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Thread: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

  1. #1

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    A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    I thought I'd share a little experiment in perspective I conducted some years back. It is not meant to be anything but an observation, because portraiture is very complex, involving far more factors than merely perspective and foreshortening. The artist may use a host of means to accomplish his or her desired effect, and perspective may play a larger or smaller role therein. Examples now abound on the web, showing virtually identical portraits of a subject made at a number of distances, to demonstrate perspective effects. However, my little contribution may be useful for some newcomers to the field.

    Since I tend to photograph on location and include more than just the head and shoulders, I was interested in more than just the facial appearance. The possibility of a full-length seated shot in a relaxed pose was a consideration, and I wondered about avoiding a big foot on a crossed leg coming at the camera in a frontal view, though I wouldn’t necessarily choose that orientation. Turning the subject or moving the camera would diminish that problem, but I thought I'd measure the effect of it.

    The test I set up was simple. I sat in a chair with one leg crossed and roughly measured the following distances, back to front, along an imaginary axis parallel to the floor: from the middle of my ear to the tip of my nose; from my nose to a comfortably extended hand, as on a chair arm or table; from my nose to the shoe-tip on my crossed leg (farthest point from my body). These distances were about 5.5, 15, and 30 inches.

    I made four identically sized, self-standing cards. I then placed the cards along the edge of a long table (see Picture1), those distances apart, marking the four body points described. Then, measuring from the nose card, I marked off 2-, 3-, 6-, and 9-foot distances and photographed the cards, from the level of their centers, from each distance with a (borrowed) digital SLR.

    Loading the files in my computer, I measured the relative sizes of the cards in the several images by using Photoshop’s ruler tool on the height, then derived the ratio of heights of the nose to the ear card, the hand to the nose card, and the toe to the nose card, at each photographed distance. Measurements were all approximate; no need to fixate on numbers. Nonetheless, the results are useful in helping to quantify the effects of perspective.

    The chart shows the relative heights of the two compared cards and the magnification factor. For example, at 2 feet, the ear and nose cards measured 26.25 and 32.8, respectively, meaning that the tip of the nose was 1.25 times, or 25 percent, larger than the ear, whereas at 6 feet (and even less), the difference in magnification is negligible, although an extended hand, if included, would still appear magnified about 25 percent larger than the face.

    Again, these are not offered to suggest rules; they are merely observations for my work that may be useful to some others.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Philip Ulanowsky

    Sine scientia ars nihil est. (Without science/knowledge, art is nothing.)
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/156933346@N07/

  2. #2
    ic-racer's Avatar
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    Re: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    One can just aim a camera at a sitter and move closer and farther until the perspective is pleasing. After obtaining the correct perspective, one selects a lens to frame the subject. That is how I have done it for many years.

  3. #3
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    I pick format, lens, film

    Make a set, with lights

    Then bring in sitter(s)

    Ask the sitter if they have any ideas

    I try to relax all sitters with gentle patter which is not rehearsed

    Prefer sitter sit

    Adjust lighting

    Try real hard to limit sitter actual time sitting to 20 minutes, no more than 4 LF shots

    I want to try this type of shot more, this is a historical plate, I am scheming already

    51129192500_d1d279983f_6k by TIN CAN COLLEGE, on Flickr

    Then we drink some wine


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  4. #4
    Photographer LocalHero1953's Avatar
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    Re: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    After this experiment, did you come to a conclusion about the limits of acceptable distortion? What nose to ear or nose to foot ratio is acceptable or unobservable?
    The two ratios I notice particularly after nose-to-ear (i.e. I can see the distortion ; I haven't measured it like you) are face-to-leading shoulder for someone side on, and face-to-hand for a shot of somebody seated.

    I'm a newcomer to LF, but have done a lot of portraiture in 35mm, so I know that to avoid distortion I need to be at least 6' away to keep head-and-shoulder distortion down, and that is not enough if a foot or hand is well out ahead. That implies a 90mm or so lens for head-and-shoulders in 35mm format. I was wondering what FL I would need for portraits in 5x4. I have started with a 250mm lens, which is more equivalent to to 60mm in 35mm format.
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  5. #5

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    Re: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    In LF I take more in the frame from the environment, the model is clear enough to see on that format.
    That gives me some distance from the model, and I don't have to bother so much with perspective and DOF too.
    I did have trouble with that on head/head and shoulders shots.
    I like the way you showed this.
    I own the gear, but those don't make masterpieces. My everyday experience.

  6. #6

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    Re: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    LocalHero, I have not come to hard conclusions, in part due to the many factors which can affect the final image, in part due to Covid having put my portraiture in abeyance just as I was getting started into it again after obligatory years away from my cameras. I have spent considerable time over the past several years since beginning my return (with various new features requiring lots of new testing, mostly confined to occasional weekends) studying portraits here and elsewhere online, as well as in books, and have been surprised at the strength of many that were made from a distance I would not have even considered, sometimes with "normal" lenses. That, plus discussions on the effective differences in appearance with different degrees of enlargement and viewing distances, have led me to consider violating my previous, generally 6-foot starting point.

    I think one should also consider that some faces are much flatter than others, some wider, or narrower, and that a lesser or greater distance may subtly improve the drawing of a given face from certain angles, regardless of the "math."

    I have naturally encountered the same issues you have in previous times, and preferred 85-105 for 35mm portraits, mostly. I sold my SLRs to refresh my 4x5 gear several years back, keeping my M4 with 35, 50, and an added 90. In 645 I like the 110mm, though I have a 150, and in 4x5 my 210, which is -- if I may suggest -- is closer to 60mm in 35 than your 250, though these things can be calculated in various ways. It happens that the 110 and 210 are very close, relative to format, and take in an upper-body framing at 5.5-6 feet, which often suits me. They are also short enough to allow full-length standing in a long room, and provide a bit more DOF than longer lenses would.

    I look forward to seeing how some ~4-foot-distant portraits work out in different poses, when I start up again; I don't expect to get much closer than that. I should also mention, that I finally decided to add a 135 as a second lens for my 4x5, to handle interiors, especially, in which I wish to have the subject more surrounded by the environment and with extended DOF.

    The never-ending learning process of portraiture!
    Philip Ulanowsky

    Sine scientia ars nihil est. (Without science/knowledge, art is nothing.)
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/156933346@N07/

  7. #7
    Alan Klein's Avatar
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    Re: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    Would a 300mm with 4x5 be a good portrait lens? I'm asking because I already have one.

  8. #8

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    Re: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    Traditional yes, 240mm to 300mm is often used as head-shoulder portrait on 4x5. Backing up is always an option to achieve the framing as needed.
    More than just body shape rendition on film, it moves the camera away from the portrait sitter and allows room for lighting and lighting related items. IMO, lighting and related is MORE important than lens/camera. To make it overall good, it is a balanced lens of portrait sitter/lighting/pose/lens-camera and all related.

    If one really gets into this, out of focus rendition of lens to be used from full aperture to about 3 f-stops down IS important. This plus how the lens transitions from in to out of focus and the lens's ability to separate subtle contrast differences. All these factors plus how the film behaves with lighting can aid in rendering dimensionality into a 2D image.


    Bernice


    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Klein View Post
    Would a 300mm with 4x5 be a good portrait lens? I'm asking because I already have one.

  9. #9

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    Re: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    Alan, why not? According to one calculator, this is roughly equivalent to an 80mm lens on 35mm, but I think this conservative (again, calculation methods differ). It's twice the length of the typically cited 150mm as normal for 4x5, and therefore, certainly a common "portrait" length. Many people presume a head-and-shoulders or closer framing of the face as typical for portraiture, and a head-and-shoulders framing with this focal length would put you in the range of 5 1/2 feet from your subject. Your challenge then may or may not be the DOF, which, at f/22 at this distance is just over 4 1/2 inches.

    I prefer to start with a looser framing, usually; I'm a big fan of Rembrandt, among others, and a print of Velazquez's magnificent portrait of Juan de Pareja hangs over our mantle piece. The 210 works well for this, giving me an upper body framing at the same distance and about the same DOF at f/11 as your 300 at f/22. These are all choices. Strand reported used only a 300 for many years, on both his slightly cropped 5x6 (5x6.25) and 8x10. He managed pretty well, I'd say.

    In all these matters, we need to try to master what we have, rather than hoping something else will solve our problem. It may, and it may be just right at some point, but skipping around in this mind-set is poisonous to focused creative work.
    Philip Ulanowsky

    Sine scientia ars nihil est. (Without science/knowledge, art is nothing.)
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/156933346@N07/

  10. #10
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: A few, limited observations on traditional portrait perspective for the newcomer

    Perhaps we need to look at other formats and lenses

    I always grab my Nikon 135mm f2 for Digi

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