Monday, August 9, 2010

Portrait Photography - Use The Right Portrait Lens

Photo credit: idahoeditor
f/3.5 @ 70mm
If you have thought about doing portraits with your Canon EOS digital SLR camera, you are not alone. Portraiture may be the most popular photography applications pursued by amateurs and pros alike.

It may surprise you to know that having the consummate Canon portrait lens is not the most vital part of getting a great portrait. But a good lens will unquestionably go a long way toward getting you to that great image.

The glitz and glamor of portrait photography is what attracts the attention of many. If you are good and make the right connections, you could be in the company of some very well known people. Not like the paparazzi, who are the bottom dwellers of the paid photography industry (author's opinion). Besides, what they do is not portrait photography.

Most portrait photographers don't shoot famous people though.  There is plenty of work in the field that does not include actors, singers, and other glitzy individuals.

Other portrait niches include individuals, family photos (Olan Mills does not have a monopoly here), high school senior photos, babies, and even pet portraits. And sports portraits is a huge opportunity, too. You can truly find a unique niche in portrait photography.

Depth Of Field - Your #1 Goal

Portrait photographers know that the lens is just as key as the digital SLR camera it is attached to. Good portrait images have specific qualities that help to draw attention to the subject, or model. The first, and probably the easiest way to make that happen is to use a narrow depth of field. This means that the plane of focus is shallow, putting the other objects in the photograph out of focus. That sharp area of focus unconsciously draws the eye of the viewer.

One of the reasons for this shallow depth of field is the quick speed of the shutter. This is a feature of good portrait lenses. Fast shutter speed happens as a result of getting the lens to open wider. The lens opening is called the aperture. A good number for the aperture would be f/2.8 or wider (smaller = wider). In fact, the better lenses have apertures as wide as f/1.2. (And as the number gets smaller, the price tag gets bigger.) If you want a sleek and sexy photo with an out of focus background, a good place to start is with a wide aperture. When you show the photo to your subject, they will feel very special. And you will feel like you accomplished a portrait that could go head to head against the pros.

Focal Length - Another Key Element of Portrait Photography

Canon 70-200mm f/4 @120mm
Another feature you will want as a portrait photo shooter is the right focal length lens. There are two types of lenses, single (prime) or zoom. Many pros use only prime lenses when doing portraits. If choosing a prime lens, 50mm would be the shortest length to choose. Any shorter and you have to get too close to your model. If you have a lens between 75mm and 150nn, you are in what most photographers consider the right focal length for portraits. This gives the photographer a better combination of depth of field, distance from the subject, and flexibility in choosing the perspective.

If the lens does not have a long enough focal length, it could cause facial features that are out of proportion. Everyone has seen those images of the cows where the cow's nose looks way out of proportion when compared to the rest of the animal. This technique is cute, and done purposefully, employing a wide angle lens and getting right up next to the subject. We laugh when we see these kind of photos, but we would not laugh if it was OUR face blown out of proportion. People are way too vain.

Zoom lenses are also popular among many photographers who soot portraits. One of the most popular is the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens. Using a lens with such a wide selection of focal lengths can add so much flexibility to your set up.

The good news is that just about any lens can double as a portrait lens. If you know how to pull it off, you can take great portraits with you cell phone.

Better Backgrounds - A Nifty Little Trick

To get that really special portrait, you need a blurred background. Try putting more distance between the model and the background. You want as much distance as possible between subject and background. This compensates for the aperture component. The background will be blurry in spite of the aperture because of the distance.

The mere fact that you tote that awesome digital SLR gives your family and friends reason to believe that you can take great portraits. Actually, you can. But the job can be done so much easier with the right lens, a portrait lens.

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