Ideal Apertures for Portrait Photography?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Shacklebolt, Jan 16, 2008.

  1. Shacklebolt macrumors 6502a

    Shacklebolt

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    #1
    So, one of the things that I greatly enjoy about a DSLR is that portrait photography with it is rather easy. I went to town with my 70-200mm at 2.8 for a while and got just some great, great shots out of it.

    However, is 2.8 wide enough real portrait photography? I've looked up some local portrait places and, man, the depth of field is just so, so narrow, they MUST be shooting around 1.4. So yeah, would you consider 2.8 to be good enough for portraiture, or not so much. e.g. (shot at 2.8)

    [​IMG]
     
  2. §HAMU§ macrumors member

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    #2
    depends on what type of portraits you're shooting.

    i got to play with a nice lighting setup last night, and was shooting at f/11. (will post a photo after i get home tonight).

    a lot of my earlier portraits were shot with a wider aperture than 2.8 b/c i could only work with available light and used primes to get that wide.

    now that i'm using a flash more and other sorts of lighting, i'm using a different aperture based on what lens i have (85mm vs 50mm vs 28mm), and how much i want the background blurred. or if i know someone's going to be moving, i'll use a smaller aperture so i don't miss focus with a razor thin dof.
     
  3. Lovesong macrumors 65816

    Lovesong

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    #3
    That is a fairly subjective question simply because it depends on a number of variables. One of those is focal length. As you increase the FL, the depth of field decreases. This means that you can take a portrait with a 300mm f/4, and obtain roughly the same DOF as you would with a faster lens with a smaller focal length. Another factor is the distance of the person from the background. The further away they are from the background, the more fudge-room you have if you're trying to isolate them. The last, and least concrete thing about portraits is the intention of the photographer. I have seen some amazing work (heck if I can remember the name of the guy) where the only thing is focus in his portraits were the subject's eyes... some may find that to be too-narrow of a DOF. There are also times when you would want to include the background and have it frame your subject. I would say that my 70-200 f/2.8 is my best portrait lens at the minute (I'm still working on convincing myself that I really can afford those 85L and 135L :rolleyes:).
     
  4. Father Jack macrumors 68020

    Father Jack

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    #4
    Remember that D of F is controlled by more than aperture. Other factors include focal length of the lens and the distance between the camera and the subject ... :cool:
     
  5. Westside guy macrumors 601

    Westside guy

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    #5
    There are a couple other things to consider.

    With the 70-200, you can't focus very close - so, since the subject has to be relatively far away from your camera, your depth of field increases for a given aperture. Shooting with the 70-200 at f/2.8 from 10 feet away isn't going to look the same as shooting with the 24-70 at f/2.8 from 2 feet away (I'm exaggerating the distances here, obviously).

    The other issue is sharpness. While the expensive primes will go to 1.4, the image quality goes down significantly for most of them. Whether it goes down enough to matter depends on your personal preference.
     
  6. §HAMU§ macrumors member

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    #6
    uh, care to elaborate on that point?

    if anything, the image quality is worst wide open (at 1.2/1.4/1.8/2.0/etc) due to vignetting/sharpess/etc. but there's also times when you can get a shot shooting that wide that you could never have gotten at 2.8+. this is also why a prime will have a better image quality vs. shooting wide open on a zoom at the same focal length, b/c it's been stopped down some.
     
  7. Father Jack macrumors 68020

    Father Jack

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    #7
    Stopping down a lens two or three stops from maximum reduces most lens faults. Using a lens at Maximum or minimum aperture produces inferior images.
     
  8. §HAMU§ macrumors member

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    #8
    sensor size also plays a factor in how much depth of field you have.

    ex: you'll have less DoF on a full frame camera with a 50mm shot at f/1.2 than you will on a crop factor body with the same lens/aperture.
     
  9. Shacklebolt thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Shacklebolt

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    #9
    Well I mean, that shot above was taken at max aperture, and from only 6-7 feet away. My apartment is only so big. I'm not sure if i see the inferior image to which you refer, but, as I'm so fond of saying, i don't know anything.
     
  10. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #10
    I think f/2.8 was as wide as you needed when we were using film. I remember owning a couple 135mm f/2.8 lenses. But the smaller DX size sensor in effect means you are also using shorter lenses. Bottom line is that with DX sensor you get a wider DOF. Try shooing f/2.8 in medium format, you almost can't. I think ther small sensor mran you should move up a stop

    The good news is that the 50mm f/1.4 lens is not expensive and neither is the 85mm lens. I useth 50mm in asmall space like a house or apartment and the 85 when there is more room

    If you start doing studio-style shots you have more control and can use a background and lights to isolate the subject then even f/11 would work fine.

    That said, I'm not afraid at all to very aggressively photoshop backgrounds. It looks bad on subjects but I'll whack up backgrounds big time.
     
  11. Westside guy macrumors 601

    Westside guy

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    #11
    You don't need me to elaborate - just take a look at any objective lens tests. Photozone is a good place to start. Wide open, the quality of most primes degrades significantly, even at the center. Edge sharpness tanks even more.

    Compare the Nikkor 24-70 at f/2.8 to the various Nikkor primes at f/2.8, and you'll see why I've ordered that zoom.

    I realize the groupthink is that primes are always sharper than zooms; but frankly that's a recycled mantra from 20-30 years ago. It's similar to how some people hold onto the "truth" that CRTs are always better than LCDs. Times change. Modern pro zooms can match or beat the primes in most categories; they just don't have quite the max aperture that the primes have.
     
  12. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #12
    Firstly, Westside Guy is right. The 70-200 mm f/2.8 from either Canon or Nikon is probably as sharp as the 85 mm f/1.4 when shot wide open. And personally, I don't really care if a portrait shot is extremely sharp because sharp portraits show too many flaws in the person being photographed. Do I really want to see ugly pores? All the primes and 70-200 mm are sharp enough wide open.

    The 70-200 mm takes amazing portrait photos if narrow DoF is your concern. The proof is all over the internet. People have taken great portraits with that lens, which means you can as well. Due to its long focal length, it also makes your photos look "flatter" than a photo taken with a shorter focal length prime.

    So yes, maybe a lens at 200 mm f/2.8 can achieve an equal or better depth of field than an 85 mm f/1.4, but the look of the photos will still be different regardless of whether the DoF is the same.


    Anyway, Shacklebolt's portrait is probably considered quite good considering it was a shot taken in an apartment. You're not going to achieve incredible depth of field.



    Maybe. It really depends on the situation.
     
  13. Cloud9 macrumors regular

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    #13
    Your problem is not dof.

    1. Choose clean back grounds, or back grounds that do not draw attention away from the subject.

    2. Choose lighting, via environment or created, that sets the tone for the image that you are trying to create. If you have one light in an apartment, move your subject around the room in relation to the light and watch how it affects the image. The camera will exaggerate even subtle changes a lot of the time.(you won't believe how simple and subtle adjustments can affect this. In fact this should be were you start.)

    3. To maximize bokeh, which is really what I think you are trying to do, the farther away your back ground is from the subject the more blur you will see.

    Start practicing with these ideas and you won't think about dof nearly as much.
     
  14. Westside guy macrumors 601

    Westside guy

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    #14
    Hey, would you mind telling that to Mrs. Westside? :D
     
  15. pprior macrumors 65816

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    #15
    "real portrait photography" - well that is quite a label.

    Take a 300mm F2.8 and fill head a shoulders and you have quite a different picture than the 70 end of the 70-200 at the same aperture. So as others note, it's not just aperture.

    However having said that, there's a reason many of us who shoot potraits buy the 135/F2 or the 85/F1.2. But at that Aperture, DOF can be razor thin - to the point where the eyes are in focus but the nose is clearly out of focus. Is that what you want? If so you won't do it with 2.8.

    After all that however the problem with the picture posted is not the aperture, it's the poor choice of background. Even with more blur, it's still not going to look good. The white balance is off. The girls head is not angled attractively and her eyes are not in position. There is a lot more to be improved on in that picture before you worry about fancy glass.
     
  16. Father Jack macrumors 68020

    Father Jack

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    #16
    Shooting at wide apertures will emphasis lens abberations and shooting at the minimum aperture causes diffraction.
     
  17. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #17
    As others have said, there's no "right" answer. I generally shoot at around f/8, with a mild telephoto (35-70 around 70mm on a 1.5x crop factor body.)

    The best thing you can do for most portraits once you get the lighting right is to increase your subject to background distance and create a clean background. The subject to background distance will help with keeping the background out of focus.

    Personally, I prefer working with muslins to seamless paper, but I've got both. For most portraits, I prefer a high key shot to a low key one. I generally add a second background light when I'm shooting high key to blow the background out from both sides. I think you could get reasonable results with a sheet or two clamped to an existing curtain rod.
     
  18. walangij macrumors 6502

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    #18

    I discovered this a while ago too, the larger aperture does make a difference in those dreamy bokeh shots, I've taken shots with the 135 f/2 that I simply could not have with any other lens (at least w/ my skillset thus far), but much of it comes from technique rather than gear IMO as pprior just said. I've used various f/2.8 lenses for portraits but recently shifted to wider primes, just my style and works well with my style of shooting, others differ, developing technique with what you have will be the best though good luck.
     
  19. Shacklebolt thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Shacklebolt

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    #19
    Well I mean, right. I have no illusions that it's fantastic. I'm just saying, I had the lens on the camera, said, "Hey, I'm going to take your picture, alright," then put it on my computer and uploaded it to flickr. Didn't photoshop it and (obviously) didn't worry about the composition of the picture. My apartment is lit horrrrrrrrrribly, and me saying, "Strike a pose!" would have taken away from the "I'm-going-to-take-your-picture-now"ness of the moment.

    But point well taken. The ideal background for a real portrait wouldn't be a coat and scarf thrown over a chair, and the lighting would be supplied by more than a crappy overhead light and a flash bouncing off my ceiling. This is, after all, a post about apertures, not composition.
     
  20. pprior macrumors 65816

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    #20
    Maybe my post came across as too critical - didn't mean it that way.

    What I was trying to say is that the dreamy bokeh you get with very nice lenses won't do much when you have an asymetric blob like that scarf in the background.

    Here's an example of a tree right behind the subject. This was taken on my front porch with the 135/F2. I like the bokeh on it, and because the tree is asymmetric, you can't really even tell what it is:

    [​IMG]

    It's not the greatest image, primarily because i didn't get the fill lighting ratio correct, but I'm learning as well. Great portrait photography involves aligning so many things at the same time that it's overwhelming. I guess my point was if you have a good 2.8 aperture lens, you can do a LOT of great portrait work. If you're looking for extreme DOF work like I said with the eye in focus but the nose out then you need the F2 or F1.2 probably. It depends on what you're looking for artistically.

    The 70-200/2.8 in canon is a great lens - I own it myself. I would assume the Nikon is of similar quality. I bought the 135 primarily because other people raved about it and it is DEFINITELY a marked improvement in both sharpness and improved bokeh compared with the 70-200 and is by far my favorite lens I've ever owned. However, there are a lot of working pros that create portraits way better than I could dream to do with the 70-200.

    A lot of studio work is shot at F8 anyway.... That's what I shoot almost all my indoor work at, I rarely open up to wide apertures inside.

    I enjoy the discussion. I'm just learning as well, so again please pardon if my original comment was too critical. I think we all get too caught up in gear sometimes, I know I'm fighting the urge to buy the 85/F1.2 for portraits to explore more and also the 300/2.8IS for soccer, it never ends....

    Cheers.
     

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