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Correct aperture setting for portrait?

Chris Shawn , Aug 11, 2005; 04:16 a.m.

I hope I am right in this category. I have a question about "portrait photography". I took a photo and it turned out that I have the nose in perfect focus but I'd prefer the eyes to be in perfect focus.

I photographed with Canon EF50/1.4 and the photo was taken at f/1.4. I assume it would have been better with 5.6 or something for a better depth of field. Am I right? And what setting can be recommended for portraits (I know it depends on several things such as light source, etc.)?

Thanks a lot!

EF50 at f/1.4


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Peter Evans , Aug 11, 2005; 04:39 a.m.

I take your word for it that the nose is better focussed than the eyes: at this magnification, it's hard to tell.

Yes, if all other things had been equal, the eyes would have been in focus at f5.6. The problem is that the background would have been better focused as well, and thus more distracting. For something like this, I'd normally use something between f2 and f2.8.

Of course f1.4 is better still, if you get (or the autofocus gets) it right, but chances of failure are higher. As an extreme, I have an 85/1.2 lens (not EF): when the gods are smiling on me it's wonderful, but it does bring a lot of duds.

Alan Chan , Aug 11, 2005; 04:41 a.m.

I think it's a focus issue, or AF I suspect. Correctly focused on the closest eye is the key. As to aperture, I often prefer f4, but there is no rigid rule.

Cliff Shone , Aug 11, 2005; 04:49 a.m.

I'm not sure that there is a 'correct' aperture for portraits, it's a matter of personal taste. I always focus on the eyes and for me a bit of softness on the other features, such as the nose, is tolerable. If you want everything sharp by all means use larger apertures, but make sure that the background is not distracting.

Chris Shawn , Aug 11, 2005; 04:51 a.m.

Thank you so much! I was afraid, that my question sounded very stupid. Thanks again.

Yes, probably manual focus (to the closest eye) would have been a solution. I'll try next time. And I'll also try another stop next time. If the background was a litte less blury it still didn't matter I think.

Thanks a lot!

Jan Jarczyk , Aug 11, 2005; 05:06 a.m.

i think it depends how close you are the closer the shorter DOF, i think there is no DOF problem but focusing problem ? you can turn of AF and try manually focus wherever you want to - 100mm macro at F2.8 the nose is out off focus the ears too but EYES!
regards Jan

Mark U , Aug 11, 2005; 06:13 a.m.

Focus technique in a situation like this is critical. For one thing, when depth of field is narrow you can't afford to focus and recompose. That can make things difficult if you don't have a focus point that conveniently covers the point you want to be in sharpest focus. Obviously, it's a situation where 45 point AF and ECF (as on the EOS 3) is ideal. MF is the other solution, but that can be very tricky with the small viewfinder image in a 1.6 crop camera.

Paul Chilton , Aug 11, 2005; 06:36 a.m.

If you are using very wide apertures use autofocus only to get you close to the focus you want, then focus manually the rest of the way to get the eyes pin sharp. If you rely on autofocus to get sharp eyes for you you will fail more times than you succeed. Autofocus tends to be attracted to whatever is nearest to the camera, in this case the tip of the nose, not the eyes.

Jim Larson , Aug 11, 2005; 07:47 a.m.

Yes. . .be sure that YOU and not the camera are choosing the focus point.

Focus-recompose will typically result in back-focus in most instances. . .you need to have the focus point on the eye to make this work.

Using MF is fine. . but good luck if your body is a 300/350/20D/10D type camera. These viewfinders are not terribly bright for this kind of work.

Also. . .the 300/350D/20D/10D af points are not exactly small. They actually cover about 2.5 times the area shown on the viewfinder engravings (!). Evil. . isn't it?

Don't be afraid to take multiple shots to try and get it right. refocus each time. Maybe try F2.2. DO NOT try F5.6 -> as others have said, that is a GROUP SHOT aperture, not a portrait aperture.

Mark Potok , Aug 11, 2005; 11:12 a.m.

from the image it is imposible to say how far was she from the camera, so knowing that one, and the size of her nose and ears, simply go here and calculate


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