Achieving this look with or without movements??

Ian Grant

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Thinking about how I work with people and some other subjects I've favoured wider angle lenses. with my Mamiya 645s it's nearly always the 45mm WA which is roughly the equivalent of a 90mm on 5x4. while that goes against the common notion of a portrait lens being slightly longer than normal it works, and after all many photojournalists were shooting with a 28mm on 35mm cameras.

I know I've worked at f5.6 with my Mamiya's 45mm lens and had quite shallow DOF, it would be much the same with a 90mm on 5x4 at f8, most modern 90mm lenses are f5.6 or f8 although the Rodenstock Grandagons were f4.5 or f8, older 90mm lenses tended to be f6.8.

It's a balance, a longer lens at wider apertures will render the background way more out of focus than the two example, which is why a portrait lens for a 5x4 would typically be around the 210mm/8" focal length, Cooke's PS945 portrait lens is 229mm/9". The term environmental portrait comes to mind to describe the examples.

Ian
 

David M

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Registered User
Interestingly, for these images with plenty of surrounding background, the angle of view of the portrait as such is much the same as a longer lens might be. Wider lenses produce their characteristic big-nose effect when used very close.
I think the term "environmental" is intended to suggest that the person is in their own environment, and that this tells us more about their life and personality. Otherwise they might be better called Landscape with Bloke.
(...or blokess, of course. These days we must all be more aware of the terms we use.)
 

Ian Grant

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Registered User
Yes the term "environmental" is used with poraits whether of individuals or groups to indicate the images are made and include theie natrural environment or surroundings.

The opposite of this would be Irving Penns images of people, some indigenous from around the world in front of similar backgrounds delibertaely taking images that lack their natural environment. The other extreme would be Brian Griffin.

So with "Enviromental" portraits you don't want to isolate the subjects from the background using longer lenses wide open.

Ian
 

Alan Clark

Active Member
Registered User
James, the portrait photographs in the link you posted are very moving images, not easy to look at; full of despair. My feeling is that anyone who aspires to do work as moving as this will need a whole lot of other things going for him in addition to the "right" lens. In fact, the focal length of the lens used is likely to be a fairly minor consideration.
If you are ready to start on such a project, why don't you make a start with what you've got, i.e. a 150mm lens. Then you can see how things pan out.
Also you might like to take a look at Chris Killip's environmental portraits, done with a , mainly, hand-held 5 x 4 camera. These are exceptional photographs. I posted a link to his Skinningrove photographs on this forum, but you will find them if you search Chris Killip Skinningrove.
Finally, you could always contact the photographer in the link you posted and ask him about the practical problems involved, including focal length of lenses used etc.

Alan
 

David M

Well-Known Member
Registered User
Alan has touched on a very important point.
Although it's important to be aware of focal length, depth of field and the other things that amuse us, in portraiture, the essential thing is the photographer's relationship with the sitter. That seems to take a good deal of practice, perhaps more than learning to manipulate the hardware.
I agree that these portraits look like images of despair. Not the usual approach. Quite extraordinary.
And yes, do look at Chris Killip. It took him some time to gain the trust of his subjects
 
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