Portrait lens and other lens questions

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by LERsince1991, Dec 17, 2009.

  1. LERsince1991 macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
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    UK
    #1
    Hi I wanted to try and take some nice portrait photos of some people and was wondering how I could go about this the best way?

    I have a Canon 400D with 18-55mm (f3.5-36) kit lens, an slr 100-300mm zoom and an slr 28mm f2.8 wide angle lens.

    When i say an slr lens I mean the specs were based on an analogue film camera from 20 years back.

    I believe I want a lens with as low aperture as possible like the f2.8 but I cant really notice much difference between the kits lens and this lens.

    Any tips?
    Cheers, Luke.

    p.s. buying a lens isnt an option :p
     
  2. toxic macrumors 68000

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    Nov 9, 2008
    #2
    "portrait" is a very vague term. will you be in a studio or outdoors? will you be mostly doing environmental, full-body, half-body, or head & shoulders and tighter? more importantly, do you have any lights or light modifiers?

    your zooms will do fine for getting started while you figure out what you need. a fast lens is not a requirement for portraiture, even outdoors. increasing the focal length will increase background diffusion faster than widening the aperture, you just have to keep working distance and perspective in mind. in a studio, lighting is everything, not so much the lens.

    I suggest you start looking into off-camera lighting and such, or at least tutorials on outdoor portraiture with available light and maybe a modifier or two. reflectors can be had for cheap, and you can get a used 430ex or Sigma EF-500 DG Super (Sigma's equivalent to the 580ex) for about $200.
     
  3. zeeflyboy macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2009
    #3
    24mm is short to be using as a portrait lens - you'll be finding that people have some slightly weird looking features like larger noses and smaller ears...

    50-85mm flattens the image somewhat and achieves a much more flattering appearance. of course 85mm on a crop body will mean you have to be quite far back if you want anything other than head or head/shoulders shots.

    While I do agree with the above, it might be worthwhile picking up the very cheap canon 50mm f1.8 mkII - you can find this lens very cheap if you look around and while it is very much a budget lens it produces some good images! it's also a fairly good length for some portrait type work and gives you a large aperture to play with.

    The only main advantage of a fast aperture for portrait work is the ability to isolate the subject more easily by blurring the background - as pointed out above this can also be achieved by a longer focal length at a given aperture. Or of course moving your subject further from the background.
     
  4. stagi macrumors 65816

    stagi

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    Feb 18, 2006
    #4
    With the kit lens @ 55mm you can get some very good portraits. Since you said buying a lens isn't an option and the lens doesn't make the photo the creative person behind the camera does I would suggest learning as much about portrait photography as you can from websites and maybe some books and DVD's. Start shooting practice stuff of family and friends and learn as much as you can :)
     
  5. nutmac macrumors 68040

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    Mar 30, 2004
    #5
    The term portrait implies close-up photos of a person's face. Since you brought up "analog", I assume you are talking about focal length equivalent to full-frame traditional 35mm sized image sensor. Here are common criteria:
    • Focal length: between 85 and 135mm are generally considered ideal for portrait photography. This range tend to offer most flattering perspective of people's face as well as good level of facial details.
    • Aperture: f/2.8 or wider is recommended for good background isolation (blurred background or bokeh), although f/4 is entirely workable when working near the telephoto range (135mm).
    • Sharpness: you will want razor sharp lens for portrait photography.

    Since 400D is 1.6x crop body, you will need to divide the focal length by 1.6. That works out to 50 to 85mm. Coincidentally, the most popular portrait lenses for Canon's crop body SLRs are EF 50mm series and EF 85mm series (EF-S 60mm macro is also fairly common). Many people use EF 35mm lens, however, and to good effect. EF 70-200mm series are also popular for portrait zoom.
     
  6. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

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    #6
    +1 on all of the above. I used a 105 on my film Nikon, and it was the best lens I ever owned.

    Luke: Try renting a lens if you can't buy it. http://www.lensrentals.com/

    Dale
     
  7. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Northern/Central VA
    #7
    I'm going to chime in and disagree here.

    1. I shoot a lot of portraits around f/8 using muslin and seamless paper backgrounds and they come out just fine. Background separation is important, and both subject->background distance and a background light ensure this.

    2. For most people, razor-sharpness produces images with bad skin blemishes and emphasizes poor hair, makeup, skin, clothing and other details. Way back when, photographers used to trap a piece of pantyhose with a filter to cover the lens and produce a soft-focus effect for portaits, purchase softening filters, or defocus control lenses, all of which had the desired effect of softening the image to make it more flattering.

    Finally, lighting for portraits is key- both in how it wraps the subject's face and in how it provides catchlights in the eyes so that the viewer "connects" with the subject. Key, fill and background lights help, as does a hair light if you're not shooting high-key portraits.

    On a crop-factor Canon, your kit lens near it's maximum zoom will be just fine for taking portraits. Your pop-up flash will work ok as a fill if you adjust the power downwards. You can either use window light as a key, or get 2-3 extra flashes with flash triggers for key and background if you want the best possible results. I generally have my key coming from 35-45 degrees and the fill near the camera axis with my background lights positioned depending on the shot. If I use a softbox, then it's generally the size of the subject or as close as I can get. These days though, I prefer shoot-through umbrellas for key as it gives a nice round sun-like catchlight. Remember that the closer the light source, the softer the resulting light - so keep your key as close as you can get without intruding on the image.

    Light round faces from the short side (the side the subject is facing) and narrow faces from the broad side (the side away from where they're facing.) Male portraits generally use more of an angular light to emphasize the texture of the skin, while female portraits are generally lit with the key closer to the camera's position to reduce skin texture.
     
  8. toxic macrumors 68000

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    Nov 9, 2008
    #8
    more explanation on why 85-135mm is typically used for portraits:

    there are two factors a portrait photographer juggles when choosing a focal length: working distance and perspective. changing the subject distance changes perspective, and a certain working distance is ideal to be able to easily communicate with the model while being far enough away for the model to be comfortable, easily adjust lighting, and not require a lot of space since not everyone is outdoors or in a large studio.

    in the case of head-&-shoulder compositions, 85-135mm happened to be the best compromise between flattering perspective and working distance on 35mm. for headshots, 100mm is the absolute minimum, and 135mm+ is preferred. divide as needed when converting for other formats.

    first, "bokeh" is the quality of background blur, not a synonym for background blur or isolation or some amount of it.

    a fast lens is not a requirement for portraiture. all that is needed is for the subject to stand out. outdoors, this can be from a combination of longer focal lengths, wide apertures, or very long subject-background distances. indoors, you have a background, and there is no need to blur it into oblivion with an f/2 lens since only the eyelash will be in focus when the whole face or body needs to be. that necessarily means an f-stop of about f/8 or smaller, and you move the background as needed.

    no, you do not. you need only resolve the hair on the model's face, and it just so happens that just about any modern lens can do this, especially stopped down in a studio.


    so once again, lighting is everything, not the lens.
     
  9. pdxflint macrumors 68020

    pdxflint

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    Aug 25, 2006
    Location:
    Oregon coast
    #9
    Compuwar and toxic: two really informative posts that I got a lot out of. Makes me want to get some lighting gear, and play with the light...
     
  10. LERsince1991 thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jul 24, 2008
    Location:
    UK
    #10
    A BIG thanks for all the suggestions!

    To clarify, I will be shooting outdoors on the streets. I will be shooting mid body shoots mainly and a few close ups.

    Out of the lenses I have I should use my kit lens at 50-55mm zoom where the aperture will be about f5.6.

    I could use my flash if I stop it down a bit for a bit of fill lighting. But I should look for interesting lighting from the streets and natural light sources.

    A great example of what im looking to produce is the work of The Sartorialist
     

    Attached Files:

  11. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

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    Location:
    Sendai, Japan
    #11
    Your 28 mm is not a wide-angle lens, it's a normal lens on your crop body. The cheapest way to get your hands on a portrait lens is a 50 mm f/1.8: it's not only cheap, it's also a standard portrait lens. On full frame, classical portrait focal lengths range between 70/80 and 135 mm. The 50 mm would roughly correspond to a 80 mm lens and is thus quite nice for portraits. It's also very cheap. The 85 mm lens would also be suitable, but it's more expensive. Since you already own lenses that cover these focal lengths, you should know what type of portraits you prefer.
     
  12. CrackedButter macrumors 68040

    CrackedButter

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    Location:
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    #12
    Anybody know what setup the Sartoralist is using, I can never get that kind of bokeh from my 24-70mm. I'm assuming that photographer is using the longer end of the lens and shooting at f2.8. Anybody want to comment?
     
  13. leandroc76 macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2003
    #13
    It doesn't have to be f2.8. bokeh is a result of shallow depth of field. I'm sure you know that. A shallow depth of field can be obtained by shooting at f8 at 105-135mm by standing farther away from your subject.

    Believe it or not 70mm too wide to get this type of bokeh and still fill the frame. If you have a 105mm or a 70-200mm you will have no problem obtaining this type of bokeh even at f8!

    I shoot Nikon, and as crappy as everybody thinks the 18-200mm is, it has nearly identical bokeh at 135mm at f8, than any other lens. Well not exactly identical, but achieveable, especially in properly lit situations.
     
  14. SLC Flyfishing Suspended

    SLC Flyfishing

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    Nov 19, 2007
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    #14
    It's a matter of camera to subject distance, and a matter of subject to background distance and aperture opening diameter, focal length plays a role as well somewhat. All 3 play a role in DOF, meaning that you can under certain situations get blurred backgrounds merely by closing the distance between your camera and the subject. I can easily get that kind of bokeh with my 24-70. The closer to your subject you are, the less depth of field you have to work with at any focal length (this obviously depends on the focal length as well) but as you can imagine if you are both close to your subject and there is a good amount of separation between your subject and the background, you can easily blur out the background at anything under I'd say about f8. It's easier to do with a FF camera than an APS-C camera, but still easily accomplished with a FF camera.

    http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

    This link has a handy tool for calculating depth of field for any camera and lens combination that you might be able to imagine (some more exotic things may not be in there, but any mainstream DSLR will be there). You simply state the camera you are wanting to work with (or another with a sensor of the same dimensions), and give the focal length and aperture you will be shooting at, it spits a depth of field range back at you based on the subject to camera distance. You will be able to tell how much DOF you have to work with at any subject distance for those particular settings.

    There is also an iPhone/iPod touch app for this that you can purchase for about $0.99!

    http://www.dofmaster.com/iphone.html

    Hopefully that helps!

    SLC
     
  15. LERsince1991 thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jul 24, 2008
    Location:
    UK
    #15
    Thats a really good calculator. Let me do some test shooting indoors and I'll get back to you all to see if I need more answers :p
    Very good info here though definitely! THANKS!

    Luke
     
  16. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #16
    Actually, bokeh (the quality of the out of focus rendering) is a result of the number of aperture blades and their design (more blades and rounded edges tend to produce the most pleasing bokeh.)
     
  17. LERsince1991 thread starter macrumors 65816

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    Jul 24, 2008
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    UK
    #17
    I couldn't get the amount of blur on the background as I wanted with any of my lenses, the 28mm was probably best. If I were to buy a lens, should it be a Canon 50mm 1.8 II?

    I found this on ebay for £25, is this right?!

    Also with a larger aperture it would allow me to shoot better in a lower ISO.
     
  18. mattyb240 macrumors 6502a

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    May 11, 2008
    #18
    Any reason for FD lenses? You can get the EF-S version for around £50ish second hand on the Canon Forums like:

    http://photography-on-the.net/forum/index.php

    Its a wonderful cheap lens, very plasticy and rubbish autofocus in low light but very sharp!
     
  19. LERsince1991 thread starter macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
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    UK
    #19
    Didn't realise it was an fd mount, never mind.

    I'll look into getting a Canon 50mm 1.8 II. If not whats my best choice for maximum 'bokeh?'.

    Luke
     
  20. toxic macrumors 68000

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    Nov 9, 2008
    #20
    once again, "bokeh" is the quality of background blur. it is a feature of the lens as a result of the design, like resolution or flare resistance.

    look at sample images from lenses you are interested in and look at the background. is it smooth, or is it rough enough to distract from the subject? how much do you care if it isn't smooth? the Canon 50/1.8 has poor bokeh. the Canon 50/1.4 has mediocre bokeh at best. the Sigma 50/1.4, Canon 50/1.2, and Canon 85/1.8 all have pleasing bokeh.

    subject separation/background diffusion is a function of subject-background distance and focal length more than it is with f-stop. consequently, a 135mm lens will have a more diffuse background than an 85mm lens, which isolates more than a 50mm lens.
     
  21. vraxtus macrumors 65816

    vraxtus

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    Aug 4, 2004
    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    #21
    So, forgive me but I really didn't read anyone else's posts here in great detail, but thought I would chime in.

    I'm a Canon guy myself. I shoot with the 5D Mark I, and have the 85 1.2 L and the 70-200 f/4 IS L, which generally are regarded as the two most popular Canon lenses for portraits. The 85 1.2 for shallow DOF and mid-telephoto zoom for moderate flattening, and the 70-200 f/4 for sharpness and telephoto zoom for extended flattening.

    Now, really of all the advice I can provide, is that it really depends on what you want to do with your pictures. I looked at the above examples you provided, but those were all shot with different lenses with different exposures, with different subject framings and different focal lengths.

    I think the question you have to ask yourself is what kind of effect are you looking to produce, and what are the tools you'll need to do so. One thing I can recommend to start with, which is moderately priced, is the 85 1.8, or the 70-200 f/4 NON-IS. These two lenses are great to learn to play with your knowledge and understanding of how photography works, and with trial and error can learn about how to create the "bokeh" effects you're looking for.

    Generally speaking most people would shy you away from wider angle lenses because they tend to exaggerate the features of an individual. As most have said here however, the wider focal lengths given your camera's crop frame sensor won't really produce as dramatic effects so you're usually on the safer side. I can see why you're likely using the 28 to shoot, because the maximum aperture is higher, and will create a stronger bokeh effect on your subject.

    In the meantime however, with your lenses generally the easiest way to capture "standard" portraits is through longer focal lengths. This creates a more dispersed effect of the background when the distance between the subject and background is far - so inevitably the bokeh will be heavier and everything else will be far more out of focus.

    But again as I mentioned, it's really up to you with what you want to do with it.

    If you like, I can check out my flickr page (vraxtus) for some examples of how I shoot.
     
  22. CrackedButter macrumors 68040

    CrackedButter

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    Jan 15, 2003
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    51st State of America
    #22
    These are my best efforts so far with using the long end of my 24-70L shot at f2.8:

    [​IMG]

    and

    [​IMG]

    Also thanks SLC for the calculator, I've tried to shy away from such things as I feel it could turn the whole process very mechanical but of course if I'm asking such questions now then I should take a look.
     
  23. vraxtus macrumors 65816

    vraxtus

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    Aug 4, 2004
    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    #23
    CB - I see your issue. You're not going to get that kind of bokeh on a full length shot @ 2.8. If you want a nuked out background for a full length you really need at least a 1.4 with moderate zoom.
     
  24. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #24
    You really should do so. You have to decide first-off if you want either a studio-type setup or something ultra-portable- which also sort of determines how and what you'll be shooting. For instance- if you want to shoot outdoors in very bright light and full-length people studio shots, then something like 3-4 Alien Bees and optionally a battery pack for them would be a good choice with the appropriate modifiers (umbrellas, softboxes, grids.) Power levels depend a lot on where you're shooting- in a small garage or room AB400s are more than enough, if you want to go outdoors occasionally but not mid-day or you have a large venue or medium groups, AB800s, for maximum power AB1600s. A grid for your hair light, and depending on your needs a 5' strip box, ~20x30 softbox, shoot-through/reflective umbrella combos and stands.

    For ultra-portable, an SB900 or SB800 plus 2-3 SB600s, "Justin" clamps, gels, at least one softbox and optionally radio triggers (The built-in CLS triggering is IR, it needs good line-of-site or white walls to bounce off- but then you get iTTL) and you're good to go. You can go a lot cheaper on the flash heads if you don't mind all-manual. I like Alien Bee's Cybersync triggers- they're so much cheaper than PocketWizards but so much more reliable than the cheap eBay stuff.

    For the ultimate in versatility, both! :)
     
  25. CrackedButter macrumors 68040

    CrackedButter

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    51st State of America
    #25
    So a 135mm L for £699 second hand or the 85mm mk1 second hand for £899? :)
     

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