Why telephotos rule for portraits

If you’re keen on shooting portraits, then for the very best results you need to invest in lenses with pulling power.

WHILE THERE ARE countless focal lengths on offer to digital SLR photographers, ask any specialising in portraiture the type of lens they prefer and the answer is almost always, without exception, either a prime like a 50mm or 85mm, or a telezoom like the 70-200mm f/2.8. The reason for this is simple — these types of lenses have characteristics that are perfect for shooting stunning portraits.

One of the main reasons for using lenses with a telephoto coverage is that the longer focal lengths deliver a perspective that is highly flattering for portraiture. Because perspective is compressed, especially with longer focal lengths, the result is that faces appear more two-dimensional and free from distortion, producing far more attractive results. Plus, the narrower angle-of-view means that you can fill the frame with your subject for tight head and shoulder shots that excludes the surrounding area.

You can add further appeal to portraits taken using a telephoto focal length by choosing a lens with a fast maximum aperture. Because your subject is further away from you when shooting with a telephoto, when using a very wide aperture, you’re able to capture images with a very shallow depth-of-field, which works wonderfully at separating the subject from the background, or when shooting very tight crops, for focusing attention on specific areas of the sitter, such as the eyes.

There are other reasons why telezooms are good choices. The relatively long working distance means that when using off-camera flash or studio flash, you’re less likely to obstruct the light. The extra distance is also less intimidating to your subject, especially if they’re inexperienced at having their picture taken.

Remember to keep an eye on shutter speeds to ensure they’re fast enough to avoid camera shake. Switching on image stabilisation is recommended and use the reciprocal rule — setting a shutter speed that matches the focal length in use, for example if shooting at 200mm, use a shutter speed of l/200sec or faster.

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