Q&A: Bishop asks about shooting portraits with a 35mm lens.

“I am new to following your site…via your guest blog entry on Steve Hufff’s site and I wanted to say I enjoy your work very much.  The tones, the processing when in color and your subject matter are a joy.  I look forward to seeing more of your posts in the future.

A quick question for you though.  I noticed many of your portraits are shot with a 35mm lens.  I am wondering if you are cropping your resulting image?  I ask because your portraits are closer than what I am achieving with a 50mm without being in the face of my own children.  Not that I am a purist and don’t crop images but I try not too.  Appreciate your comments on this as you are able.

I should also add that I enjoy how you capture your children in the midst of their activities…not an easy thing to do I am sure but what a great result.

Thanks and I look forward to more of your work.  

Best regards — Bishop”

Hi Bishop,

Thank you so much for writing, and for the kind words!

In answer to your question, I don’t often crop when using a 35mm lens*, because if I did, I would lose the more interesting perspective I get with this FOV, vs. the 50mm. It’s true that one needs to be more careful with distortion when photographing people with a 35mm lens (and to some extent distortion is always there), but with practice you learn to minimize it and/or take advantage of it.

It took me some time to learn how to do this, because I was always a “50mm photographer”, but the rewards have been worth it.  Of course, I still shoot with a 50mm lens!

I hope I’ve been able to help, and thanks again for writing,

—Peter.

________________________________________

*In those of my 35mm images where people appear “closer” than what you’re able to achieve with your 50mm lens, Bishop, I have obviously cropped the image.  Having said that, I’m normally photographing people as close as possible.

7 thoughts on “Q&A: Bishop asks about shooting portraits with a 35mm lens.

  1. John Parkyn says:

    Peter,

    Please go into a little detail regarding the distortion of a 35 mm relative to a 50 mm lens. Is the situation that the 50 is the truest, most natural field of view and that any deviation up or down from it is automatically accompanied by distortion? … And the greater the deviation from 50, the greater the distortion?

    You use both 35 and 50 … If you picked one field of view to use most of the time, would it be the 35 or the 50?

    I’ve opted for the 35 as sometimes i feel hemmed in by the 50, but I’d like to know your take. Of course, if the 35 is the lens hitched to one’s camera most of the time we arrive back at Bishop’s cropping question.

    Thank you,

    John

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi John,

      Extension distortion is seen the WIDER you go from 50mm (with longer focal lengths, you get compression distortion, which is actually great for creating flattering portraits and also for certain types of landscape shots).

      The extension distortion with wider lenses is more evident in the periphery/corners of the frame… an arm, leg, or person’s nose(!) will appear s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d the further you move away from the center of the frame, so you have to be careful when composing. You’ll also get different kinds of distortion depending on whether you’re shooting from above or below a person’s face/body, which may be a good or bad thing, depending on what “look” you’re trying to achieve.

      If I had to choose between a 35mm or 50mm lens, I’d pick the 35mm. It’s great for environmental portraits (you can fit both the person and the scene together in the frame)… and I’m shooting more environmental portraits these days. Also, as I’ve written above, the distortion that is invariably present (even when I’m trying to minimize it) will often yield a more interesting look vs. what I get with the 50mm FOV.

      Ideally, a 35/75 combo would give you the best of both worlds, with the 75mm suited for head-and-shoulder portraiture and short-tele duties.

      However, the 50mm focal length (often called the “natural” focal length) is often chosen as a “one lens solution”. It’s the classic focal length and many iconic images have been shot with it. Up until a year ago, it would have been my focal length of choice. These days, most of my images are taken with the 35 and, in those instances where a 50 would be have been more appropriate, I’ll crop as needed.

  2. John Parkyn says:

    What a fine response. Thank you for taking the time Peter.

    John (in Guelph)

  3. Peter —

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my question…very helpful. The added details you provided via John’s question were helpful as well. I also had the opportunity to read your review of the 75mm Summarit lens. In doing so, I think I found some additional direction as the example images you provided all feature the framing that I am looking for in my own efforts. So, it looks like I will now be in search of a 75mm lens to round out my kit. I just need to decide how fast a lens my budget can support. By the way, today’s “Good Morning” image is not helpful! :)

    All the best — Bishop

  4. horsewithnoname says:

    Hi peter

    I saved up to buy a 35mm summarit after reading your blog.

    just wondering, how would you minimise distortion with people when shooting portraits with 35mm?

    thanks

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