Three Tricks to Shooting Wide Angle Portraits

“My lens of choice was always the 35 mm. It was more environmental. Coming tight was boring to me. Just the face… it was a boring kind of photograph to me. It didn’t have enough information.” - Annie Leibovitz

Wide Angle Lenses Aren't Just for Landscapes

When most photographers need to shoot a portrait they reach for their 85mm, 70-200mm, or even trusty 50mm lenses. They rarely grab a wide angle lens, like a 24mm or even an ultra-wide like a 14mm. This is mostly because portrait photographers want to avoid distorting their subject's features, like the fisheye effect caused by being too close with a wide angle. Used correctly though, wide angle lenses can create a unique perspective and tell more of a story than shooting tight with a more standard portrait focal length. 

Rule 1 - Get Close

Getting closer to a subject with a wide angle creates a sense of intimacy. You are in the moment with them, as opposed to viewing it from the outside.  This is something only wide angle lenses can accomplish, and used correctly it can give the viewer an entirely new perspective on your subject. This is great for non-formal family portraits, as you can capture a special moment close to the action but show the full family at the same time. If you've seen the movie Birdman, this method was used to great effect to give the audience the feeling that they were in the scene with the characters.

Rule 2 - Keep the Background Clean

Cluttered backgrounds are the enemy of every photograph, but it's an even bigger hassle when shooting wide angle. When shooting a portrait it's also more important to keep the frame simple so that the focus remains on your subject. The outtake above is almost ruined by the palm trees to the right of the subjects head. They stand out prominently in an otherwise clear skyline. Luckily it's an easy fix to clone those out. Simple frames are great frames. 

Rule 3 - Keep Subjects Away from the Edge

Wide angle lenses show the most distortion along the edges and corners, so it's best not to place your subject in those areas. Software is really great at correcting lens distortion these days, but even the best can't fix a distorted face or limb as well as shooting without distortion. This will also improve your composition, as most composition methods don't place focal points on the edge of the frame.

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