There are different types of perspective distortion, but the one I’m going to talk about is relevant to portraits and headshots which I specialise in. It is a distortion of the image when the photograph is taken to close to the subject. As an example of this kind of distortion, I have used an exaggerated distorted photograph of a dog. The photograph was taken up close with a wide angle lens exaggerating the size of the dog’s nose. It is not the lens the causes the distortion, but the distance from the lens to the dog.
This is an exaggerated example to show you what perspective distortion looks like, but to a lesser extent, distortion is caused photographing to close to a subjects face. This causes a subjects face to become disproportionate which is highly unflattering in people. But yet, people do this every day when they take selfies. Even used with a selfie stick, the camera (phone) is still to close.
To understand why distortion occurs, let us first examine normal perceptive. At a distance, objects appear smaller than objects of the same size up close. Our eyes perceive near and far by their relative size. Our minds tell us, that objects appear smaller the further away. It is the same for photography. At a distance, objects appear smaller and up close they appear larger.
There is another aspect to perspective. The closer the objects the stronger the effect of perspective. Let’s say a column of soldiers is marching towards you. From a distance of ten feet, the first soldier looks significantly larger than the last soldier. If you should view the column from a hundred feet, the difference in size between the soldier at the front and the soldier at the back is less significant.
These two aspects of perspective are true with all lenses.
- The further away an object, the smaller it appears.
- The further away the lens is from the object, the less change in apparent size.
The Portrait Lens
Coming back to portrait photography. There is less perspective distortion with distance. But you still need to frame the subject while shooting closeups. The answer is to use a longer focal length lens so you can compose the photograph and keeping a distance to prevent distortion. This type of lens is a telephoto lens known as a portrait lens. A portrait lens is a telephoto lens with a focal length between 80mm and 130mm. I prefer to use a 120mm lens. With a portrait lens you can compose your closeup shots without distortion.
Full Length Portraits
There is another type of perspective distortion concerning portraits, and that occurs while photographing full length portraits. This again is related to the closeness of the lens to the subject. If you are standing photographing a standing subject, you are closer to the subjects head than their feet. This again is making the subject disproportionate. The answer is to bend your knees so the camera is level with a lower part of their body. This makes the subjects body more proportionate.
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