Aperture setting


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Oct 28, 2008
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Hey, I go back and forth on my aperture settings and was kind of curious what other people generally shoot with for portraits.

I like the shallow depth of field look and I just bought an f/1.8 50mm prime lens and have been loving the look it gives. I haven't used it for portraits yet though and i'm wondering if the subject even moves a little bit, or me for that matter, if the focus will be off since it's such a shallow focus plane.

So just curious what most are using. Thanks,

I think you might be a little confused about what is fixed in a prime lens. Your focal length (50mm) is fixed, but you have the full range of aperture settings. If you shoot wide open at 1.8, your range of DOF will be EXTREMELY small, as in "the closest eye in focus and furthest eye not" sort of deal. But you can still shoot at f/22 if you want and have a very wide DOF where much of your composition is in focus. It's all about what you want. I've found my 50mm primes often look best in the f/4-/5 area, still getting a really nice bokeh but also a manageable range of DOF, but you have to find what works for you. I know a few photographer friends who leave their aperture at 1.8 and shoot away. *shrugs* Whatever gets the results you want.
It depends on what I want and how the shoot is set up etc.

It can sometimes be nice to shoot portraits with a very shallow DOF, but yes, there is the added chance of missing focus. For this reason, it's easier to shoot a still person with a shallow DOF, than say a child who won't sit still.

Sometimes I want to shoot with just enough DOF to get the person/group in focus, but sometimes I might not want the background or foreground to be too out of focus, so I'll add some DOF by stopping down.
Sometimes the group (or myself) might not be too still, so I'll use a deeper DOF just for the safety of keeping them in focus.

Sometimes I shoot close to F8 because that's usually the sweet spot on a lens and gives the best sharpness. For example, when shooting in a studio where I can control the lighting, I'll often try for an exposure close to F8.
Thanks guys. g-fi, i know you can shoot at all other kinds of apertures...I just really like the very shallow DOF and have been shooting at f/1.8 with the new lens. I was just curious what others were using for portraits.

Big Mike, that's interesting about f/8 being the sweet spot, and a good point about not shooting photos of kids with it since they do move around so much.
With just about any fast lens, shooting wide open will cost you some focus sharpness.

The reason is the lens is thinner at the edges than in the middle, and the thin edges focus to a just slightly different point than the thicker middle.

By stopping the lens down, the lens thickness is closer to being constant since the thin edges are no longer being used.

Depth-of-field is controlled by 4 factors:
  1. Lens focal length
  2. subject to image sensor distance
  3. subjecrt to background distance
  4. lens aperture.
It's a matter of preference. Some people like the subjects whole head in focus, and some just the eyes.
With a 50mm lens, from closer distances of say 3 to 7 feet, when photographing a single person, an aperture setting of around f/2.2 to f/2.5 will give very shallow depth of field, with decent optical performance. The background will be well defocused if it is 3 to 25 times farther away than the camera-to-subject distance. Using a slightly smaller aperture of f/2.8, the background will also be defocused, but slightly less so.

If photographing a two- or three-person group, using such large, wide apertures is a bit risky if you wish to have every single person in good,sharp,critical focus; when shooting pictures with 2 and 3 people, using moderately-wide apertures like f/4.5 to f/5.6 from distances of 12 to 20 feet will give you good sharp pictures, with a background that is moderately clear--the background will be rendered with good "suggestion", but will not be as we say, "totally blown out of focus" nor will it be rendered totally crystal clear and sharp, so f/4.5 to f/5.6 works well for groups of 2 to 3 people who are posed in lose,natural groupings shot from 12 to 20 feet.

If one wishes to position a person within the context of say their work or recreation environment, small apertures, like f/8 to f/11 can be used. A woman standing in front of a desert landscape where she likes to hike would probably best be done from say 18-25 feet away, with the lens set to a smallish aperture, like f/8. The increased distance, 25 feet, and small aperture, f/8, will give deep depth of field,and will visually "place" the subject within the landscape and its context. Moving in really close to the same woman, say to 5 feet, and shooting a head and shoulders portrait, with the lens opened up to f/2.8, would show the background landscape as very out of focus, which might be a good thing....

"It all depends...on what you want the pictures to look like."
...have been shooting at f/1.8 with the new lens. I was just curious what others were using for portraits.

I usually shoot at f/8, but never with a lens that short. For portraits, I shoot with a lens that is at least twice the normal focal length for the camera format... with my digital, 100mm.

jumping into this thread... can I use my 50mm 1.4 for shooting a larger group (7-12), if I set to f/4.5, 5.6? If I have enough room to get everyone together, I thought the 50 would work.

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