Using Aperture Priority Mode
In the previous chapter, you learned about the different shooting modes, and that when photographing people you’re likely to be most successful using Aperture Priority (Av) mode. With portraits, we usually like to see a nice, soft, out-of-focus background, and you can only guarantee that you’ll achieve those results if you have control of the aperture setting (Figure 4.1). You’ll also be letting more light into your camera, which means that your ISO can be set lower, giving your image less noise and more detail.
Figure 4.1 For this image, I used a large aperture combined with a long lens to decrease the depth of field and make the background blurry.
ISO 100 • 1/50 sec. • f/4 • 70–200mm lens
Now, don’t think that you have to use a crazy-fast lens (such as f/1.2 or f/2.8) to achieve great results and get a blurry background. Often an f-stop of 4.0 or 5.6 will be sufficient, and you might even find that having an extremely wide-open aperture gives you too little depth of field for a portrait, since you want most of the face to be in focus. In fact, I shoot many of my portrait photographs with a lens that has a maximum aperture of f/4, and I always achieve the results I’m looking for.
Go Wide for Environmental Portraits
Sometimes you’ll find that a person’s environment is important to the story you want to tell. When photographing people this way, you will want to use a smaller aperture for greater depth of field (which will put more of your background in focus) so that you can include details of the scene surrounding the subject.
Also keep in mind that in order to capture the person and their surroundings, you’ll need to adjust your view and use a wider than normal lens. Wide-angle lenses require less stopping down of the aperture to achieve greater 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 scenery (Figure 4.2). 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. This will reduce the distortion, especially in very wide focal lengths.
Figure 4.2 A wide-angle lens and a small aperture allowed me to show as much detail as possible in the room.
ISO 400 • 1/10 sec. • f/7.1 • 18–50mm lens