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Best f/stop to use for portraits?

Holly Goyea , Oct 23, 2008; 07:23 p.m.

What is the best f/stop to use for portraits? I was told f/8. Thank you!!!!


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Stephen Lewis , Oct 23, 2008; 08:02 p.m.

It varies depending on the effect you desire to achieve, as well as the format you are using (medium format, large format, or 35mm/equivalent). The larger the aperture, the shallower the field of what will be in focus.

Starvy Goodfellows , Oct 23, 2008; 08:04 p.m.

hello holly, this really depends on your subject matter and what you would like to achieve. when you have a large group of people all of whom need to be in focus, a f/8 would certainly be useful to have the entire group in focus. however, the general opinion seems to be that portraits should be flattering and very slightly soft. blurring the background, thus adding a shallowed depth of field adds to the mystique. for this would would need to be around f/2.8 depending on the lens. in my zuiko 100m f/2.8 i never go above f/4 for portraits.

Ted Springer , Oct 23, 2008; 08:47 p.m.

Photography is all about experimentation. Get out there and try the same shot at every single aperture. See which you you like for the subject matter.

Richard Cochran , Oct 24, 2008; 12:42 a.m.

It also depends on your background. In a studio or other situation where you have a controlled, plain, non-distracting background, you may want to use your sharpest aperture, perhaps f/8 or so for 35mm. But outdoors with a somewhat distracting background, something much wider, like f/2 or so may be useful to get a shallow depth of field and blur the distracting background to a smooth appearance.

If there were a single best aperture for portraits, then portrait lenses wouldn't come with adjustable diaphragms. Experiment.

Ralph Berrett , Oct 24, 2008; 01:21 a.m.

It depends on what you are shooting, the lighting setup, and what you are trying accomplish. There really is not a single magic bullet f/stops it comes down to what you are trying to achieve.

Lex Jenkins , Oct 24, 2008; 01:54 a.m.

For casual, candid or "environmental" portraiture, a fast lens and shallow depth of field can help you minimize background distractions. To be effective you'll usually want a fast lens that's also sharp wide open, altho' some great portraits I've seen aren't particularly sharp.

With formal portraiture, you have control over the subject's cosmetics, lighting and background, so there's no need to rely on shallow DOF unless it's desired for a specific effect. Most formal or controlled portraiture is shot with a very small aperture to combine maximum DOF and sharpness.

These are really two very different approaches so the best solution depends on which type of portraiture you have in mind.

Lex Jenkins , Oct 24, 2008; 02:00 a.m.

Here's an example of very casual portraiture, closer to candid photography than portraiture, really, in which not only is shallow depth of field used to help separate the subject from the background, but it's not really even particularly sharp due to motion blur.

The delightful artist Nancy Lamb in her Fort Worth gallery.

Dawn Howe , Oct 24, 2008; 04:42 a.m.

in a studio the f stop should be adjusted to your lighting arrangement i can tell you when i worked at sears we were set up at f12 i use f8 now for my own but if your outside it will depend on the lens and available light

Ian . , Oct 24, 2008; 07:53 a.m.

I use as shallow DOF as I can to really throw the background out of focus (i.e. f1.4). Sometimes only the eyes are in focus, but they still work.

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