Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Manipulating focus is a great way to force your viewers' eyes where you want them to go. D'uh, right?

Yet, I see so many glamour images that could have been greatly improved with a bit of focus manipulation when the photographer was shooting. I know, I know... it's a creative decision and those photographers chose not to use depth of focus as one of their creative tools for that shot.

Sorry, I don't buy that. I don't think all of those photographers much considered how they might exploit focus to enhance their images. I'm guessing many of them decided to shoot at small apertures because they were thinking more about keeping their models in sharp focus. Unfortunately, a lot of stuff in their backgrounds was kept in nearly as sharp focus. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it's the right thing to do. Other times, it keeps the photo in the realm of mediocrity.

For glamour photography, make that for the majority of people photography, sharp focus on the models or subjects is often important. (Unless you're going for a fuzzy, soft-focus, artsy look.) Usually, the sharpest focus should be on the model's eyes. (D'uh again.) We sure don't want blurry glimpses through those windows to the soul even if the models' souls aren't what many viewers of glamour images are gawking at.

Personally, it's rare for me to shoot a model above f/8 unless I'm purposely looking for more depth of focus... which isn't that often. I mostly prefer in and around f/5.6, plus or minus a stop, and, occasionally, wider than that. The more open the aperture, of course, the shallower the focus. The closer my framing, the more I generally prefer a shallower focus.

Just because your powerful strobes can deliver plenty of lighting power, allowing you to shoot at very stopped-down apertures, doesn't mean you should always be using that power. The most powerful monolight I own delivers a mere 500WS of power and I rarely have used that strobe at full capacity. In fact, the strobe itself gets used less than my 300WS strobes because I can't dial it down enough while keeping it in close to my models and still achieving very soft lighting. (Which most of my clients prefer when I'm shooting glamour and tease for them.)

Just some Hump Day tidbits for thought regarding the role of focus in glamour shooting.

The pretty girl at the top is Faye. I used two lights: A 300WS main light in front modified with a small, shoot-thru umbrella and a 300WS bare-bulb strobe from behind for highlights. For glass, I was using a Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime. Exposure was ISO 100, f/2.5 with a 200th of a second shutter. Mark Twain might have been talking about Faye when he said, "A face without freckles is like the sky without stars."


The Mgmt. said...

Interesting observation, Jimmy. I figured it would have been the other way around - too many people seem to live at f2.8 and forget that there are other apertures available. Why else are the message boards full of people saying, "I don't think 1.4 is enough, should I get the 50 1.2?"

jimmyd said...

@The Mgmt: Yeah. Everyone wants faster glass. So how come (on forums) I see so many glamour and beauty and other model shots at f/11 or f/16?

Lawrence said...

The problem with me is that there isn't much available to me in terms of indoor locations. The interior design, aesthetics and architecture in my country are pathetic.

I usually have to shoot outdoors and I live in the Caribbean where the sun is blazing bright on a good day. That, and the fact that clients dictate when they are available which usually isn't at golden hours.

I would love to shoot at shallower apertures, but the reality is that I usually need to overpower the sun.

Even if I shoot in the shade, my background will be blown out unless I shoot at a narrower aperture.

WildePics said...

Try a neutral density filter to open your aperture. I'm having a ball with a variable ND filter in bright sun, mostly for shutter speed effects in my case but it will also give you much more choice in aperture in bright conditions.

Robert said...

Again, I think a whole lot of this come with experience and really thinking about what you want the veiwer to see overall. I know when I first started it was just trying to get any focus at, which tended to stopping the lens down, because it appeared to be more in focus for me/my eye. I have more recently been a lot more aware that I have very much control in directing the veiwers attention just about anywhere in the frame I would like. Again, I have gotten to this point by time behind the lens, alot of reading (such as this blog) and input from my fellow photogs.

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