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Wide Angle Portraits; Use Optical Character As An Advantage:
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When I was in Jerusalem, I arranged to photograph a Bedouin bride, and although this may have been better in the desert, I didn’t have the time on this trip to set that up. Therefore, I photographed the young women in front of an ancient wall in the city (#5). I used the equivalent of a 21mm wide angle. (I say it this way because the original capture was made on film with a medium format camera, the Mamiya 7, and the 43mm lens I used is roughly equivalent to a 21mm wide angle lens in the digital format.) Notice how disproportionately large the model seems compared to the city in the background. I was about 2 ft away from her feet, and I used a tripod so I could close the lens down to f/32 for maximum depth of field.

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Even though wide angle lenses inherently have a great deal of depth of field, when you get extremely close to the foreground and use a lens aperture in the f/4-f/11 range, the background will not be completely sharp. Of course, the wider the lens the more depth of field you get. In the palace shot of my wife in a Carnival costume (#6), I was able to encompass the entire room with a 14mm lens and have complete depth of field while the lens aperture I used was f/2.8.

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Looking Up
One of my favorite ways to use a wide angle lens for portraiture is to shoot from an extreme upward angle such as in photo (#7) of two Maasai girls in Kenya and the costumed lady on St. Georgia Island in Venice, Italy (#8). The lens elongated the models and created a striking graphic composition. It’s a very different way of viewing someone. For this to be effective, I feel, everything has to fall into place: the light, the background, and in many instances the clothing of the subject. In photo (#9), I purposely photographed the ancient stone wall of a castle behind the woman dressed as a witch in a medieval festival in Vianden, Luxembourg. I thought the earth-toned colors complemented her, and the elongation of her body put emphasis on the period costume.

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I used the same upward wide angle principle but with a different effect in the picture of the Huli tribe in Papua New Guinea (#10). For this 16mm wide angle shot, I laid on the ground and asked the group of dancers to gather over me and bend down so from my point of view their heads made a circle. I used fill flash to prevent them from becoming silhouettes. This simple technique of shooting from ground level made a dramatic and unique type of portrait.

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