Why You Should Potentially Move Instead of Zooming for Portrait Photography

We frequently hear professional photographers praising prime lenses for their usability, image quality, and versatility in portrait photography. We also hear them saying how important it is to move around the subject at a certain focal length, to seize every side and angle of it, instead of staying still and adjusting the zoom of the lens we’re using.

But why is that so important? Does it really matter in terms of the resulting picture?

The following video takes these issues and questions into consideration and shows you the importance of choosing the right focal length. Lead by photographer Mike Browne, you’ll learn through a practical example of a portrait how focal length influences your picture:

The increase of focal length will make everything come closer, and so you’ll have to step back (or forward, depending on the situation) to fit and frame your subject. From the results achieved by Mike, the impact of focal length on the finished image is extraordinary and probably something you haven’t yet noticed or thought about.

You can see how it completely changes your picture and how it may transmit an undesirable mood.

zoom comparisons

Focal length comparisons for essentially the same shot

So, all cards on the table, once you learn how to work with specific focal lengths and how they’ll affect your resulting image, you’ll realize that your feet are the best zoom lens you can get.

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2 Comments

  1. Flicky Licky says:

    All true but different faces need different focal lengths. Its something that can be difficult to gauge. A face will look totally different by eye to the way itlooks througb a viewfinder. When you look at the captured image, it will look different again. Same setup different day (light) it will change again. Zooms distort and dont provide isolation of the subject by wide aperture. You’ll rarely know for sure whether your portrait subject will suit a tight long lens shot, a tight wide angle or full length study incorporating surroundings and a few props. Only a lazy photographer sets criteria bofore a shoot or wheels his victims into a predetermined setup. Thats not photography, thats recording a momemt, and boring.

  2. Mario says:

    Focal length does not influence perspective, only camera position does!
    If you change the focal length but you keep the subject the same size in the photo, you have to move and change the subject to camera distance. hence you change perspective and you create a different “look”.
    If you would keep the subject to camera distance the same when you change focal length and crop the picture instead to make the subject occupy the same space, the photos would be indistinguishable.
    So, moving instead of zooming is actually a very unhelpful advice.

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