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Old Nov 15, 2009, 5:25 PM   #1
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Default Portrait Lens Advice

I'm preparing for a photo shoot and have a Portrait lens question.

I'm aware that there's a great deal of consensus about the right set-up for portrait work. Shooting with a focal length between 85 - 100 and an f11.

Using the gear I currently own, I can get there two ways:

Canon 70-200 IS 2.8f or
Canon 28-135 IS 3.5 - 5.6

Which of these lenses are more likely to deliver better results? I know the 70-200 lens is the better lens, but just not sure if these a reason the 28-135 fits this scenario better.

Faithfully Yours,
FP
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Old Nov 15, 2009, 5:36 PM   #2
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The rule of thumb for portraits is to use a lens with a focal length anywhere from 85mm to 135mm. But that's on a 35mm film SLR and Full Frame dSLR. For a Canon APS-C dSLR, you should use a lens with a focal length from 53mm to 84mm.

Also, an aperture of f/11 will make the image nice and sharp, but for portraits you don't necessarily want a sharp image. What a small aperture will also give you is a deep depth of field, which is another thing you might want to avoid.

Generally, for portraits, you want to isolate your subject from the foreground and background. For that you want a shallow depth of field. For that you want a medium telephoto with a large aperture.
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Old Nov 15, 2009, 5:50 PM   #3
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I'm shooting with a full frame, Canon 5d.
I'll be shooting with a solid backgrounds of blue, black and white.
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Old Nov 15, 2009, 5:56 PM   #4
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Then you might want a lens with a focal length anywhere from 85mm to 135mm, and a large aperture. But remember that any lens you use to shoot a portrait is a portrait lens. It depends on what you wnat to be in the portrait. If you just want the subject, and you want ot minimize the impact of everything else in the frame, you need a shallow depth of field to do that, and you need a large aperture to do that. You don't want to use too short a focal length or you'll start getting perspective issues (nose or ears too big, etc.), and you don't want a lens that's too long or you start getting a deeper depth of field. That's what that rule of thumb is based on.
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Old Nov 15, 2009, 6:12 PM   #5
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TCav, I really appreciate your helping me. Maybe it's the terminology that is confusing me.

I have zoom lenses that can zoom to the focal lengths you mention. Therefore which of these two lenses is the better lens for this application.

On the other hand, are you saying that you want me to use a fixed focal length lens of a minimum of 85 or a max of 100?

Thanks
FP

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Old Nov 15, 2009, 7:28 PM   #6
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FP - if you're using backdrops as it appears you are I think TCAV just missed that. There's no reason for terribly shallow DOF. Either of the lenses chosen will be capable of the job. The lighting setup you use will have more of an impact than which of those 2 lenses you use.
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Old Nov 15, 2009, 7:35 PM   #7
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What I was talking about is a minimum of 85mm and a maximum of 135mm, plus a large aperture. Your 70-200/2.8 would have a larger aperture at that range of focal lengths than your 28-135/3.5-5.6.

But if, as JohnG says, you're using a backdrop, then the shallow depth of field isn't as important. That is, unless the backdrop has a texture and you don't want the texture in focus.
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Old Nov 16, 2009, 12:46 PM   #8
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If you are shooting in a studio you pretty much use f8 - f16 anyway, you absolutely do not need f2.8.

Either of your lenses will work fine, the 70-200 will give you extra working distance but you might prefer to get closer at times.

Quote:
I'm aware that there's a great deal of consensus about the right set-up for portrait work. Shooting with a focal length between 85 - 100 and an f11.
Eh? Just because the internet forums think you need a medium telephoto for portraits doesn't make it so. The best portraits are shot with 28-35-50mm equivalent lenses IMO. :-)
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Old Nov 17, 2009, 9:24 AM   #9
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The best universal advice I've received on Steves Digicams has been three fold:
1. Find a mentor and follow them around. (doing that)
2. Find what works for you by doing. (doing that)
3. Read a lot. (doing that).

This thread got started in my head because I've read and re-read

"The Digital Photo Book Volume 1, by Scott Kelby. First I read his credentials and based upon those, I'd say he knows his stuff. After reading the chapter on Portraits, the question stated above came to me. Since I don't know Mr. Kelby, I posted my questions here.

However, a couple of folks in their responses to my question made posts that seemed to conflict with what Kelby wrote.

Here are two excerpts from his book:


"Most pros shoot portraits with a short zoom lens, and one of their most favorite focal lengths is the 85-100mm range. In fact, telephoto lenses in this range are often called portrait lenses because they let you shoot from a good working distance (10-12 feet from your subject, giving you and your subject some breathing room, while letting you still fill the frame with your subject), but more importantly, shooting with focal lengths between 85-100 eliminates the unflattering facial distortions wide angle lenses are notorious for, while avoiding the compression long telephoto lenses give. Some portrait pros swear that the 85mm focal length is the portrait sweet spot, others, at 100mm." Page 112.

He also writes:

"So now that you know which lens to use, believe it or not, there is a special aperture that seems ot work best for most portrait photography. when it comes to portraits, f/11 is the ticket because it provides great sharpness and depth on the face, which gives you a great overall look for most portrait photography" Page 113.

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Old Nov 17, 2009, 10:00 AM   #10
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I remember, years ago, reading an article in Modern Photography or Popular Photography or something, where the author was asked to take some portraits of a neighbors' newborn baby. I remember specifically that he grabbed his camera and attached his trusty portrait lens, which had a focal length of 105mm. The rest of the article described all the things he had to do to use his trusty portrait lens to take a portrait of a newborn, and how incompetent he felt in front of his neighbors because he grabbed the wrong lens.

I always try to learn for the mistakes of others, so that article stuck with me. Not just the part about picking the right lens for the job, but that a 105mm lens was his "trusty portrait lens". As an epilogue, he said that anything from 85mm to 135mm was usually a good choice for adult portraits, but other focal lengths might also be useful in other circumstances.

What I also learned is that if you want to replace the background with something else in post processing, if your backdrop has a texture, it's easier to replace the backdrop if it's outside the depth of field, which means using a large aperture. And, of course, if you're not using a backdrop, a shallow depth of field will blur anything in the background, thereby emphasizing the subject.

It all depends on what you're after.
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