Shoot Wide, Get Close.

I love photographing people. I feel they are not only one of the most interesting subjects to shoot, but also one of the most difficult. Every person has a story to tell, and every portrait is a window into that tale.

I’m no professional, but I’ve been shooting a whole lot for the past 4 years of my life, nearly every day, and most of those shots are of people. Whether it be with the Daily Collegian (my college newspaper for which I am a photo editor), for a portrait shoot, or just documentation of events with friends and family, a person is usually the centerpiece of my photographs. What’s beautiful about photographing people is that every person is so unique, and every picture of that person has its own life. You can take three shots of the same person in a 2 minute span, and each one could look drastically different. It’s really quite amazing when you think about it.

D700 with 24mm 2.8, iso 200 f3.2 1/60th
D700 with 24mm 2.8, iso 200 f3.2 1/60th

So what is this post about? Something a lot of photographers have told me in the past and I’ve read in countless biographies and online forums, something I’ve finally seen for myself: getting close.

I recently upgraded to a Nikon D700, and currently only have a 24mm 2.8 lens. Coming from a Canon 7d with a 30mm 1.4 as my widest lens (when you factor in the 1.6x crop sensor, it becomes a 48mm), the world of wide angle is new to me. The limitation of only this wide lens has shown me the beauty it beholds.

Key is, you can’t get TOO close. If you try to fill your subject’s face in the entire frame, well, their nose and forehead will look huge and they’ll probably instantly bug you to delete the picture. If you’ve ever taken pictures of people, or read online how-to’s and forums, you probably know this (This also has its advantage, if you want to irritate a friend or family member, or in my case, a girlfriend, frequently). What’s important is the scenery around them.

Nikon D700 24mm 2.8 iso 1600 1/320th
Nikon D700 24mm 2.8 iso 1600 1/320th

Wide angle portraits allow for “environmental portraits,” or portraits where the surrounding area around the subject helps build the story of the picture.

This is not to be confused with “portraits of the environment,” of which my environmental science studying and avid recycling girlfriend was ecstatic about when I first used the phrase.

Being wide means getting close, which means your subject KNOWS you are taking their picture, which can bring its own complications and advantages. To me, I find it tends to make things more interesting. A person may make a goofy face, or get angry, or just look surprised. No matter what, that emotion is far more interesting than the disinterested blank stare of someone who has no idea that they’re being photographed. It brings a life to the picture.

D700 with 24mm 2.8, iso 800 at f2.8, 1/20th.
D700 with 24mm 2.8, iso 800 at f2.8, 1/20th.

So what have I learned from my time shooting only a 24mm on a full frame DSLR? Well, besides all that I spat out above, it’s fun! As I said, I haven’t really had this opportunity since I’ve been into photography, so it’s a whole new world for me, and it’s something I’ve come to enjoy. I may even prefer it, though 24mm can have its limitations (I’m hoping to get a 35mm soon enough).

Plus the wider your lens is, the slower shutter speed you can use AND the wider depth of field you get. I’ve been told a general rule is to shoot hand held no slower than the focal length of your lens, and I was getting some still pretty clear shots around 1/30th. This isn’t a scientific statement, but it’s something I’ve come to find works well for me. And the wider depth field is great for environmental portraits. I can shoot at f2.8 and still have a very discernable background in my shots, but it’s still shallow enough to point out the subjects of my picture.

I also can’t say enough good about this Nikon 24mm, but that will have its own post in the near future 🙂

D700 with 24mm 2.8, iso 2500 at f2.8 1/160th
D700 with 24mm 2.8, iso 2500 at f2.8 1/160th

Telephoto lenses have their uses, their homes, and their followers. I wouldn’t try to shoot hockey with a 24mm, or someone’s yearbook senior portraits. But for me, shooting wide is a no-brainer for the photojournalisty-documentary style of shooting I enjoy. It brings life to the image that no 200mm could.

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