Find a location with good light for a portrait shot. Place your subject some distance in front of a simple background and select a wide aperture together with a moderately long focal length such as 100mm on a 35mm full-frame camera (about 65mm on a cropped-frame camera). Take a viewpoint about one and a half metres from your subject, allowing you to compose a headshot comfortably within the frame. Focus on the eyes and take the shot.
Camera set at ISO 400, FL 20mm, 1/2000th @ f4. Even though I was standing at 1.5m distance the 20mm FL allowed enough of the background to become part of the photo lending to a more pleasing backdrop.
Use a combination of wide apertures, long focal lengths and close viewpoints to take a number of photographs with shallow depth of field. (Remember that smaller f numbers mean wider apertures.) Try to compose the out-of-focus parts of the picture together with the main subject. Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to your learning log.
50mm, f1.8 1/400 ISO 400
50mm, f1.8, 1/200, ISO 400, flash
50mm, f1.8, 1/320, ISO 400
50mm, f1.8, 1/200, ISO 400, flash
Normally I take all my photos with my 18-200mm telephoto lens but I choose to use my 50mm prime lens with a wider aperture which I think gives the photo a more pleasing smoother depth of field.
Find a subject in front of a background with depth. Take a close viewpoint and zoom in; you’ll need to be aware of the minimum focusing distance of your lens. Focus on the subject and take a single shot. Then, without changing the focal length, set the focus to infinity and take a second shot.
As you look at both the images you will notice in Image 1 that eye is drawn straight to the subject in focus and the background becomes nothing more than a backdrop of colour. Image 2 however the viewer is left to trail around the whole image with the out of focus statue becoming more of an annoyance.
Select your longest focal length and compose a portrait shot fairly tightly within the frame in front of a background with depth. Take one photograph. Then walk towards your subject while zooming out to your shortest focal length. Take care to frame the subject in precisely the same way in the viewfinder and take a second shot. Compare the two images and make notes in your learning log. As you page between the two shots it can be shocking to see completely new elements crash into the background of the second shot while the subject appears to remain the same. This exercise clearly shows how focal length combined with viewpoint affects perspective distortion. Perspective distortion is actually a normal effect of viewing an object, for example where parallel train tracks appear to meet at the horizon. A ‘standard lens’ – traditionally a 50mm fixed focal length lens for a full-frame camera (about 33mm in a cropped-frame camera) – approximates the perspective distortion of human vision (not the angle of view, which is much wider). A standard lens is therefore the lens of choice for ‘straight’ photography, which aims to make an accurate record of the visual world.
The photos were taken with my Nikon 18-200mm lens, the first image was set at ISO 400, FL 130mm, 1/80th @ f5.6. The image gives a greater feeling of space around the subject and also allows more of the background to be viewed. The second image feels more compact and was also taken at ISO 400, FL 65mm, 1/250th @ f5, the subject becomes the sole centre of attention with very little background to play around with.
Even though not the most photogenic person I would like to thank my daughter Casey for posing for me, even if I did have to bribe her.