Sunday, December 30, 2012

Photography Training: One Tip on How to Take Better Portraits

Photography Training: One Tip on How to Take Better Portraits

This post will help you if you are a beginner or even a professional. 

In the past I have said that it is good to reinvent yourself as a photographer every few years. I even went as far to say that a great example if reinvention is Madonna. Love her or hate her, she was very successful at reinventing herself and that is why is was popular in the 80's, 90's and is still successful after 30 plus years of being a musician. If you can reinvent yourself every few years and you are running a photography business there is a good chance that you won't be out of  business in 10 years from now. I reinvented myself, and  I will do it again and again and again.
One way that I reinvented myself was I made one simple change in how I photograph. I don't always do this but a large portion of my images have this in common. So, you are wondering what I am doing different? I use depth of field to the max!! I must say that I am not the only photographer out there that does this but I have a certain look to my images that sets me apart. Some can look at an image of mine and say, "yep that was shot my Brian".

You might wonder how I do this....?? Well, the main thing I do is I shoot almost all portraits wide open!! What I mean by this is I have lenses that have large apertures. They have apretures like f/1.1 and f/1.4. These apertures allow me to create very shallow Depth of Field. Basically the backgrounds go out of focus. I have invested in lenses that help me get this look. If you buy a camera and it comes with a kit lens you probably can't get this look. So, you really need to invest in some good quality lenses with fast apertures.  
I spent over a thousand dollars on my Voigtlander Nokton 50mm. I got my 85mm f/1.4 for a lot less. It's a Rokinon. The Rokinon is not as sharp as the Nokton, but it does a great job. Next I will get a 35mm f/1.4 Voigtlander and then I am not sure were I will go after that. Anyhow, fast lenses are very important to the look and style that I want my images to have. 
To take advantage of these wonderful lenses I have I need to make sure when I take the picture I have space behind the subject. If you have lenses like mine and you put your subject right up against a wall it kind of defeats the purpose.

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These are examples of what I mean.


See how I do not put them up against a wall? I almost always use f/1.4 for the Aperture and adjust the Shutter speed to allow the correct exposure.


Notice the leading lines in the image above? Do you notice the Shallow Depth of Field in this shot also?


Again, I have very shallow depth of field. When you have shallow depth of field it will separate your subject from the background and make the subject stand out. 


Again, this lovely lady stands apart from the background because I used a wide aperture of f/1.4.

If you have questions or need clarification on any of this please leave a comment and will answer you back!!
Thanks! -Brian

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  1. nice portraits as always !! thanks for sharing your tips. I've one curiosity on this line of yours :) - "I almost always use f/1.4 for the Aperture and adjust the Shutter speed to allow the correct exposure."
    Does this mean that you use 'manual mode' to capture images? What about choosing 'aperture mode' and selecting a f value? any guideline you provide would be great.

    AND second curiosity just got in my mind is that what are the problem faced during using wide aperture like f/1.4 in close up portraits? I mean to point on the fact that in f/1.4 i find one part of face focussed while other parts are blurred for eg. eyes. nose etc :p
    Thank you again for ur tips

    1. Thanks for the great comment and questions!! Well, to start. When I was talking about exposure. I do use aperture priority mode. I also use exposure compensation a lot. When shooting a portrait I almost always over expose by at least a 3rd of a stop. Sometimes I will even over expose up to two stops.
      So what I meant was that I adjust the Shutter speed to the look I want. That is just the way I shoot.

      For the second part of the question, about using f/1.4 for portraits, I rarely have out of focus portraits. I focus on their eyes and go from there. If I am shooting really close up sometimes I do use a smaller aperture, but most of the time I just keep it at f/1.4. The exception is when I am shooting a family and need more depth of field. Oh, I should mention that I almost always shoot with an 85mm or 50mm lens when shooting portraits. The 85mm is a Rokinon, and was cheap. The 50mm is a Voigtlander Nokton was quite expensive but worth every penny! For my digital cameras I use Lumix, micro4/3 cameras and one 4/3 camera. I love the micro 4/3 system because I can "zoom" in and look at where I am focusing. Without the micro 4/3 system it would be difficult to use these lenses because they are manual focus and it's really hard to get the focus just right. For Film cameras I use a Leica and a Contax. The leica is really easy to focus and the Contax is Autofocus so I usually don't worry about the focus.
      Also, when you focus on they eyes, you have about 1/3 of the depth in front and 2/3 of the depth in back. If I want really shallow focus but want the nose and eyes in focus I can adjust for this. I will focus just a little bit in front of the eyes and then that solves the issue of the nose being out of focus. Micro 4/3 system cameras make this easy. The ears do go out of focus but I like shallow DoF and it is part of the look that has set me apart from other photographers. Funny thing is that the only reason I got into the M4/3 system is because I wanted to use all my old film lenses on a digital body. It's one of the best moves I made when it comes to photography.
      I hope I answered your questions to your satisfaction. If you need more clarification or have more questions please feel free to ask. Thanks- Brian

  2. I dont understand how you can open up to 1.4 and focus on the eyes of one person and have the second subject in the photo be sharp as well? how many focal points are you using?

    1. It depends on one thing. Is there enough Depth of Field. If there is your good, if not then you have a problem. If I was shooting a wedding and I had a few "layers" of people I would never use f/1.4. But when I was shooting the two above, and I was back a bit, it was just fine. You really can't use two focal points on when shooting. I think it is probably impossible unless you use a process called stacking, which I have never done. If you don't understand it you should really try it. Go out and get a 50mm 1.8 lens. You can get them quite cheap. Shoot a few shots at 1.8 and see what you think. Then you will undertand. It's really just a shooting preference. I prefer to shoot that way. Thanks for the question.