ON THE FACE OF IT
By MICHAEL PERKINS
I HAVE ALWAYS HAD A VIOLENT ALLERGIC REACTION TO PHOTOGRAPHERS WHO SPEAK IN ABSOLUTES, rigidly regulated by rules and procedures, especially as regards gear. Any opinion piece or analysis that contains the phrases “alway do” or “never do” have a perverse effect on me. It’s like telling Adam and Eve that they can eat from any tree in the garden except, you, know that one. It makes the apples on said tree start to seem like they might be the most delicious in the world.
Same with telling people that a set piece of kit or a certain approach will “always” result in a miraculous image. One thing that the digital era has achieved is the increasing rarity of this kind of guidance. In the film era, we were told in no uncertain terms what good and bad focus was, what constituted a “correct” composition. Today, we’re in more of an “anything goes” arena, with people finding freedom in a more experimental frame of mind. And one of the areas where this is most in evidence, since we are more fascinated by faces than ever before here in Selfie World, is in all types of portraiture.
Does this lens make by eye look too fat?
Formal studios used to dominate portrait work to such a degree (hey, we get out of class for an hour…it’s PICTURE DAY!) that a kind of holy writ of thought held sway on the “best” lenses to use to capture someone’s personality. Now, with an insane variety of apps packed in our pockets, the concept of portraiture has been freed from the photo mills of the past, as is the idea of how best to present human features. Whereas amateur photographers used to use a certain hunk of glass consistently for every kind of face, say something in the 85 to 105mm range, extreme wide-angles from 8 to 18mm are now just as much in use.
One of the reason for this shift is that cellphone cameras, at least basic ones, tend to shoot in the wider focal lengths that were once considered “wrong” or unflattering, since they can create distortion in the middle of the subject’s face depending on the distance. However, some people have used just this look to purposefully sculpt their facial contours, to play stretch-and-shrink with their given proportions in order to make their faces look longer or slimmer or to accentuate other elements. On the other end of the spectrum, zooms used to looked down upon by some for portraits because it could be harder to blur out backgrounds at smaller apertures, but now, since most digital images are really only a starting point ahead of post-snap tweaks anyway, even that problem can be solved more easily than in days past.
For years I heard primes in the 35-50mm range touted as the so-called “normal” lenses, since they were supposed to “see” the face at the same proportions as the human eye, or “normally”. But do I use them exclusively? Heck, I don’t use anything exclusively anymore. And neither does anyone else. The days of the didactic “never do” and “always do” tutorials are long gone, with a great portrait defined by nothing more than your own satisfaction. Finally.