A Striking Look at How Focal Length Affect Head Shots

You’ve probably heard before that focal lengths between 85mm and 135mm produce the best head shots because they provide a desirable perspective in head shots, but how much of a different does the focal length actually make? Photographer Stephen Eastwood decided to find out, shooting 10 portraits of the same subject with focal lengths ranging from 19mm to 350mm.

Lens Distortion (via Orms Connect)

Image credits: Photographs by Stephen Eastwood

  • Tom

    Great stuff. Pt II – how specular lighting affects headshots?

  • John Cornicello

    It isn’t the focal length that causes the distortion, it is the distance from the camera to the subject. Those images were all taken from different distances. If the 19mm and 70mm were taken from the same camera position the “distortion” would be the same, but the face would be much smaller in the frame and need to be enlarged. The short lens lets you get in closer, the longer lens makes you stand back. But that’s as much as you can blame on the lens. The distance is the real culprit.

  • arttyIV

    Being that a 50mm on a 1.6x crop sensor comes out around 85mm, that doesn’t mean the distortion will match an 85mm, does it? Not sure if I’m thinking correctly, and having no caffeine today isn’t helping that fact.

    Am I right in thinking that the crop factor will not effect the distortion?

  • Michael Zhang

    Since the 50mm on a  1.6x is effectively an 85mm, you’ll have to move to the same distance away to frame the face in the same way as an 85mm on a full frame, so the perspective should be the same.

  • Merv Wignall

    As John just pointed out really…

    A crop sensor just crops the centre portion out of the frame, so the distortion will be “copied” from that portion of the full frame.  The thing is you wouldn’t compose it that way, you’d stand further back with the crop sensor, so the distortion would then be different for the same(ish) framing.

  • Pete Boyd

    They’re mere technical reference photographs and he’s so worried about appearances that he has to succumb to the stereotype of a blond haired, symmetrically proportioned, female model plastered with make-up.

  • Alex

    am I correct then in thinking that a wide angle lens puts grease on peoples faces?

  • Felipe Yang

    Nice, I’ll be able to use this to justify buying the 85L and 135L to my wife now…

  • Dnguyen

    Not quite right. The field of view is the same, but the perspective (perspective distortion?) is noticeably different! Taking a portrait with a 35mm on APS-C, 50mm on Full-Frame, and 80mm on Medium Format looks way different from each other even though they are all “normal” lenses for their respective formats.

  • Dan

    Dnguyen is correct in his response.  If you move the camera, by definition, you’ve changed the perspective.  Yes, you have to move the camera to frame the face in a similar fashion but the captured image can look decidedly different from that new position.

  • Basil Glew-Galloway

    lol, way to remain on-topic.

  • Basil Glew-Galloway

    buy an old nikon 135 f/2 ai for $400 and an adapter, much easier to justify :-)

  • Brandon

    i’ve thought about doing something like this myself, just for kicks. it would have been more clear if the background was of a solid undistracting color, but this does show what will happen. no fault of the lens at all. it’s just as john said, it’s the lens to subject distance. as for other formats, and their “standard” lenses looking a bit different. they are the “standard” FOV for their formats, but as they now have longer focal lengths as compared to the smaller frame cameras (30mm for apsc-50mm for”full frame”, 90mm for 6×9, and 150mm for 4×5) they have much less DOF at any given fstop. that and again lens to subject distance.  this is all to say if you shot someone from the same spot(far enough back to get everything in the frame in all cases) with whatever camera and lens you want, crop for a tight head shot, and they will all look the same, barring DOF. i don’t know about most of you but i have, and use cameras with a 1.3 crop, a full frame, a 6×9 and a 4×5.  hey michael, love your site, and in the U.S. we call it 4×5 not 5×4.

  • Michael Zhang

    Righto. Was debating about which to use since all the references you’ll find to that video use the UK version. I’ll change it though.

  • Pete Boyd

    It’s hardly off-topic, my topic’s right there embedded in the article.