streets, seek permissions before you shoot, especially because you need to move in so close with wide lenses. Photograph/Anirban Brahma

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.

The built-in flash of your camera is designed to provide perfect coverage for the wide end of its lens. Try it out! Photograph/ K Madhavan Pillai

The built-in flash of your camera is designed to provide perfect coverage for the wide end of its lens. Try it out! Photograph/ K Madhavan Pillai

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.

Festivals and fairs are excellent locations for wide angle portraits. People there are ever willing to strike poses if you ask them to. Photograph/Sandipan Majumdar

Festivals and fairs are excellent locations for wide angle portraits. People there are ever willing to strike poses if you ask them to. Photograph/Sandipan Majumdar

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.

Just as much as it exaggerates perspectives, wides tend to heighten mood and the sense of juxtaposition. Use these for effect. Photograph/SL Shanth Kumar

Just as much as it exaggerates perspectives, wides tend to heighten mood and the sense of juxtaposition. Use these for effect. Photograph/SL Shanth Kumar

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.

Tags: K Madhavan Pillai, portraits, Shooting Technique, Wide-angle lens