Taking portrait photos outdoors can be difficult for many different reasons, but having the right lens, and some light, can make all the difference. I know what you’re going to say, a 35mm does not seem like the brightest choice for portraits, but as you might have it on you for Street or City Landscapes, you need to know what it can do if you come across a very interesting face.
To be honest most Amateurs do not have a multitude of lenses, in fact most have just one at any given time, and this is fine, just as long as it doesn’t break. But the glass doesn’t maketh the man, as someone much smarter than I once said, so here’s some things to be careful of, if you decide to leave the relative comfort of autofocus.
Light and F Stops
The first example we’ll discuss is of a girl standing on a street in Ireland at 17:57 March 15th. There might be an hour of good light left, and it’s changing fast. What do you do? Well the first thing to do is to bring your F down. The lens aperture is usually specified as an f-number, the ratio of focal length to effective aperture diameter. A lens typically has a set of marked “f-stops” that the f-number can be set to. A lower f-number denotes a greater aperture opening which allows more light to reach the film or image sensor.
You want as much light as possible, so we open up the hole as we discussed before on another post. The subject in this particular photograph is standing with the light basking over both her and the camera, the light almost at three o’ clock facially, so the natural shadow is created at nine o’ clock. Thus we won’t need our flash. Well not if we want our bokeh or blurred background. Keeping our F number down, helps us achieve this.
A good or great portrait photo, not taken in a studio in this instance, will have bokeh. Bokeh is basically blur in the background of your subject. We will cover this again, but let’s leave it at dreamy creamy blur for now. And how do we get it? Well two things are important here. One is the F number. We keep it down. The other is to increase our shutter speed. What about ISO? Well here we try to keep it as low as possible. We want a crisp shot not one with noise, or grain.
Below we have three examples of different shutter speeds and F stops. Basically it shows you exactly what happens the object, in this case The Custom’s House in Dublin Ireland, behind a lady. You will notice the level blur get thicker, creamier, well this is our Bokeh, and by keeping our ISO down we are keeping our photo crisper. Try it with a friend, or if you have none of these, try it with a lamp post. They don’t move around or complain half as much as the other things.