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35mm Lens for Portraits?

Steven Good , Jan 28, 1999; 11:25 a.m.

Are 35mm (focal length) lenses ever used in studio portraiture? I have a mini studio that does not allow for full-length portraits with a 50mm lens. I am thinking about buying a 35mm lens. What are some of the problems (distortion, etc.) that I might face? Thanks for the advice.


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Mike West , Jan 28, 1999; 11:33 a.m.

I was forced to use a 35mm lens at a recent portrait job. The clients house was very small and they wanted a group shot of 8 people. I didn't think the results were very flattering both from a standpoint of distortion and backround. You'll be able to control the backround in your studio. But as far as distortion goes, I think you might want to work with high and low angles and try to make the distortion work for you.

Ron Shaw , Jan 28, 1999; 11:35 a.m.

35mm isnt a good focal length for tight portraits due to the distortion from getting to close to your subject. Wide angles tend to give the 'dog nosed' effect, which is hardly flattering. For a 35mm camera, the classic focal length for portrature is the 85 to 105 range.

Jan . , Jan 28, 1999; 11:52 a.m.

I think two things are being confused. The distortion in relative proportions is caused solely by the distance between the camera and the subject. The 'traditional' rule that Ron mentions applies for tight portraits, but since steven mentions full length portraits, it is probably not going to be a problem. Think about it. Say you use a 105mm lens for a tight head portrait. That would put you about a meter or so away from your subject. the traditionalists say that this is OK with respect to perspective distortion. Now if you use a 35mm lens to capture a full length portrait of a 5'6"-tall person, taht puts you 5 feet away from your subject, hence even farther and so perspective distortion in your subject will be even lower than with the head shot using 105mm focal length. Feininger has a good illustration of this in his Total Photography (which is a pretty good book, BTW).


PS: I just had my whole wedding shot with a 35mm lens and the results are absolutely great.J.

Gary Watson , Jan 28, 1999; 12:29 p.m.

I think several posters simply didn't read your question. Sure, the canonical view on portrait lenses is 85-105mm for head shots; however, your needs just might have a place for a 35mm. Helmut Newton used the old Nikkor 45/2.8 GN and much of Nan Goldin's recent work in environmental portraiture is shot with a 35/1.4. Something in the 2.8 range should be cheap enough for experimentation. Try it.

Ron Stecher , Jan 28, 1999; 12:43 p.m.

One problem you will face with group portraits and wide angle lenses is that the people on the outside of the group will appear to be four feet wide if you are too close. For full length portraits your subject will probably have that "carnival mirror effect" if your standing too close. If you can't get the space you need indoors is outdoors an option for you? Try a park, beach or lakeside. Then you can take advantage of a more ideal lens for portraits such as an 85mm or even your 50mm.

Shayok Mukhopadhyay , Jan 28, 1999; 01:01 p.m.

"One problem you will face with group portraits and wide angle lenses is that the people on the outside of the group will appear to be four feet wide if you are too close..."

Isnt the standard solution to this making people stand in an arc whose centre is the camera, instead of lining them up in a straight line? But maybe Steven isnt thinking of groups at all.

Geoffrey S. Kane , Jan 28, 1999; 01:42 p.m.

Steve, I'm not a studio photographer and I don't have a studio; however, my AI 35 f2 Nikkor is my most used lens. As has been repeated above, distortion won't be a problem as long as you don't get too close (i.e. closer than you normally get).

Your bigger problems will be background and DOF. Make sure that your background is big enough to cover the full frame. Also DOF is greater with a 35 mm lens and few wide angle lenses perform at their best wide open If you have a white backgound, light fall-off on the corners may be a problem. Oh and make sure you keep the camera level, tilting it up or down to fit you subject in the frame will make it look like they're leaning forwards or backwards.

Z -- , Jan 28, 1999; 06:15 p.m.

The suggestion to use high and low angles is 100% incorrect with regard to groups shot with 35mm lenses. That is one way to be absolutely sure to distort your subjects! The correct way to get "normal" looking groups with 35mm lenses is to keep the camera straight and square (don't tilt up or down) and shoot with the camera held even with the chest height of the group, not the photographer.

Geoffrey S. Kane , Jan 28, 1999; 07:47 p.m.

Z, we seem to be in agreement. You expressed what I meant by my statement: <i>"make sure you keep the camera level, tilting it up or down to fit you subject in the frame will make it look like you're leaning forwards or backwards."</i>

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