Portrait photographers: When to use a smaller aperture

Hey everyone,
My question is: if you have some of the "professional" lenses, 2.8 zooms, 1.4 primes, when do you shoot with a smaller aperture for more dof? when are the eyes not the (sole) focus of a portrait? and how do you know when shooting that a smaller aperture would improve the end result? (other than the times perhaps when your exposure requires 1/8000 with f/4(unlikely) or perhaps when you can't get 2 eyes in focus with a front facing subject)

Perspective: i love shooting wide open with the 58mm 1.4, the OOF rendering is phenomenal. however, i was wondering how i can better improve my shots because, people who don't shoot wide open get better results than me, and there are plenty of people shooting with much slower lenses that take great portraits.
I dont know if this is the right place for this type of topic, but I like taking portraits, so I'm trying to learn a bit more about how to deal with different situations to obtain varied and interesting results, and any perspectives or advice would be helpful.
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Comments

  • NikoniserNikoniser Posts: 100Member
    DOF and bokeh, as an artistic choice is all about your background. If you are a pro in a studio, you have complete control of your background and lighting, most shoot at f8, the black/white background and lighting will do the job of focusing attention on the subject. If you are shooting street or events then you use shallow depth of field to bring attention to your subject and pull the attention away from the background which you don't control and is often ugly. In this case you will go wide open and get close to the subject to blow the background into a blur of light and colour ( and look for that colour and that light- don't leave it to chance ) The best result IMHO is when you can use the background as a compositional tool - think leading lines of paths, trees, fences leading to your subject, like this https://flic.kr/p/htKFAT in this case you want to stop down as here the background is working to lead your eye to the subject. Its hard to do without a posed model though I warn you !
  • Vipmediastar_JZVipmediastar_JZ Posts: 1,708Member
    edited February 2016
    @Nikoniser good feedback.

    I do f5.6-f16 when I'm using non HSS strobes and have to shoot at 1/250 or in the studio. Another scenario is when I want to ensure the environment/background is also in focus because it adds to the photo.

    Otherwise I will shoot at 1.4-f4 for the bokeh.

    Shooting wide open is great but you also want to stop down to make sure both eyes or full face is in focus.

    The image below is Oldder and I was still learning portraits notice how the ear is not in focus due to 2.8

    Adriana

    After practicing and learning here and with a mentor
    non HSS strobe and stopped down to 7.1

    M.C.

    58mm stopped down to f2 becuase i know at 1.4 his face would not be completely in focus but I wanted this look even though his ears are not in focus
    The most interesting man in the world

    35mm stopped down because I wanted more in focus and non hss strobe

    Sofia

    But it also depends on the lens. Stopped down at 6.1 and 1/125

    Elizabeth

    Same lens wide open at f4

    Lani

    Each lens is different and depends what you want to achieve. Notice how the last two the image changed drastically in terms of bokeh even though the first one was stopped down I was closer to the model and threw it out of focus.
    Post edited by Vipmediastar_JZ on
  • safyresafyre Posts: 113Member

    i love shooting wide open with the 58mm 1.4, the OOF rendering is phenomenal. however, i was wondering how i can better improve my shots because, people who don't shoot wide open get better results than me, and there are plenty of people shooting with much slower lenses that take great portraits.
    Define what you mean by "better". There's many variables that go into portrait photography and frankly the technical aspects of it matter the least. Lighting, Composition, the model, and most importantly how you direct the model are way more important than what f-stop you use.

    As for me, I stick around 2.8 for most single model outdoor shots. It gives enough isolation from the background yet still allows you to see the context without turning it into creamy mush.

  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,049Member

    i love shooting wide open with the 58mm 1.4, the OOF rendering is phenomenal. however, i was wondering how i can better improve my shots because, people who don't shoot wide open get better results than me, and there are plenty of people shooting with much slower lenses that take great portraits.
    Define what you mean by "better". There's many variables that go into portrait photography and frankly the technical aspects of it matter the least. Lighting, Composition, the model, and most importantly how you direct the model are way more important than what f-stop you use.

    As for me, I stick around 2.8 for most single model outdoor shots. It gives enough isolation from the background yet still allows you to see the context without turning it into creamy mush.

    I would add that sometimes the creamy mush is beautiful in its own right. Sometimes some backgrounds are aweful at f/8 but beautiful when mushy.

    I agree with all of the above comments. Nice post VIPMediastar.

    I will often shoot at 5.6 instead of 8.0 with a lens that is diffraction limited at 5.6, such as my 85 1.4G.
  • starralaznstarralazn Posts: 201Member
    @Nikoniser, thanks for the input. i'll have to keep those compositional elements in mind... and yes, i can see a small aperture working well in a studio environ

    @Vipmediastar_JZ thanks for the examples. i always admire your photos in PAD and thanks for breaking it down a bit.

    @safyre, what is better? that is a good question. how can i ask for technical advice on a creative problem, is probably a related question. but i suppose the reason for me asking this is to gain some perspective on the creative process that people here go through to get their amazing results, and any process is structured on some technical, objective skills/guidelines. when shooting a portrait i often find myself asking whats the point, what am i trying to convey through the end result. i can describe myself in many ways as a non-creative, and here, i am trying to find ways to be more creative.

    @WestEndFoto, thanks for the info
  • Rx4PhotoRx4Photo Posts: 1,200Member
    Lots of good points made thus far, and thanks for the examples posted by VipMediastar_JZ above. Many portrait photographers stick to the rule of thumb that the best IQ from your lens is usually 2 stops from wide open. For example if you're shooting with a native f/1.4 lens then your starting point for best sharpness while still rendering nice creamy bokeh will be rendered if you shot at f/2.8. That still depends on how far the background is away from your subject. Yes, there are those who'll say if you bought that f/1.4 lens then you should shoot it there. That's true, but for not every occasion. If you wish for more clarity and facial detail you will have to stop down.

    What you can do is spend some time on f-stoppers and mull over the portraits and lens data. You might notice that many of those guys are shooting these gorgeous portraits at stops like 2.2, 3.5 to 5.6, and even f/8.0. Take high end fashion magazines where medium format cameras are often used in studio. Medium format has thinner depth of field than our full frame cameras, yet many of those images are sharp from tip of nose and into the hair - which means they're likely not shooting wide open either.

    Portraits can be very tough at f/1.4, 1.6 or even f/2.2. For both eyes and lashes to be focused you have to make an effort to be sure that the face is on an even plane with your lens - and that takes effort which could destroy spontaneity of the image. When I don't want to destroy the groove, I might start at f/3.2 to f/5.6 just to be sure I've got what I want in focus. Experiment!
    D800 | D7000 | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 | 24-70mm f/2.8 | 70-200mm f/2.8 | 35mm f/1.8G | 85mm f/1.4G | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM | Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar ZF.2 | Flash controllers: Phottix Odin TTL

  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,199Member
    edited February 2016
    Lots of people seem to think shooting portraits at f1.4 is great because of the bokeh. I find it difficult because you have to be willing to accept a lack of sharpness somewhere on the face and likely on the eye furthest from the camera. Most people aren't looking for that effect when they want a portrait of themselves. If you want to increase bokeh you can use a greater distance between your subject and your background to throw that background more out of focus. Move the subject away from the background so you are using a more distant background. You can also move the camera closer to the subject to increase background bokeh but you risk distorting the face. I prefer no wider than 35mm for full body shots, 50mm for 3/4 body shots, 85 mm for waist up shots and around 135mm for head shots.

    I have a number of f1.4 lenses but find I usually shoot them at f4 because people wanting portraits don't understand the artistic nature of one eye in focus and one eye out of focus. However, the further your camera is away from the subject the greater your depth of field at the same f-stop so I do shoot at f2.8 or even f2 when I am using a longer lens such as 85mm for a full body shot or 200mm for a head shot. People who want a "soft" look would generally rather have a portrait shot at f5.6 or f8 with a soft focus filter over the lens and the whole face in soft focus than one with one sharp eye and one unsharp eye. They want all soft, not part sharp and part soft. It is really all about understanding the various tools available and how to use them to create the effect you want. As camera sensors achieve better and better image quality at high ISO I see little need for expensive f1.4 lenses anymore and think Nikon's line of much less expensive f1.8 primes are all we need for both FX and DX bodies these days.

    All that said, I keep thinking someday when I can find a pretty model who is willing to work free for half a day and doesn't care about receiving any photos for herself I would like to work with f1.4, f1.8 and f2. I expect a high percentage of failures but would like to find a few set-ups (pose and lighting) in which the effect is worth the effort so I could have those set-ups in my bag of tricks. That could be a topic for a thread: f1.4 or f1.8 or f2 portraits and lighting set-ups that work for you. I would very much like to see examples posted and described by NR members.
    Post edited by donaldejose on
  • heartyfisherheartyfisher Posts: 3,172Member
    edited February 2016
    "who is willing to work free for half a day and doesn't care about receiving any photos for herself"

    I think they are called daughters/sons ...
    Post edited by heartyfisher on
    Moments of Light - D610 D7K S5pro 70-200f4 18-200 150f2.8 12-24 18-70 35-70f2.8 : C&C very welcome!
    Being a photographer is a lot like being a Christian: Some people look at you funny but do not see the amazing beauty all around them - heartyfisher.

  • starralaznstarralazn Posts: 201Member
    @Rx4Photo, yes, i have to remember that, gotta keep experimenting. stopping down does improve lens aberrations and overall detail.
    i think sometimes i get stuck using the same settings because it works, but then sometimes i wonder if i change it, would i be working towards getting a more interesting result.

    @donaldejose, sometimes shooting at 1.4 and only getting one eye in focus(the closer eye hopefully) looks fine on screen at home, viewing afterwards. but yeah... sometimes it really doesn't work. i go to events where people cosplay(lol) where a majority willing to stand a bit to get their photos taken, even if you are experimenting..
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,199Member
    edited February 2016
    I think of f1.4 as "special purpose." If you are doing full body with 35mm f1.4 from a distance and want to get the background blurry it will work because the depth of field will be sufficient to make the whole face seem in focus. But an 85mm at f1.4 for headshots is not going to be good for most people. However, it can work for artistic expression photos of half or three fourths body shots such as boudoir shoots where the dreamy bokeh is more important than having both eyes in focus. Regular/normal portraits will work best at f4, f5.6, and f8. Maybe it is just me.
    Post edited by donaldejose on
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,072Moderator
    I think of f1.4 as pretty dangerous unless I can instantly review the shots on screen at 1:1 - f4 is my safe max for weddings.

    Many great posts above from you guys.
    Always learning.
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,199Member
    spraynpray. Agreed. That last think I want to do is reshoot because I missed focus. However, if I am just playing around and don't need to really produce anything for a person I would be willing to use f1.4, f1.8, and f2 for effect. I would like to see some portrait photos posted which were shot at f1.4, f1.8 and f2 so I might have some examples of set ups to try. PitchBlack used to post a lot of them. I miss his examples. It was foolish of him to drop out because people wanted to discuss a camera he was so sure would never be produced and now that very camera is here. Incidentally, he may even end up buying one because it offers something he always wanted and cannot be found in any other Nikon: focus points all the way to the edge of the frame!
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,072Moderator
    We will never know probably Donald.
    Always learning.
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,199Member
    edited February 2016
    For anyone who misses his photos this is his facebook page:
    www.facebook.com/mark.crislip
    And this is his website:
    http://www.pitchblackpolo.com/#!recent-works/c4m0
    Lupe used to be his girlfriend, don't know if she still is:
    http://lupe-jelena.squarespace.com/
    I will let you all know if I see him post any photos taken with a D500! LOL
    I think it will be too much for him to resist buying one!
    Post edited by donaldejose on
  • snakebunksnakebunk Posts: 844Member
    I seldom take photos of people but I often photograph statues. I use my 150/2.8 for close portraits, usually wide open, but sometimes at 4 or 5.6. I don't think I've ever felt the need to go wider than 2.8. Here is an example at F4, the ears are soft but I think it is ok:

    image
  • Rx4PhotoRx4Photo Posts: 1,200Member
    @starralazn, what I'm more or less reading into your posts (unless I'm totally off) is that you're looking for a couple of things - better image rendering while improving the overall attractiveness of the photo itself. It's one thing to shoot so that you've got a nicely blurred background - that's actually the easy part with your lens. What's more difficult is having the background compliment the subject - rendered out of focus - and having flattering or dramatic light crossing the face. And then, of course, there's the pose or the look of the subject. It's a multi-faceted thing which could make your head spin when trying to get it all right in one photo. Amazing are those who accomplish it.

    Shooting wide open can often be a huge mistake that many people don't even know they're making. I personally dislike blown out skies if it looks like a white blob of nothingness in the photo. Stopping down could improve the photo but then you might have to pop a bit of fill flash to brighten the face. That's what I did for many of my recent cosplay shots from Dragoncon.

    Yes, eyes are important in a portrait but if the subject has other things that warrant attention and detail then you def want to have those in focus as well. For example a necklace, earrings, lips, special clothing, etc.

    Next time you're shooting cosplayers and they stop for a photo, immediately look accross their faces to see where the light is falling, and also look behind them to see if the background will be pleasing. If not, change your angle or politely ask them if they can nudge a little over to something better. Shoot from a stooping position for more drama. To be more creative you've got to be able to do things that the average guy with camera might not think to do.
    D800 | D7000 | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 | 24-70mm f/2.8 | 70-200mm f/2.8 | 35mm f/1.8G | 85mm f/1.4G | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM | Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar ZF.2 | Flash controllers: Phottix Odin TTL

  • Rx4PhotoRx4Photo Posts: 1,200Member
    @donaldejose, the best tool in your bag of tricks is your ability to work with whatever you're given. As starralazn says, it's looking for technical advice on a creative problem. If you wish to shoot f/1.4 or the like in natural light, then you've got to be able to maneuver the subject or yourself and your camera settings so that the light is flattering, and only you will see that when you start to shoot it - and you'll grow a feel for what's works best for your desired results. It'll be different for the next guy.
    D800 | D7000 | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 | 24-70mm f/2.8 | 70-200mm f/2.8 | 35mm f/1.8G | 85mm f/1.4G | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM | Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar ZF.2 | Flash controllers: Phottix Odin TTL

  • starralaznstarralazn Posts: 201Member
    @Rx4Photo, yes, you got it right :D
    sometimes i feel like crap after a shoot, and somehow the photos look interesting afterwards. there are definitely a large number of variables that occur on location at a convention location, and more often than not, i feel like i'm missing out on location, lighting or general composition.
    details are definitely important, a lot of cosplayers put so much time and effort into making the small things stand out in their cosplays.
    thanks for the many great ideas :)

    to everyone: thanks again everyone for your ideas, comments and examples. photography remains an ever growing world, and recently i had just felt like i'm in a rut. lots of new ideas to try out when i go shooting again, i hope i can internalize, express and capture all of them to show later down the road.
  • Vipmediastar_JZVipmediastar_JZ Posts: 1,708Member
    For anyone who misses his photos this is his facebook page:
    www.facebook.com/mark.crislip
    And this is his website:
    http://www.pitchblackpolo.com/#!recent-works/c4m0
    Lupe used to be his girlfriend, don't know if she still is:
    http://lupe-jelena.squarespace.com/
    I will let you all know if I see him post any photos taken with a D500! LOL
    I think it will be too much for him to resist buying one!
    His most recent work is Ballet.
  • LupeJelenaLupeJelena Posts: 3Member


    Lupe used to be his girlfriend, don't know if she still is:
    http://lupe-jelena.squarespace.com/
    I will let you all know if I see him post any photos taken with a D500! LOL
    I think it will be too much for him to resist buying one!

    We're no longer together. I'm still a photographer though.
    I only thought about searching the forum today cause I remembered he was active around here. I was amazed at how many pictures he had uploaded of me without me knowing or allowing it. He knew I didn't like it and he did it anyway. I guess he thought there was no way of me finding out?
    I'm so mad and feel so ashamed. I did not want ANY of the pictures of me that are on the forum to be up here. (outtakes, unretouched, candid shots :( he knew I didn't like those and that I'm a perfectionist about how and what I show online).
    Plus, it was amazing the amount of tiny little lies he would tell, I think he even believed some himself, or he "misremembered" stuff... or maybe he thought they were ways to "embellish" the story behind pictures, conveniently not mentioning some things to make everything seem more glamorous, even once telling everyone I said hi and quoting me on something silly I never said... but yeah. So many things that are untrue, unimportant, but still untrue, that you would never know.
  • heartyfisherheartyfisher Posts: 3,172Member
    edited June 2016
    @LupeJelena Sorry to hear about your breakup. Its sad when things don't work out. However, in terms of images and photography, I hope you can join us and contribute.

    I used to be a perfectionist.. still am in some ways.. but I realised you cant control everything. So I no longer stress about things I cant control..

    I don't remember your photos that he posted. But I remember thinking the photos that he did post were very nice images. :-) Nothing to be mad or ashamed about I reckon.

    Again.. welcome to NR and hope to see your images and comments and contributions to our little community.
    Post edited by heartyfisher on
    Moments of Light - D610 D7K S5pro 70-200f4 18-200 150f2.8 12-24 18-70 35-70f2.8 : C&C very welcome!
    Being a photographer is a lot like being a Christian: Some people look at you funny but do not see the amazing beauty all around them - heartyfisher.

  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,072Moderator
    edited June 2016
    I have responded to LupeJelena regarding the posting of her images by PM, members can consider the matter closed now.
    Post edited by spraynpray on
    Always learning.
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    About portraits.....in studio, controlled lighting, the f/stop will be adequate to give about a DOF to include the tip of the nose to the back of the head. In general....

    But, out doing available light, I choose a lens to determine DOF, or at least I think this is the way I do it. For example, shooting on the street in New Orleans, my new D500 with the Sigma 35/1.4, but shooting about f/8. As I came in closer, the background became more fuzzy. Move out, almost all the subject is sharp.

    For a real bokeh, I suspect the 200/2 is the way to go, although my 135/2 is nice as well. Ultimately, I like the 400/2.8 or even longer as in this candid shot at 550mm, f/7.1

    Short Track Lady

    How about a mechanic who was working on my motorhome, using 85mm wide open, f/1.8.
    Wisconsin KW

    I suspect I choose my shutter speed, usually 1/160 sec or faster for people, then the aperture which allows a reasonable ISO. For the most part I just shoot the image, see what I get, and that is that. Too old to try and figure all this stuff out...LOL

    And then there is my love affair with the fisheye, almost everything is in focus, but sometimes the effect is IMO pleasant.

    Brian Redman at RA_II_07.15.2016TFL-0

    Maybe all this is about our personal preference and trail and error (lots of these) is how many of us arrive at our bag of preferences.


    Msmoto, mod
  • starralaznstarralazn Posts: 201Member
    @Msmoto thanks for your thoughts :) i think in a studio setting, it makes sense that you want everything from the tip of the nose to the back of the hair in focus, because you have control over whats in the background. i still have much to learn about taking dynamic, wide angle portraits/photos
    in the months since this post, after experimenting with stopping it down a bit, and also shooting wide open, i think i'm happy doing portraits wide open, just gotta make sure at least one eye is in focus :D
    although, while analyzing the type of portraits i'm getting, i realize that i still have so much to learn - negative space, framing, creating dynamic, well framed, portraits - which is great! thats what i love about photography, you get the opportunity to see so many different and new things.
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,049Member
    The trick is shooting more than one person with a wide aperture, even at f/4. Outdoors it is great to defocus the background.
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