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Correct aperture for indoor photographs

Alex Standage , Sep 22, 2009; 12:40 p.m.

I've been asked to photograph a wedding breakfast and I am planning to buy a Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 lens as it has a wide aperture. I'll be mainly using it to go around tables taking pictures of four or five people at a time. Should I be using it most of the time on f2.8, so as to benefit from the lens's low-light capability, or with the depth of field be too small? Should I use it, by default at something more like f3.5?
I don't want to use flash.


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John Deerfield , Sep 22, 2009; 12:47 p.m.

Unless the place is better lit than any I have been in you are OoL (Out of Luck). f/2.8 is too wide for a group of four or five people. You will need at least f/4- and even that wouldn't be optimal. Shooting f/4 inside is probably going to give you a very slow shutter, again not optimal for people, they have a nasty habit of breathing. So it's time to pick your poison.... f/2.8 and know some subjects will be OoF, pick an insane ISO to use a smaller aperture and faster shutter but know that your image will have some noise, or bite the bullet and bounce a flash off a wall or ceiling.

Stephen Lewis , Sep 22, 2009; 12:50 p.m.

Do your research here plugging in your variables:http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html. If you don't want to use flash, you had better hope that the lighting is plenty bright, even with your ISO cranked up. Unless everybody is in the same plane, at f2.8 you're going to get a lot of faces out of focus. IMHO You should be using f8-11 and bounce flash with a small direct one on the guests.

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Sep 22, 2009; 12:52 p.m.

Your answer will depend on how you position the 4 or 5 people and what kind of focal lengths you use to shoot the images. F2.8 may be too wide, with too shallow a DOF, or it may be OK--it depends on the 3 factors that govern DOF--focal length, f stop and subject distance. I would guess that f2.8 will not give you the DOF you need to keep all faces in focus.

At these kind of events, the type of table makes a difference, and how tightly packed the tables are also makes a difference. Round tables where you can control the depth of the 'stack' of people are better to work with--long tables are worse, because the depth of the stack of people is greater. If you are forced to stand close to the subjects due to table placements, you will have less DOF.

I suggest you go to dofmaster.com and figure out likely scenarios.

I would also be ready with flash, even if you find you can get away without it. Light coming through windows can be wonderful, but what about the backlit people? If you can't move them, you may find you will get flare around their faces.

William Porter , Sep 22, 2009; 12:52 p.m.

Not sure it's possible to answer this question in such a general context. You say it's a wedding breakfast, but you didn't say if it's indoors or outdoors, so I can't guess what kind of light you'll be dealing with. It's nice to have a fast lens when you really want to restrict depth of field (which you won't here) OR when you don't have much light. So the big question is, what's the light going to be like?

If you can reach a nice compromise between shutter speed and ISO while shooting at, say, f/4, then by all means, do that. You didn't say what camera you're using, but shooting f/4 + 28mm with a 1.5x or 1.6x crop-factor camera while standing 8-9 ft from the subject would produce adequate depth of field (about 4-5 ft) for table shots.

Dan Lovell - Orange County, California , Sep 22, 2009; 01:00 p.m.

The wider the field of view (short focal length), the more DOF you'll have to play with.

For up to 4 people I would not use wider then F5.6. These shots are easy. Set the camera to manual, set the flash to be controlled by the camera's TTL logic. Set the aperture at F5.6 or even F8 just to be sure. Set the shutter speed at 1/20s for starters. Set the ISO at 400 for starters. The speed of the flash will freeze your hand held movements and those of the people unless they are exceedingly animated, so no worries on the "too slow" shutter of 1/20s. Shoot with the flash staright on, using a diffuser like an Omni-bounce. Place the top center focus point on the eye of the center person, or use the center FP depending upon composition, lock focus, do not recompose, then take the shot. Check the histogram on the first one or two and dial in the settings as required. Shoot raw only. Keep the aperture at F5.6 or F8, and to adjust the exposure tweek the shutter speed up or down only. The flash will expose the subjects, and the body the background. Apply exposure compensation to the flash to control the exposure of the skin of the people.

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Sep 22, 2009; 01:07 p.m.

Dan--your recipe might work fine indoors in darker environments and at night, but your suggested EV might indeed be overexposing the ambient at a wedding breakfast where the room is fairly brightly lit by large windows. Such a condition might call for f5.6 @ 1/60th at ISO 400, for instance. It is always best, when dragging the shutter, to determine the EV to use based on actual conditions rather than a recipe.

Dan Lovell - Orange County, California , Sep 22, 2009; 01:59 p.m.

Agreed Nadine...I zeroed in to "indoor" and didn't consider "bright room"...lol Yes, perhaps 1/60 is more inline if the room has bright windows, etc....Yes, ambient EV is the starting point before setting up the camera and flash.

Gary Demuelenare , Sep 22, 2009; 02:00 p.m.

the lens your thinking of using will work, but i urge you to think about using flash. NOT THE STRAIGHTON DIRECT FLASH BUT USING A DIFFUSER. this gives a soft even light that is most pleasing to the observer of the image later. the stofen omnibounce is cheap and it works. price less than $20. simply put the flash, with omnibounce attached at a 45degree angle and set the rest of the settings)shutter and fstop) and shoot.
you cannot be sure of the ampount pof light that you will have. 2 weeks agpo my wife and i went to a wedding in which for dinner the lights were so low than the people who had to get up could not even see the tables and chairs. the wedding photog was using a bounce flash setup though and had no problem at all. eating dinner was akin to eating outside at midnight. if you run into a similar setup at your wedding breakfast then without a flash you are dead and all your plans with it. so i would plan on using a diffused flash. i cannot even remember the last wedding i went to in which the wedding pro photog was not using a flash setup of some kind.

David Wegwart - Denver/CO. , Sep 22, 2009; 03:18 p.m.

No flash, wide past F2.8 for most venues.

Flash, F4.5 or smaller for most venues.

Of course, this is an universal answer that means nothing much unless the venue is what I think when suggesting this.

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