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Author Topic: Ken Rockwell's Fifteen Feet - Portrait Lenses  (Read 86878 times)
Andy M
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« on: May 17, 2008, 08:12:20 AM »
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I stumbled upon Ken Rockwell's piece about portrait lenses earlier today, and found interesting some of the things he stated.

It's his opinion the photographer should "want to be at least about 15 feet away when photographing people in order to achieve realistic proportions", as "Our brains recall people's facial features as they appear to be from about 15 feet (5 meters) away."

So, "If you want the whole person standing, you can use a 50-70mm lens. If they sit down, a 70-105mm works great. If you want just head and shoulders, you'll want a 200mm to 300mm lens, at least, since you want to stay at least fifteen feet away."

Fair enough, but I'm not sure I'd want to be using a 300 lens unless it was for a very specialised shot.

So, to cut to the chase, what have you found to be the best method of maintaing pleasing features?
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michael
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« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2008, 08:22:50 AM »
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I won't. No I really won't. I absolutely refuse to say anything about Ken Rockwell. I really do. I refuse. Seriously!

But, to address the question most portrait photographers seem to find that a focal length between 85mm and 105mm provides the most natural perspective for head and shoulder portraits, Shorter makes noses too big and longer tends to flatten perspective unnaturally. (That's in full-frame 35mm terms, of course).

Or, do what Mr. Rockwell suggests. Whatever.  

Michael
« Last Edit: May 17, 2008, 09:09:35 AM by michael » Logged
Andy M
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« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2008, 09:58:22 AM »
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Thanks for the replies

I asked because I've never really thought of there being a set 'best' distance to take a photo. Though I probably shouldn't admit it, I usually just plonk on the lens I think most appropriate for which shot I see in my minds eye; in most cases this is usually the 85 or 135 primes I have.

My camera is currently away being repaired, but once it's returned I'm going to have a play with the 15ft recommendation.
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Sharon Van Lieu
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« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2008, 11:42:24 AM »
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Here is a direct quote from his About page -

"While occasionally inspired by actual products or experiences, if you aren't a personal friend or lack a sense of humor or lack a decent BS detector, you're best off treating this site as a work of fiction. If you can't take a joke, please consider this entire site a joke, and any resemblance to any actual people, places, products or anything as purely coincidental."
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Ray
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« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2008, 08:26:59 PM »
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I can't see any blatant misinformation in this article. Ken seems to be addressing here some pretty basic principles to do with perspective. He's not being dogmatic. He's suggesting a perspective guideline of 15 ft from the subject, as a rule-of-thumb.

He also states it's a matter of art. The point is, the appearance of a person's features do change depending on perspective. Whether one prefers an 85mm lens, a 105mm lens or a 135mm lens for portraiture is not only a matter of taste, but as Ken also states, can depend to some extent on the facial characteristics of the individual being photographed. What's wrong with that?

Here are a couple of 'joke' snapshots I took with my 5D & 15-30 zoom at 15mm.

That great bulbous front element of the Sigma 15-30 zoom would have been less than a foot from the subject's face.

[attachment=6630:attachment]  [attachment=6631:attachment]
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2008, 01:14:00 AM »
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Ken Rockwell site is for smart people.

P.S. This site as well.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2008, 01:16:19 AM by slobodan56 » Logged

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Ray
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« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2008, 10:22:55 AM »
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Ken Rockwell site is for smart people.

P.S. This site as well.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=196340\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Well, I'm pleased you added 'this site as well', albeit as an after thought   .
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KeithR
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« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2008, 11:22:50 AM »
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Ken Rockwell site is for smart people.

P.S. This site as well.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=196340\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

PLEASE!
I have read a few of mr. Rockwell's comments on various topics including equipment. The last straw for me was when I started doing research on a lens that I was considering. I stayed away from his site because of my doubts of his knowledge based on other times I visited his site and found his opinions for the most part to be not founded on fact.
On various other sites people were commenting favorably on the lens in question, when all of a sudden, there were comments on Rockwell's "report" on the lens. People on other sites were expressing doubts about the quality and reliability and whether to even bother getting the lens. Such a swing in opinion made me consider seeing what this "report" contained. I should have listened to my gut feeling and ignored going to his site, but I did. His "report" was based on a PREPRODUCTION MODEL that he briefly handled at a trade show-"I tried three samples at PMA 2006". People on other sites were falling all over themselves with doubt about the usability of the lens.  Why? Because his "report" would not recommend it due to it's inability to autofocus to his likening. He recommended that people pass on upgrading to this lens based, primarily, on his findings.
The lens in question?

The 105 f2.8 AF-S VR Micro Nikkor!

This site, LL, is indeed for smart people. mr. Rockwell's is for the gullible.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2008, 11:25:23 AM by KeithR » Logged

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NikoJorj
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« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2008, 01:46:57 PM »
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His 15 ft rule is probably due to his being scared of photographing people.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=196241\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
 
Well said : I think that the relationship you have with your model is WAY much more relevant that the tiny differences in perspective arising from different working distances - at least when you're not filling a WA frame with a single face.
For me, the ideal portrait working distance is the one of a casual conversation (1-2m), and therefore I think the 80mm-equivalent fits best my needs for portrait. Your meterage may vary!
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Nicolas from Grenoble
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2008, 07:17:01 PM »
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... found his opinions for the most part to be not founded on fact...
So, based on your story about KR's review of 105 f2.8 AF-S VR Micro Nikkor, which exactly facts did he get wrong?
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« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2008, 10:45:16 PM »
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It's his opinion the photographer should "want to be at least about 15 feet away when photographing people in order to achieve realistic proportions", as "Our brains recall people's facial features as they appear to be from about 15 feet (5 meters) away."
Some of Ken's comments about human vision may well be correct, but his "15 feet" assertion seems to be quite wrong.  Is there scientific support for the claim that our brains recall people's facial features as they appear to be from about 15 feet away?

I suspect that we remember people from the distances at which we most commonly see them and interact with them, and that is generally not 15 feet.  Sometimes there are good reasons for photographing people at such a distance, but "how brains recall facial features" is not one of them, IMO.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2008, 12:36:15 AM by zlatko-b » Logged

KeithR
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« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2008, 10:50:51 PM »
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So, based on your story about KR's review of 105 f2.8 AF-S VR Micro Nikkor, which exactly facts did he get wrong?
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
I would have to go back and reread the report, but the fact that he wrote this review based on handling a preproduction model at a trade show before the lens is released is not a very accurate method of making a subjective review of the lens.
Contrast his review then read one by someone that actually took the lens out and used it:
[a href=\"http://www.bythom.com/105AFSlens.htm]http://www.bythom.com/105AFSlens.htm[/url]

Or POPPhotos lab tests:
http://www.popphoto.com/cameralenses/2804/...8g-vr-af-s.html

After you read these two, which are backed by examples and lab findings,(KR dosen't seem to have anything to prove his point)make your own judgement as to whom you wish to trust. Like Mr. Reichmann, I'll choose to make no further comments about mr. Rockwell or his "knowledge"
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Ray
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« Reply #12 on: May 19, 2008, 01:52:08 AM »
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Some of Ken's comments about human vision may well be correct, but his "15 feet" assertion seems to be quite wrong. Is there scientific support for the claim that our brains recall people's facial features as they appear to be from about 15 feet away?

I suspect that we remember people from the distances at which we most commonly see them and interact with them, and that is generally not 15 feet. Sometimes there are good reasons for photographing people at such a distance, but "how brains recall facial features" is not one of them, IMO.
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

That's a good question. I surmise that the distance of 15 ft might be a rough average of the many different distances at which we see people during our various activities, but I'm just guessing and I admit I have little experience in portraiture.

Doing a Google search to find the answer, I came across the following abstract of a scientific paper, which unfortunately one has to buy to read so I didn't get to read the full text, just the abstract below, which you might find interesting.

Quote
Realistic portraits, whether paintings or photographs, are traditionally obtained using perspective projection. Pictures of the face taken from different distances along the same viewing direction (e.g. frontal) may be scaled to occupy the same size on the image plane. However, such portraits differ systematically: e.g. when the center of projection (the camera) is closer to the face the nose is proportionally larger in the picture. These differences are small (for typical camera distances of 50-500cm): do they have an effect on how the face is perceived?

Ten naive subjects of both sexes, viewed equally scaled frontal pictures of 15 neutral-expression adult male faces, each photographed from distances of 56, 124 and 400cm. The photographs were corrected for lens distortion to obtain ideal perspective projections. The subjects were asked to rate each portrait according to 13 attributes (evil-good, repulsive-attractive, hostile-friendly, pushy-respectful, sad-happy, dishonest-honest, introvert-extrovert, violent-peaceful, dumb-smart, distant-approachable, evasive-candid, week-strong, unpleasant-pleasant). While the subjects were unaware of the manipulation, their ratings are systematically correlated with the distance: faces imaged from the closer distance appear significantly more benevolent (good, peaceful, pleasant, approachable), those taken from a larger distance appear more impressive (smarter, stronger). Intermediate-distance portraits appeared more attractive. The remaining attributes are not significantly different across distance.

Our findings suggest that painters and photographers may manipulate the emotional content of a portrait by choosing an appropriate viewing distance: e.g. a formal and official portrait may benefit from a distant viewpoint, while an effect of intimacy and opennes may be obtained with a close viewpoint. Multiple inconsistent viewpoints found in classical full-length portraits may be explained by the need to combine close-up views of some body parts, within an overall undistorted figure.
D. Freedberg, S. Shimojo, R. Adolphs, P. Hanrahan

According to this study, if you want to make your subjects appear smart and strong, take Ken Rockwell's advice and photograph them from 15 ft. (400cm in the experiment is actually a bit less at 13 ft, but let's not quibble.)

If you want your subjects looking as attractive as possible, get closer, and if you want them to appear as friendly and good-natured as possible, get even closer. Makes sense?  

The link to the website is [a href=\"http://www.journalofvision.org/7/9/992/]http://www.journalofvision.org/7/9/992/[/url]
« Last Edit: May 19, 2008, 01:57:19 AM by Ray » Logged
Morgan_Moore
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« Reply #13 on: May 19, 2008, 11:39:05 AM »
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I stumbled upon Ken Rockwell's piece [a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=196235\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I think Mr Rockwell is spot on about the distance from the subject being super important

Close seems personal

distant  - more distant

Each photographer must find thier own place, then choose lense suited to the desired crop

S
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Ray
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« Reply #14 on: May 19, 2008, 07:04:59 PM »
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The Winston Churchill portrait taken by Yousuf Karsch is perhaps one of the most successful and well-known photographic portraits of all time. Does anyone have any details on that shot, apart from the often repeated story of Karsch pulling the cigar out of Winston's mouth.

It would not surprise me if that shot was taken from a distance of at least 15 ft.
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blansky
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« Reply #15 on: May 19, 2008, 07:25:23 PM »
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Some of Ken's comments about human vision may well be correct, but his "15 feet" assertion seems to be quite wrong. Is there scientific support for the claim that our brains recall people's facial features as they appear to be from about 15 feet away?

I suspect that we remember people from the distances at which we most commonly see them and interact with them, and that is generally not 15 feet. Sometimes there are good reasons for photographing people at such a distance, but "how brains recall facial features" is not one of them, IMO.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=196478\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Not to have to defend Mr Rockwell and some of his mis-information but what he was suggesting was not we recall faces from 15 feet, it was that we "use lenses that place us 15 feet from the subject".

This in most cases is probably correct in that "portrait" lenses, as has been expressed here already are roughly in 35mm terms around 100mm for head and shoulders, and 85 for 3/4 to full length. Probably one of the most popular lenses ever sold was the Hasselblad 150 MM which is around 85mm in 35mm terms.

What the OP and Rockwell was stating was that perhaps the most pleasing rendering of the face is from these lenses. If you wish to use a normal to wide angle on a face have at it.


Michael
« Last Edit: May 19, 2008, 07:28:10 PM by blansky » Logged
dalethorn
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« Reply #16 on: May 19, 2008, 07:51:15 PM »
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Here's one - I took this from a car window rolled partway down using a Rollei 35 with a tripod-threaded clamp, from about 20 feet away.  That's a 35mm fixed lens on 35mm film, and cropped about 50 percent.  It's the most realistic portrait I've ever taken, and wasn't intended to be anything important.
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Ray
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« Reply #17 on: May 20, 2008, 01:35:25 AM »
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Not to have to defend Mr Rockwell and some of his mis-information but what he was suggesting was not we recall faces from 15 feet, it was that we "use lenses that place us 15 feet from the subject".
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=196680\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I don't believe that is correct. Ken Rockwell actually states in his article that in facial recognition our brains reconstruct features as they would appear from a distance of around 15 ft.

When standing close to a person, talking quietly or making a transaction at the check-out counter for example, we do not see someone as having a big nose (unless she actually has a big nose). Our brains apparently reconstruct the facial features as they might appear to a camera at a distance of roughly 15 feet.

Here is the relevant quote from his article.

Quote
Our brains recall people's facial features as they appear to be from about 15 feet (5 meters) away.

Ask a human visual system researcher for the details, but our eyes don't actually see anything by themselves. All our eyes do is send signals to our brains which are then interpreted in ways about which we're still learning.

In the case of facial recognition, when our eyes see a familiar face, it triggers our brain to reconstruct an image of those features as they appear from about 15 feet.

If we see someone from only inches away, we don't see them distorted as a camera would; our brain perceives and reconstructs their features in proportions similar to a distant view.

Therefore we want to be at least about 15 feet away when photographing people in order to achieve realistic proportions.
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Ray
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« Reply #18 on: May 20, 2008, 02:02:59 AM »
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Here's one - I took this from a car window rolled partway down using a Rollei 35 with a tripod-threaded clamp, from about 20 feet away. That's a 35mm fixed lens on 35mm film, and cropped about 50 percent. It's the most realistic portrait I've ever taken, and wasn't intended to be anything important.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=196682\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Yes. I think the important point here is that it's not the focal length that matters but the distance from the subject. If you have pixels to spare and are prepared to crop, then you can probably make do with a 50mm lens instead of an 85mm lens, or an 85mm lens instead of a 135mm lens.

However, in using a wider angle lens then cropping the image, there might be DoF consequences. It might not be possible to get the desired shallowness of DoF. For example, your cropped image with 50mm lens taken from around 20ft might have been better with a less intrusive background.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2008, 02:09:24 AM by Ray » Logged
Mack's Work
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« Reply #19 on: May 20, 2008, 08:19:12 AM »
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When it comes to taking foto's of people , there are some many opinions on that subject , one would run of of time to read and understand them all:

number one: who are your shooting
number two: why are you shooting them
number three: where are you shoothing
number four: when are you shooting then
and number five will be answered by the first four questions and will give your the equipment to use and lenses to use :

Keep it simple always:
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