The first question many photographers have when looking at an image taken by someone else is, “What size lens was used?” This question is a good one and a fair one. The truth is that focal length does indeed play a significant role in the look of a picture.
I can assure you that the great majority of photos in this issue were taken with moderate telephoto to full telephoto lenses (from 125mm to 500mm). Many consider 125mm to be a very reliable focal length for portraits (especially portraits that include only the head and shoulders of the subject).
When shooting models full-length, longer lenses provide a flatter and less distorted picture. Longer focal lengths also give the photographer the ability to easily blur the background to varying degrees. This is often desired when shooting models because the blurred background brings added emphasis to the sharply focused subject.
Altering the aperture setting on the lens is the standard way to do this (a more open aperture produces a more blurred background). Additionally, longer lenses produce this effect more naturally than shorter lenses.
If you’re interested in learning more about this technique, and how to put it into practice, you might want to check out my book, SKIN: The Complete Guide to Glamour and Nude Photography (formerly titled Money Shots).
In the 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, there are a few shots when the photographer chose to use a moderate wide-angle lens to obtain a specific effect. As we go through the issue, I’ll point out the shots in which anything but a telephoto lens was used.
All photos courtesy of Sports Illustrated
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