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Using Aperture Priority Mode

If you took a poll of portrait photographers to see which shooting mode was most often used for portraits, the answer would certainly be Aperture Priority (A) mode. Selecting the right aperture is important for placing the most critically sharp area of the photo on your subject, while simultaneously blurring all the distracting background clutter (Figure 6.2). Not only will a large aperture give the narrowest depth of field, it will also allow you to shoot in lower light levels at lower ISO settings. Fortunately, in addition to Sony full-frame FE lenses, you can use the Sony LA-EA3 and LA-EA4 adapters to take advantage of Sony A-Mount lenses as well. And since Sony’s E-Mount is about the closest thing there is to a universal lens mount, adapters are available for virtually any lens mount, from Leica M to Nikon and Canon. This opens up an entire world of lens choices, many with extremely large maximum apertures.

Figure 6.2

Figure 6.2 Using a wide aperture, especially with a longer lens, blurs distracting background details.

ISO 100 • 1/2000 sec. • f/2.2 • 55mm lens

This isn’t to say that you have to use the largest aperture on your lens. A good place to begin is f/5.6. This will give you enough depth of field to keep the entire face in focus, while providing enough blur to eliminate distractions in the background. This isn’t a hard-and-fast setting; it’s just a good all-around number to start with. Your aperture might change depending on the focal length of the lens you are using and on the amount of blur that you want for your foreground and background elements.

Go wide for environmental portraits

There will be times when your subject’s environment is of great significance to the story you want to tell. This might mean using a smaller aperture to get more detail in the background or foreground. Once again, by using A mode you can set your aperture to a smaller f-stop, such as f/8 or f/11, and include the important details of the scene that surrounds your subject.

Using a wider-than-normal lens can also assist in getting more depth of field as well as showing the surrounding area. A wide-angle lens requires less stopping down of the aperture to achieve an acceptable depth of field. This is because wide-angle lenses cover a greater area, so the depth of field appears to cover a greater percentage of the scene.

A wider lens might also be necessary to relay more information about the subject’s environment (Figure 6.3). Select a lens length that is wide enough to tell the story but not so wide that you distort the subject. There’s nothing quite as unflattering as giving someone a big, distorted nose (unless you are going for that sort of look). When shooting a portrait with a wide-angle lens, keep the subject away from the edge of the frame and the camera perpendicular to the ground, not tilted up or down. This will reduce the distortion, especially in very wide focal lengths. As the lens length increases, distortion will be reduced.

Figure 6.3

Figure 6.3 A wide-angle lens allows you to capture more of the environment without having to increase the distance between you and the subject.

ISO 200 • 1/100 sec. • f/6.3 • 16–35mm lens at 21mm

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