Studio Focal Length Question

Hamish Gill

Tech Support (and Marketing)
My studio build, which has always been a bit tight on space, has finally got to the stage that i can work out what focal length i can go to for full height portraits.
at 70mm i can just fit a 6ft person in the frame with little room move.
at 60mm i have about the room to give enough space around the subject.
i always knew it was going to be tight, but this is a little tighter than i had anticipated...

How suitable is 50-60mm for full height portraiture? i know that 70mm plus is a lot more flattering and i would love to be able to shoot using my 85mm full length, but in this space, there just isn't the space!
potentially how problematic is this likely to be do you think?
i already know the answer to this... i cant do full length potraits in the space ... end of story, its just a limitation of the space
Hi Hamish,

I really don't think it's too much of a problem at all. It really depends on what sort of portraits you want to shoot. Sure, 85 - 135 are the classic portrait lenses but that is more for head and shoulders or upper body. You can go much, much wider for whole body (35, even 28 and 24). The only problem you will have is controlling depth of field (unless you use LF of course!) and getting good separation from the background. High key shouldn't be so much of a problem but if you use a textured background you might have some work to do in PS. I actually quite like the drama that wide lenses can bring to full length shots.
I guess your right, I just worry about the limiting factor concidering this is a commercial enterprise ...
But I supose I won't realy know the limits of the space until it's finished.... Should be fun finding out too I guess :)
Realize that perspective is a function of distance - not focal length. If your subject is in the normal position and you used a 135mm lens, you would get a head and shoulders shot. If you shot with an 18mm lens, you would get the whole studio in. However, if you cropped to a head and shoulders shot from the 18mm image, you would have exactly the same perspective as the 135mm shot.

However, if you move in, keeping the same head and shoulders, changing your focal lengths as you do so, perspective can vary greatly. The longer the focal length, the more emotionally distant and formal the portrait. The closer and wider, the more intimate, however the closer you get, the more aware you must be of the foreshortening effects. Very powerful portraits can be shot from "within the subjects personal space" but doing so can be quite treacherous from both a photographic and personal viewpoint.

Outside the studio, environmental portraiture is owned by wide-angle lenses. I found my 28mm f/4.0 PC-Nikkor shift-lens to be a superb lens for this. I would centre the subject in the frame, then shift the lens one way or the other to link the subject and environment. Since camera and subject have not moved, the subject is still on the optical axis where foreshortening is at the minimum. If you are a believer in the Rule (I would rather say "Suggestion") of Thirds, simply shift the lens until the subject is in the right or left third of the image. By choosing a distance equal to a head-and-shoulders shot with a 50mm lens, the perspective on the subject is the same - just as seen with a normal lens. However, most of the subject is in the view and loads of environment too.

You have the studio, you have the camera, invite a lovely friend in and test for yourself. A few minutes of testing with your 24-70mm and 70-200mm will tell you far more and far more eloquently than pages of text. Above all, believe your eyes.
Used to use 28-70 for full length, and 70-200 for 3/4 to head & shoulders in the studio.

Worked just fine.

I did find that shooting full length from your knees makes the subject look taller, which they like!

Now, the closer your lighting gets to the subject, the more you'll need soft boxes to diffuse the flash...

Taken in my living room - single softbox directly overhead about 6 inches from the model's head - black velvet backdrop

Lastolite Tri-fold reflector under the chin and around the sides of the face to bounce back light from the softbox.

Lens 70-200 f2.8L


Here's how the set-up looks in the studio:

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Very, very nice Chris. Especially the skin tones. And I like the out-of-shot look a lot. Reflections on velvet clothing are tricky though aren't they?

I also often use a Tri-flector as well. The new version is much more convenient than the old one (that I have) though.