Shooting people with a wide-angle lens

Afternoon with Rannie-4.jpg

Everyone always says that to do portraits you need an 85mm – maybe a 50mm with a wide aperture, to get separation from the background and to look flattering. One thing about my photography is that I am constantly experimenting. I'm trying to learn and grow and, basically, fuck around until I find something that works.

When I feel myself going through the motions I change it up. Lately, I've been playing with using wider lenses for portraits – a Vivitar Series 1 28mm 1.9 to be specific. This, plus a focal reducer like my Mitakon Turbo Booster, allows me to get a nice wide FOV and still have shallow depth of field.

Now, you generally don't want to get too close to the subject, as that will introduce some comical distortion (Which is a totally valid look! Just not my usual taste), but stepping back a bit, and getting the subject in frame, letting you see the depth of the location really helps, for me, to 'place' the subject somewhere.

As you can see here - we are in an old iindustrial elevator - the 28mm allowing us to see the beautiful grunge of the spot. 

A wider lens in the studio is also a big help, as it allows you to get nice and wide, even if your 'studio' is rather small like mine. What I find is the biggest advantage to using lenses that you're not 'supposed' to use for various applications is learning how to turn their disadvantages into advantages. A 28mm equivalent lens causes distortion, yes, so move your subject away a bit – and the background will still have some depth to it – allowing you to use your framing to make the subject pop from the background rather than just DOF. 


Distortion, really, is caused by distance to the lens and the subject, which you can use to your advantage – allowing leading lines to really POP and guide your eye to the subject – or get the person close and get a more comedic look. Photography is about expression, and sure general rules (85mm is flattering, 28mm isn't) are fine, but I really feel that you truly grow you have to see for yourself and not just trust some article – this one included. Go out, experiment, and find out what works, and what doesn't. If you're not fucking up, you're not learning

David Fulde