Exercise 7 – Focal Length

For this particular exercise we are to look at the difference that focal length would have on a portrait. Normally the best focal length to use is something around the 50mm (full frame) or 35mm if using a crop sensor. A wide angle is not normally recommended due to the unpleasing distortion effect it has on the subjects face.

Some pro photographers often opt for an even longer focal length to 50mm such as 105mm or even 210mm. Scott Kelby often gives demonstrations on many of his blogs and videos using a 210mm Nikon (now Canon) F2.8 lens for portraits.

I took these images on my Sony A6000 which is a crop sensor, so any focal length mentioned can be multiplied by 1.6. All images where taken in AV mode at f5.6. I used a 16-50mm and 70-210 zoom both made by Sony.

NOTE: My wife was about to leave for the airport so the lighting and composition is far from best, but due to delays in my assignment I need to move on.

 

[53]

16mm

 

This first image of Elaine was taken at 16mm or 25mm full frame. You can clearly see the face is a little distorted and not giving a very pleasing look. Due to the wide angle its also very hard to gain any depth of field as can be seen by the light in the background.

[54]

24mm

In this next image the focal length is 24mm crop or 38mm full frame. Slightly more depth of field than the first image, but still not enough for a good separation between subject and background. The face and body now looks a little more natural.

[55]

36mm

At 36mm crop and an equivalent of 57mm on a full frame this is a much better image and close to a look we would see by the naked eye. 50mm is the normal length most cameras use to best capture the natural look.

[56]

50mm

Its harder now to see any real difference between this image taken at 50mm crop or 80mm full frame. The 80mm is a common choice for medium format lenses as used by Phase One or Mamiya.

[57]

70mm

At 70mm or 110mm equal to full frame, this is now more in the telephoto category than using a medium prime lens. The advantage with using such a lens is greater DOP, and one important point is the photographer is able to stand further away from the subject which makes the person feel at ease with no lens or camera close in on the face. The overall image still looks very natural.

[58]

100mm

Using now a longer telephoto, this image is at 100mm or 160mm. Again when comparing to the other three images above its hard to make out any real change apart from a better DOP.

[59]

135mm

For this shot I had to actually change position as I had ran out of room in order to keep the composition the same. This is at 135mm crop which is 216mm. Although this image has no interesting background, if shot outside the image would have nice fall off due to a wide aperture and longer lens.

[60]

210mm

This last image was taken at a focal length of 210mm in crop sensor, or that would be 335mm on a  full frame 35mm camera. I would tend to maybe use a little less focal length given the choice, but if outside shooting subjects hard to get to such as at a sporting event then this would be a good choice for bringing the subject closer.

Conclusion:

Using various focal length lenses as above certainly shows how they can be used to give to same effect while simply moving further away. A medium tele-photo lens is good to give a working distance between photographer and subject, which is ideal for making the subject feel more at ease. It also allows the photographer space to move around and compress the background if needed.

The wide angle lens is not really an option for portraiture. This lens leads to too much distortion of the face and anything which is close to the lens, such as hands or feet. The best option would be any focal length lens ranging from 50mm up to around 200mm for best results.

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Exercise 6 – Review a portrait sequence

This exercise is intended to see how we communicate and interact with a subject in a portrait sequence. We are to set up a portrait session in a formal, structured way, in order to have a consistent setting and framing, according to the OCA notes.

In addition it will be very useful to use a tripod, in order to concentrate more on the situation, and so that the only variable between the series of pictures will be the expressions and gestures of the subject. Im not sure if I will take this route, as I think I would feel more at ease for both myself and the subject if I am moving around.

This on-the-spot assessment will affect the photography in the way I talk to and direct my subject, and in the moments I choose to make each exposure; it will also affect the way I review and edit the sequence of images on the computer.
Immediately after the shooting, I am supposed to write down the frame by frame progress of my subject’s expression, noting which I felt at the time were the best. At what point did I decide that it was time to stop shooting, and why?
Next, I am requested to open the sequence of images in my browser and review the images a second time. Rate them as follows: a) not good, b) acceptable, c) good and d) the best single shot, according to my judgement. How, if at all, did this later review differ from the way I saw it at the time of shooting?

I set up a formal portrait with my wife and decided to have her use a tablet as part of a prop, and to help her relax rather than simply staring at the camera. I did not use a tripod which added to a relaxed session than having the images all the same and making the session too static with the framing. I did try to keep the overall framing close without too much variation however.

I will mark the images with a star rating from 1 to 3 stars, and my final favourite image.

(click on any image to enlarge)

[32]

Rating *** – I like the pose of Elaine in this image. Although she is holding a tablet, her eye contact with the camera allows the viewer to look directly at the subject, then view around the rest of the frame and back to the eyes of Elaine. The soft focus allows the background and couch area not to distract too much from Elaine.

[33]

_E9A8733

Rating * – I like the photo but I feel I could have made a better image with elaines body position. I think the shoulders should be turned a little more to the camera, as this pose makes her look a little too slim. I like the expression so this would be a better image if I were to crop closer to the face making a head and shoulder shot. You should never crop at the joints also which is very close on the bottom right wrist, so this crop should be a little higher.

[34]

_E9A8727

Rating * – At first I thought this image would turn out good, but looking at the finished product I think the soft bean bag on the right is too distracting, and that there is a little too much dead space. It would be hard to get a full body shot without adding all these extras, so to make this work a three quarter or head and shoulder shot would work better. I do like the facial expression.

[35]

_E9A8726

Rating ** – Another image similar to no [34], but now with Elaine looking direct at the camera. Still issues with the background but the direct eye contact makes for a more pleasing image, and draws the viewer to Elaine’s face.

[36]

5

Rating * – For this image I made a slight crop on the top of the head, just to bring to focus inwards and crop the background. I brought the camera position down slightly below eye level. I would have preferred the light to be a little more contrasty for this image.

[37]

6

Rating ** – I like the formal pose of this image with Elaine resting her cheek on the hand. It would make a better image I feel if it was cropped closer, but I didn’t want to do this for the purpose of this exercise. I like the lighting a little better here then some of the other images. I’ve added a slight vignette on the edges of the image.

[38]

7

Rating *** – I like this image as it makes the viewer wonder what Elaine is thinking about, or looking at as she stares slightly off camera. I am not totally sure if the hand placement could be better, but for me I like the overall look and framing of the picture. One of my favourite images of the set.

[39]

8

Rating ** – A slight variation on the above image, but now looking at camera. Moving my position down brings the camera to the same level as the face, and composing to bring the eyes on the top left rule of thirds.

[40]

9

Rating * – At the time of taking this image I thought the composition was fairly good, but after looking at this image I feel as If I am too far away form Elaine, as her head is situated way back in the image. I was careful not to get too close to the feet with a wide angle lens, so I zoomed in and set myself back. However I feel that her feet are more part of the image than Elaines face and too much of the chair visible. Not what I felt at the time of taking the shot.

[41]

10

Rating * – Similar to the above image [40], I had Eliane this time look away from the camera, but too much of the image is about the chair and legs, with little of the face filling the frame. I think this would work better if I was to crop inwards to at least the bottom of the knees.

[42]

11

Rating ** – This time cropping in closer to Elaine with a similar framing to the two images above, I like the position and framing of the face with Elaine looking out the window. But a little too much of the chair is in the frame. I could improve the image with a closer crop. At the time of shooting I liked the fact Elaine is looking out of the window with the window light filling the frame.

[43]

12

Rating *** – A little better cropping with the concentration more on the upper body of the subject. I like the fact the dark area of her trousers brings a natural vignette into the image allowing the eyes to be directed to the eyes and face.

[44]

13

Rating * – To add some variation the the photo set, I had Elaine stand near the window and place her hands in her pocket for a slightly more formal feel. I had her tilt back slightly to arch her back and face the camera in a three quarter pose. At the time I thought the shot worked, but after looking at the image I am not sure I like the overall posing. I also feel the shot could be improved with less dead space to the right of Elaine. I cropped close to the top of the head.

[45]

14

Rating ** – I like this shot more than [44] above due to the close cropping making a pleasing head and shoulder shot. Natural window light allows light features on the left side of the image with a nice fall off of light and shadow on the right of the image. I’m always careful not to crop at the joints on hands, arms and legs.

[46]

15

Rating * – Overall I like this image, but the background on reflection is a bit bland, and to be honest not out of focus quite enough. Maybe if the background was a little more interesting it would improve the image, or if I was to use off camera flash I could darken the background. I like the light falling on the face but the highlights are a little too bright even after post processing. Not sure if I like the hands in the pockets which at the time I thought looked OK.

[47]

16

Rating ** – For this image I had Elaine use a prop, in the is case a small tablet computer. Although you cannot see the tab in the image, I wanted to take away to distraction of the camera for the subject while I shot a series of images. I do have other images with the tab in the frame but wanted to see how it would look without. I tilted the camera slightly to add a little more of a vertical to fill the frame to the top right.

[48]

17

Rating ** – For me I really like the expression on Elaines face, as if she is talking to someone. I like the feel of the image but would like the background to be in an office surround.

[49]

18

Rating *** – I like this image as one of my favourites. The frame is full due to the titling of the camera and adds a better dimension rather than being just straight. I had Elaine  lookup towards the window light.

[50]

19

Rating *** – This would be my second overall favourite in the set of images. Although Elaine is using the tab as a prop, I like the smile towards the camera and the way she is seated with a straight back, and leaning towards the camera. The eye contact with the camera lens demands attention. At the time of shooting I didn’t feel as this would become one of my favourite images.

[51]

Best

Rating *** Favorite Image. I feel that this is my best image from the whole set. I like the expression and the close up camera angle and cropping to three quarters. The background is sufficiently out of focus and the window light has exposed the side of the face and wrapped around the shadow side enough not to be too dark.

Lightroom screen shot:

[52]

Snip20150518_1

Conclusion:

I’m finding the whole section of the is OCA course very hard due to limited time and finding various subject matter. However I enjoyed this exercise and using the window light with no additional fill flash or reflectors was a challenge. It gave me the opportunity to pose the subject in many ways as I had to submit at least 20 images. At first this didn’t seem an issue but you soon find you are running out of options after about 10 or so poses.

I have been reading and watching a lot on posing from wedding photography and using off camera flash. I have just changed my camera system to Sony mirror-less and I’m waiting for the new flash units to arrive. I’ll do another separate blog on this in due course.

I would have liked to have done this exercise in an office surround but due to time I had to get the exercise finished so I can move on. Elaine did like a lot of the images and it has allowed me to now take some more formal images for Elaine for office use, and it may lead to more work for her office staff which I would look forward too. I can’t wait to get the new flash units for the Sony A7 and start to get my flash off camera to get more dramatic results. I decided to have all images in B&W to take away any distractions from colour.