Portraiture Masterclass - AP photographer Andrew Sydenham demonstrates to three readers how a simple arrangement of lights can produce effective portrait photography. Oliver Atwell joins them

Lenses and Depth of Field

Photo by Maria Mil

As with any genre of photography, your choice of lens should be a primary consideration.

‘The two lenses that are, in my opinion, ideal for portrait photography are a 85-100mm and a 70-200mm,’ says Andrew. ‘Both of these should provide a comfortable amount of distance between you and your subject, while using a zoom lens gives you a bit of free range to move in closer or a little further away from your subject without having to move your position.’

A common problem that photographers new to portrait photography can encounter is trying to make sure that every part of the subject’s face is in focus. Anyone who has experience in portrait or even wildlife photography will know the horror of opening an image on-screen only to find that while the subject’s nose is in focus, their eyes lack the necessary sharpness.

‘Take your time and think about what you are doing,’ says Andrew. ‘There can be a tendency when working with live subjects to feel under pressure and rush things. I would suggest using autofocus to lock onto your subject and then switch to manual to tweak the focus and ensure the eyes are pin sharp. What you are looking to get in focus is everything from the tip of the nose to the ears. The thing to know is that there is a delicate balance between your light source, ISO, shutter speed and aperture. The important thing, as I’m sure everyone understands, is to get the eyes in focus, but you should really strive to get the whole head pin sharp.’

There are ways to ensure that you get your subject completely in focus, says Andrew. ‘The most obvious thing to do is to close down your aperture,’ he adds. ‘If you’re working with f/5.6, try closing it down to f/8 or f/11. However, that means you’re going to have to compensate for the reduced amount of light that is reaching your sensor. You could perhaps try using flash or introducing a second light source (including window light). If that isn’t an option, you will either have to increase your ISO (although this could result in noise) or you could decrease your shutter speed. These may sound like obvious things to say, but you’ll be surprised how many people neglect these basic technical principles.

  1. 1. Portraiture
  2. 2. Breaking it down
  3. 3. Lenses and Depth of Field
  4. 4. High-key lighting
  5. 5. Reflectors
  6. 6. Three-Point Lighting
  7. 7. Low-key Lighting
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