Making Photos POP!

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/2500

Selective focus makes people pop out of photos, or the backgrounds recede in a blur. And you choose what pops, what blurs, and what fuzzes over.

Where do you want the viewer to focus their attention – the hedge in the foreground, the man in the middle, or the trees in the distant background? Many professional photographers use selective focus to control the viewer’s attention.

The apertures, called f-stops, are fractions. For example, the f-stop ƒ/4 is ¼ (one-fourth) what one-fourth of is a little beyond the scope of this article.  Let’s say that an f-stop is a fraction, ok? (ƒ/4 = 1/4th  f8 = 1/8th). Typically these numbers are on the lens, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, and so on.

Remember these are fractions: 1/2.8, 1/4, 1/5.6, 1/8, 1/11, 1/16, and 1/22. It compares how much light each number lets through the lens. Therefore 1/5.6 allows more light through the lens than 1/22.

Togo, West Africa [Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 180, ƒ/8, 1/100]

Here’s the creative part: the smaller the opening (f-stop) in the lens, the less light is allowed in. Therefore, a greater area is in focus from the foreground to the background. If you want to throw most of the background out of focus, use ƒ/5.6 rather than

Today’s digital cameras allow the photographer to vary the aperture, preview the results, and then decide its effectiveness.

Togo, West Africa [ Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/320]

If you want the subject to “pop,” use the larger lens openings, i.e., ƒ/4 or ƒ/5.6. Like a simple sentence, having one different subject is better.

A smaller aperture (ƒ/16 or ƒ/22) brings the foreground and background into sharper focus or a greater depth of field. It also allows for other compositional techniques to direct the viewer to the photo’s main subject.

Senior photos [Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/4000]

Setting your camera’s ISO, shutter speed, and aperture provides more than a properly exposed photograph. You can use these tools to compose and say what you want to say in your pictures.

Senior photos [Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/10, 1/320]

Experiment using different ƒ-stops. Try setting the camera to the aperture preferred setting. Explore the creative tools available on the camera. If the camera is always set on automatic, it becomes a costly box camera.

Turn your aperture dial to help direct the audience

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/800

A shallow depth-of-field like ƒ/1.4 that I used here is a great way to force the audience to look where you want them to see.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 14400, ƒ/11, 1/100

Using a deep depth-of-field like ƒ/11 as I did here really helps keep the eye moving through the frame.

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/500

Don’t fall in love with an ƒ-stop. Instead, use what helps you for that moment. For example, the danger of always shooting ƒ/1.4 is that you are not giving context to your subject.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 4500, ƒ/4, 1/100

Here I used ƒ/4, which was just enough depth-of-field to show the lady’s kitchen and cooking.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 4500, ƒ/4, 1/100

You don’t turn the ƒ-stop/aperture from one end to the other. Use just enough to help you show what the viewer needs to see. Again the ƒ/4 was adequate while shooting with the 24mm to capture the rest of the kitchen.

Want Silky BOKEH? Get Closer!

Nikon D750, Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D, ISO 12800, ƒ/5, 1/200

I shoot wide open with the Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D lens. Since I am as close as the lens will let me focus, which gives me a 1:1 ratio, the ƒ-number gets more extensive due to the lens extending and getting further from the sensor.

Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 1800, ƒ/1.4, 1/200

This photo is as close as I can focus the Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art lens [11.81″] of the same Christmas ornament.

Nikon D750, Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D, ISO 7200, ƒ/4.8, 1/200

Here is another Christmas ornament for comparison.

Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 900, ƒ/1.4, 1/200

Notice how much Charlie Brown’s sister Sally is out of focus at ƒ/4.8 vs. ƒ/1.4 in the two photos. The depth-of-field is even more shallow in the closer photo. How close you are to the subject has as much impact on depth-of-field as your aperture.

Nikon D750, Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D, ISO 12800, ƒ/4.8, 1/200

In this Citadel Christmas ornament, you can see how shallow the depth-of-field is at ƒ/4.8 compared to the photo with the Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 below.

Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 1250, ƒ/1.4, 1/200

Now just to let you see how your distance impacts the depth-of-field here, I just backed up a hair in the lower photo of the ornament with the Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D.

Nikon D750, Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D, ISO 9000, ƒ/4, 1/200

Since I backed up, the aperture opened up a little, so you would think the depth-of-field would shrink, but the opposite happened. Again this is due to the distance to the subject.

Do you want silky smooth BOKEH? GET CLOSER!!!

Deep Depth of Field

Nikon D2X, Sigma 15-30mm, ISO 100, ƒ/14, 1/15
By looking around the industry, you would think that everyone is shooting wide open at ƒ/1.4. However, some places like Country Living Magazine want just the opposite for their viewers.
Why would someone want everything sharp from front to back in a photo?
Many people are looking for decorating ideas and want to see the details. The other thing that a deep depth of field does for the viewer is put them into the space. They can now let their eye roam from front to back in the photo and all around.

A deep depth of field pulls the audience into a scene more than a shallow depth of field. The shallow depth of field helps you isolate a subject within the frame, and the profound depth of field does the opposite and gives more context to the subject within the frame.

When Country Living hires you, they give precise instructions for the greatest depth of field possible in all the photos.

Here are some more photos from that shoot.

Depth-of-field is more than Aperture

[Photo 1] Egypt—Missionary Mike Edens (left) worked closely with Egyptian Baptist pastors trying to enhance their discipleship and pastoral ministries. These pastors—(left to right) Mikhail Shehata Ghaly and Anwar Dakdouk—took MasterLife discipleship training in Cyprus during 1984. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Technically Depth-of-field—is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.

Don Rutledge

I have never met a photographer who understood more about packing more into a frame to tell a story than Don Rutledge.

The reason is it takes a lot more ability to take a photo of what appears to be clutter and compose it in such a way that you capture a story than it does to isolate by either getting closer or zooming in and isolating a subject.

What Don Rutledge taught me and yet I still haven’t begun to execute it as well as he did was to use the environment around the subject to provide context and tell a better story.

He taught me to spend time with a person before I take a photo of them. Spend time getting to know their story, this way once you know them you start to see things around them and their body language that help inform the audience through visual clues as to who the subject is as a person and how they interact with people in their world.

[Photo 2] While legislators around the nation were debating the need for rat-control laws–and disputing their funding–Don discovered these two youngsters who proudly displayed the results of their morning hunt. In that section of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1968, rats were not particularly difficult quarry to locate.

Don taught many photographers not to just watch the edges of the photograph but pay attention to the “Depth-of-field” when making the photograph. He wanted to use the thing in the foreground and background more than any other photographer I knew to help tell the story.

In Photo 1 you can see down the street and around the men as they walk down the street in Egypt. While most everyone is laughing as if a joke was just told—notice the woman just behind the men. Her expression tells another story.

I can picture this woman being similar to the woman in Matthew 9:20, “If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.” Jesus turned—caught her at it.

She is not apart of the men’s group but has an interest in them.

In Photo 2 you see not just the rat being held by the boy but his friend and the place of their discovery. His friends body language adds so much to the context as does the alley where they found it.

[Photo 3] This is early morning in Mississippi for Luvenia and Bailey King. King sleeps as his wife puts breakfast on the table. [photo by Don Rutledge]

To get this type of “Depth-of-field” Don invested time with his subjects. In 1979 Don spent a month living with the King family in Mississippi. He added just enough money to the family budget to not add any financial stress on the family, but also not to change their living standards so he could cover what it was like living below the poverty line in America.

This photo [Photo 3] became a favorite photo of many from the story. The photo captures Bailey King and shows how thin he is and how hard his wife also worked to provide for the family. It is not a photo just about Bailey, but his wife as well Luvenia.

[Photo 4] Appalachian migrant family in Ohio during 1968. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Here in Photo 4 you can see a father who is obviously concerned and then you see his children in the background. The children are like all children and pull the viewer into the story of a migrant worker who will travel wherever finding work to provide for their family. Many photographers would crop just above the father’s head and left out the boy in the window. The reason is they most likely would not have seen the boy.

Don had a patience about him that let him truly be in the moment. He could see things that most missed. I think Don really and truly had more empathy for his subjects than just about any other photographer I have known.

[Photo 5] Africa—Sally Jones (white coat) felt emotions well up inside as she shared this moment with concerned mothers at the Southern Baptist feeding and health care center’s clinic in Ethiopia.

Many photographers might crop in much tighter on Sally Jones in Photo 5 here. Don goes wide and gets really close to be sure you see her expression. I remember often seeing the contact sheets of moments like this when Don was editing. He would show me the moment before and after where sometimes the lady in the background was only there for one of maybe 10 frames. She adds so much by helping pull you to the background after you have already seen Sally. There are more mothers outside is what this helps to convey.

[Photo 6] Israel—Missionary kid Sommer Hicks plays on the rocks of the sea of Galilee with her dad, Ray Hicks, in the background. [Don Rutledge]

So often photographers get so focused on the main subject they forget that those around the subject can sometimes give us insights into them. Here we get a glimpse of how normal life is for Ray Hicks in Photo 6 when we see how much fun his daughter is having at the sea of Galilee. Don shot it in a way to bring Ray into the photo and give a context that Don did so well time and time again.

Please take a look how often Don uses depth in his photos to tell stories. Here are two coverages of Russia that Don did in the 1980s. Don shot these for a magazine which would only use on average maybe 8 to 12 photos, but look at the true depth of his coverage. I remember seeing these coverages up on so many light tables and Dan Beatty commenting on how he could tell so many stories whenever Don returned.

Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 great lens for party pics

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/3.2, 1/80 optical stabilization on

I love to watch people and especially across the room. The lens that captures these moments the best for me is the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM for Nikon. Up to 4 Stops of Optical Stabilization makes hand-holding the lens possible in low light, which I was shooting in tonight.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4 , ISO 450, ƒ/1.4, 1/100

I tried to work the room with the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4, but I felt like the lens was too loose most of the time, and since I was further away, the depth-of-field was as silky smooth to me as with the Sigma 20-200mm because I was able to shoot at 200mm and therefore compressed the background.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/3.2, 1/50 optical stabilization on

The cool thing is shooting at 200mm, and a wide aperture gives the shallow depth of field, making the subject pop out from the room.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/2.8, 1/60 optical stabilization on

While technically, there is a separation of the subject from their environment, you now must wait for a moment where you capture the person’s personality. A technically great photo isn’t what makes the photo, but it just merely helps. It still comes down to capturing the moment.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm, ISO 10000, ƒ/2.8, 1/100 optical stabilization on

While shooting all these photos, the people know me, but I have been working in the room for a while. I started with 14-24mm and introduced myself to people getting them to know I was here and taking photos.

Nikon D4, Nikkor 14-24mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/3.2, 1/100

I am shooting a full-framed image like the one above, with the 14-24mm putting me less than a foot away from the subjects. After shooting these, I start shooting the tighter shots with the longer lens. So I am now further away and picking moments.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm, ISO 9000, ƒ/3.2, 1/100 optical stabilization on

Now people are more relaxed at the party. They are now into conversations and enjoying one another. When people are conversing is when I get excellent expressions.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/2.8, 1/100 optical stabilization on

I also love creating a layering effect by having something in the foreground and background. I think this helps give more depth to the photo, even with the foreground and background out of focus.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm, ISO 11400, ƒ/3.2, 1/100 optical stabilization on

I love these expressions. They make you want to know what they are talking about.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/3.2, 1/100 optical stabilization on

I love shooting tight and isolating subjects but remember, when I write a blog like this, I teach something. The 70-200mm photos are just part of the coverage; I have plenty of wide-angle lens shots to help capture the context.

I think every photographer would benefit from a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lens in their bag. I love my Sigma 70-200mm.

Shallow depth-of-field @ ƒ/9 can give great Bokeh

Nikon D3S, 28-300mm, 100mm ISO 200, ƒ/9, 1/200

When you first think of ƒ/9 you might think of the photo above where you can see from the lady to the sign behind her that most of photo is in focus, but that the far background of the building is out of focus.

I have written on this topic before in a different way and even created a video on it. Here is that link.

This is a little different perspective on the topic using the new Fujifilm X-E2.

Nikon D3S, 28-300mm, 300mm ISO 200, ƒ/9, 1/125

Now in this photo here you might not realize it too is shot at ƒ/9.  Two things helps with the silky Bokeh in the background. First, I am now shooting at 30mm verses 100mm at ƒ/9 and second the background is far enough in the background that it is out of focus.  It is about 100 ft from here.

Nikon D3S, 28-300mm, 150mm ISO 200, ƒ/9, 1/200

In this photo she is standing not too far from where she was in the first photo. However the shallow depth-of-field is helped by the distance from the building, the 150mm focal length.  

Same photo from above but just cropped

Now when you enlarge the photo you will see the eye closest to the camera is tact sharp. But the next eye is ever so slightly soft, but by her hair by her ear we are out of focus.  Things that affect the Bokeh of the background in photos

  • ƒ-stop: The wider the aperture with everything else the same, then the depth-of-field becomes shallow
  • Distance to Subject: The closer you are to your subject the shallower the depth-of-field will be.
  • Subject distance to background: The greater this distance the more likely the smoother look of the Bokeh

Fujifilm X-E2 with Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4 using the Nikon G AFS lens to Fujifilm Fuji X-Pro1 X-E1 Adapter Aperture Control Ring to connect the Nikon lenses to the Fujifilm camera


All were shot on tripod at the very closest focusing distance that the lens would focus on the eyes at ƒ/1.4. The only thing I changed was the aperture and the camera adjusted the shutter speed to keep the exposure the same.

Approximately 100% view of the ƒ/1.4

You can increase your depth-of-field by just backing up from the subject and this will increase it for you. Conversely if you want a shallower depth-of-field get closer if the lens allow you.When you are super close you are not looking for BokehMacro photography you are actually needing a large aperture or the photo can look out of focus even when it is in focus.All these were shot with Fujifilm X-E2, Nikon 60mm ƒ/2.8 Micro 


Photographing People Tip: It is all about relationships

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 12,800, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

Today I was blessed by one of my daughter’s friends. She came up to me to tell me how good my photos were of the play my daughter was in the other night. I think she thought I wasn’t taking her compliment seriously enough and so she went on to tell me how nice the photos were.

I seldom ever hear how nice my photos are any more. People thank me for taking photos and yes I occasionally hear a comment, but for the most part once you establish yourself as a professional then people just expect a quality image.

The young lady continued to tell me how impressed she was with my logo as well.  I had to tell her I was lucky to have a good friend design that for me. My daughter’s friend was very kind and gave me a blessing.

The fly on the wall

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 5,600, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

Fly-on-the-wall is a style of documentary-making used in filmmaking and television production. The name derived from the idea that events are seen candidly, as a fly on a wall might see them. In the purest form of fly-on-the-wall documentary-making, the camera crew works as unobtrusively as possible. –Wikipedia 

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 10,000, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

If you are able to put people at ease then they will allow you to be present as if you were not there. There is a trust that must be established to pull this style of photography off.

I think this is one of the most powerful forms of photography. The best photojournalists do this every time they pick up the camera.

The fly in the room

I think the “fly on the wall” isn’t the best description, because this just means you are in the room. More like ease dropping on the conversation. The photos that are most compelling require good composition and lighting on top of the decisive moment to capture the essence of the subject and message.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 12,800, ƒ/8, 1/200

I like to see myself moving around the room like a fly. Have you ever tried to get rid of a fly and they seem to disappear in the room only to notice them right in front of you at times. While I do not want to equate what I am doing as being a pest, I do want you to notice how the fly is able to get very close and quickly get out of the way.

The obstacle course

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 4,000, ƒ/5.6, 1/250 [Combating the teleprompter and microphone]

Most every place I am photographing is like working an obstacle course. To get a good line of sight to a subject requires me to move a great deal at times.

Microphones on podiums often are right in front of the speaker’s face. You are moving side to side and even behind the speaker to find an angle to not just get rid of the microphone, but sometimes teleprompters and things like flower arrangements.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 11,400, ƒ/5.6, 1/250 [Moved to the side to eliminate the problem with the teleprompter and microphone.]

Those are just the things between the camera and subject and then you have to contend with a background. Often you are trying to move to keep things from growing out the head of the speaker or looking like they are being impaled by something.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/5.6, 1/250 [Found another spot to get a clean shot of the speaker]
Nikon D4, 28-300mm. ISO 12,800, ƒ/5.6, 1/250 [I am using the plants around the stage as a way to frame the subject.]

Off the stage and informal

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 12,800, ƒ/10, 1/60 [I put the camera up as high as I could hold it and shot down to give the birds-eye-view of the reception. I also waited for a moment when the people in the foreground were showing their enjoyment of the moment. Also I wanted your eye to go from the front to the back, so I chose to increase the depth-of-field by using ƒ/10.]

My favorite shots at meetings are never from the stage but the small conversations at receptions or just in the halls outside the meetings. This is where you see relationships.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 11,400, ƒ/3.5, 1/200 [I came in close to show this moment and used a shallow depth-of-field to keep the focus on the foreground of the two people.]

I think we all so want of a good relationship in our life that we enjoy seeing other relationships as well. We hope to learn something from them and appreciate them. I believe the reason we are here on this earth is for relationship and that our DNA makeup has us pursuing this every day of our lives.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 12,800, ƒ/8, 1/250 [Here I wanted to show the ladies listening to their friend and so I used ƒ/8 for a little more depth-of-field.]

Capturing people in relationships of all kinds I believe is the core value of the human race. We celebrate strong relationships through marriages and parties. We punish those who destroy relationships that steal or even kill another. However, even in these situations we can be brought to tears when relationships are restored.

Nikon D4, 85mm, ISO 1,100, ƒ/1.4, 1/250 [Here I wanted to isolate the subject so I used the 85mm @ ƒ/1.4 for a shallow depth-of-field.]

Showing how people are engaged is one way to capture those relationships. Another thing is to show how interesting a person is and this can be done by isolating the subject.  It is the mixing of all these different lenses, ƒ-stops and compositions that help me bring more impact to the moment. While I have chosen sometimes to go wide and other times to isolate, notice how even with their differences of nuance they still have you focused on a relationship.

The reason I think photography is so powerful as compared to words—it has the power to capture the essence in relationships.

My tip to you is to hire photographers who value relationships and to take the time when we photograph people to honor the importance of this by picking the right moments using composition and lighting to celebrate humanity.

I don’t want to be a fly on the wall—I want a relationship with those in the photo. My goal is to develop friendships for myself and to connect others to those people.

Child Prodigy Photographer: Still Waiting

By definition a Child Prodigy is:

A child prodigy is someone who, at an early age, develops one or more skills at a level far beyond the norm for their age.[1] A prodigy has to be a child, or at least younger than 18 years, who is performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a very demanding field of endeavour.

Here is a formal list of child prodigies and as you can see there are no photographers. This past week I had some time to hang out with Dave Black. It was Dave that made this observation about there are no child prodigies in photography.

Why no prodigies?

Photography has been around now for two hundred years and you would think that if it were possible that we would have a prodigy by now.

While I do not know exactly why there are none I do have my hypothesis. Why even care if there are any prodigies? I believe the answer is that this is a learned field and that even if you have an artistic eye you still need to have some training to succeed.

No Degree Required

Photography does not require a degree or certification to practice. If you own a camera you can hang your shingle out as a professional photographer.

Many professionals have tried to create certificate programs to help them in their business. It doesn’t work, because of one simple problem. People will look at your work and not your degree to hire you.

We look no further back in history than to 2012 to see what it takes to be a successful photographer. Why only last year? Well in many articles written about photography, many are saying that due to the camera phone that more photos are made than at any other time in history and that 2012 was the biggest of all time.

While many photos were made last year only some are rememberable. The great photos were not just made because the camera was set on “P” mode [professional mode].  Hopefully, you know I am joking. They are great because the photographer had a vision and knew how to manipulate the controls and/or light to capture what they were wanting.

Abstract Thought Required

“The formal operational stage begins at approximately age twelve [adolescence] and lasts into adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts. Skills such as logical thought, deductive reasoning, and systematic planning also emerge during this stage.

While children tend to think very concretely and specifically in earlier stages, the ability to think about abstract concepts emerges during the formal operational stage. Instead of relying solely on previous experiences, children begin to consider possible outcomes and consequences of actions. This type of thinking is important in long-term planning.

In earlier stages, children used trial-and-error to solve problems. During the formal operational stage, the ability to systematically solve a problem in a logical and methodical way emerges. Children at the formal operational stage of cognitive development are often able to quickly plan an organized approach to solving a problem.”

Formal Operational Stage of Cognitive Development
By Kendra Cherry, Guide
While today’s cameras allow you to point and shoot and come away with an image even for someone blessed with a visual eye needs to know how to manipulate the controls to give them an image that is superior.
Painters can include and exclude from the canvas much easier than a photographer can be selective with a camera. But both the painter and photographer must have a vision of what they are creating for the image to have impact.
Depth-of-field is a tool the photographer learns to use over time. How much will be in focus in front and behind the subject. There are varying degrees to which the photographer decides what is in focus and helps to create more impact by using this creative tool
Motion is either frozen or blurred in photography. While varying the shutter speed controls this the photographer can even choose to add motion to the camera during the exposure to keep a subject sharp and while at the same time blur the rest of the photograph.
Light is the greatest influence in photography. The absence of light alone means there is no photograph to be created. How the photographer chooses to use light helps improve the photograph. Sometimes they may choose to use the available light, light everything or only light part of the photo. They can also choose to vary the light values through out the photograph as well.  
Learning these technical tools and how to use them in conjunction with one another to create an artistic image requires abstract thought. 
Many photographers are masterful technicians who learn to use the aperture, shutter speed and light to give them different affects. 
Photographers who specialize photographing people must also master body language. Body language is everything from the very obvious smile down to the subtle pinky finger being raised while drinking tea.  To tell stories with people in the photos, the photographer must master the art of body language and all the technical skills of the camera to help make photos that impact the audience.
Photography is an acquired skill
The good news from all this is that even if someone feels like they do not have an artistic eye they can over time develop the skills to become an outstanding photographer. Those who do have an artistic eye must also study and learn how to master the camera and light to make photos or they will never be able to make photos—the camera will do it instead.
Great Visual Storytellers master these skills:
  1. Depth-of-field—You need to understand how the focal length of a lens and the lens opening in combination affect a photograph. After you understand how this works you need to then be able to look at a scene you want to photograph and consciously make a decision as to what you want in focus. 
  2. Shutter Speed—Not only does shutter speed help you freeze objects and blur parts of a photograph it can determine if you have color shifts in a photograph. You need to master how this impacts the photograph so you can choose how this tool with affect the photograph.
  3. Light—Seeing light and being able to capture the natural settings is a must. Once you have mastered capturing light as it is naturally, then you can manipulate it to help situations look more natural. You can add light to a scene to improve it. You can add light to overpower the natural light and make it what you want it to be. 
  4. Composition—Studying the masters in art will help you to know how to use compositional techniques to lead the viewer where you want in a photograph.
  5. Body Language—For the people photographer you need to understand what your subjects are communicating so you can control the message. You are able to anticipate the moment and capture the ones which help the message you want to communicate become clear and concise.
  6. Combining the techniques—After truly mastering each of these skills will you then be able to see how they are used in combination to create what you want, just like the painter who decides what will go onto the canvas.

While there are no prodigies, there are great photographers. Great photographers are self made through persistence. You can be a great photographer. You need only to master the skills and most importantly have a vision for what you want to appear on your canvas.

Nikkor 28-300mm ƒ/3.5 – 5.6 can replace the Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.4

Nikon D4, 28-300mm (300), ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/25 – Off-camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900. The Flash is on the PocketWizard TT5 and is triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the flash output. Flash is -2 EV, and the Camera is -1 EV.


Bokeh originated from the Japanese word [bokeh], which means blur. Today, many photographers are buying the ƒ/1.4 lenses to get that silky smooth background for when you shoot the lens wide open.

If the reason I am reaching for a lens is based on getting a silky, smooth, out-of-focus background, I might be wasting my time. You see, so much of what I shoot is with the AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, and to take the lens off to put on my AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D IF I could be just creating an unnecessary step.

If you compare the lenses at the same aperture and focal length, then it would make more sense to grab the 85mm ƒ/1.4. As you can see in the photo below shot on the 85mm @ ƒ//5.6, the background isn’t all that silky Bokeh.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/50 – Off-camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900. The Flash is on the PocketWizard TT5 and is triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the flash output. Flash is -2 EV, and the Camera is -1 EV.
Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/2, 1/50 – Off-camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900. The Flash is on the PocketWizard TT5 and is triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the flash output. Flash is -2 EV, and the Camera is -1 EV.

Shooting, however, at ƒ/2, you are seeing a significant difference on the 85mm as compared to itself. But now compare it to the first photo on this blog shot with the 28-300mm when the lens is zoomed in to 300mm and shot wide open at ƒ/5.6. I am having a tough time seeing any difference in the Bokeh.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/50 – Off-camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900. The Flash iFlashthe PocketWizard TT5 is triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the flash output. Flash is -2 EV, and the Camera is -1 EV.

When shooting at ƒ/1.4 with the 85mm, the depth-of-field is slightly more shallow than the 300mm @ ƒ/5.6.

This is where you might just be scratching your head, as I was after doing this little test.

The trick to getting that silky smooth background has as much to do with how close you are to the subject as the ƒ-stop.

I would argue that if you want that shallow depth of field with a creamy Bokeh, you can do it with the 28-300mm ƒ/5.6 and not have to buy another lens to carry around.

There are other reasons you might want an 85mm ƒ//1.4 in your bag–stay tuned in for that post later.

Photo Tips For Camp Photographers

When you drive into the WinShape Camp at Berry College in Rome, GA, you will be greeted by many deer. I understand the ratio of deers to students is 8:1.

I spent the day with WinShape summer camp photographers, training them to get better photographs.

Here are some camera settings that we all made on the cameras.

ISO settings on the camera
  • Quality of Image. We set the camera to the most extensive JPEG file at the highest quality. (The camp did not provide the software for all the computers to use RAW)
  • Auto ISO. We all set our cameras to Auto ISO and our lowest ISO on the camera default preferences of 50 to 200 ISO. We then set the highest ISO on what the camera is realistically capable of shooting. For most of the cameras, this was between ISO 1600 and 6400. Both Canon and Nikon also allow you to set your highest shutter speed. We put this according to the situation.
  • Shutter speeds (Using auto ISO): The camera will raise the ISO to get the optimum shutter speed and drop it once it hits the maximum ISO.
    • If shooting under fluorescent or sodium vapor lights, we recommended shooting at 1/100 shutter speed unless they had to shoot sports.
    • For shooting sports, we recommended setting a 1/2000 shutter speed
    • For general shooting, we recommended a 1/250 shutter speed
  • White Balance
    • We recommended getting a custom White Balance as the primary choice
    • Our second choice was to use a preset like Fluorescent, Daylight, or tungsten, for example
    • When we were changing lighting that affects white balance often, we recommended using Auto White Balance
  • Aperture
    • For general shooting, we recommended not shooting wide open but using f/4 or f/5.6 so that your subject is in focus.
    • When your subject can cooperate more with you, we recommend shooting wide apertures if you choose for artistic reasons. This is when f/1.4 is more appropriate. We have found the trend of too many shooters buying 50mm f/1.4 lenses shooting wide open all the time and having very few in-focus photos due to the shallow depth of field.
  • Inside Flash or when dark. Use a higher ISO to help open up the background. Here is an earlier blog post on how using the higher ISO helps open the background up.
  • Flash outside in daylight. When it is the middle of the day, and the sun is straight up, you will most likely get dark circles around the eyes. I call this the raccoon eye look. If you are less than 10 feet from the subject, you can use your built-in Flash or hot shoe flash to fill those shadows. In addition to filling in the shadows, you will get a nice catch light in the eyes. You can also use the Flash when you backlight a subject. (I wrote about this in an earlier blog post here)  This helps them from looking directly into the sun and squinting. Since the shadow side of the face is now towards the camera, a flash can help balance the light.
Camp staff photographers are discussing ideas they will do with the campers in a couple of weeks. [NIKON D4, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 2000, 1/100, ƒ/5, (35mm = 28)]

Some camp photographers are photography students or recent graduates of photography programs, but not all are photography majors. Due to the range of talent, we showed them settings that would help them get more photos in focus that are correctly exposed and have good skin tones.

The staff of one of the boy’s camps shows the camp cheer they will teach the campers. [NIKON D4, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 200, 1/400, ƒ/5.3, (35mm = 112)]

After practicing with these settings, we covered the three composition stages. I will refer you to my earlier blog about what we covered.

The last thing we did during our time was go out and practice shooting, looking for photos that tell a story. Then, we reviewed everyone’s best five pictures for our last hour together.

Staff play some games with each other after dinner. [NIKON D4, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 200, 1/500, ƒ/5.3, (35mm = 112)]

Call me if you would like me to come to your organization and do this workshop. I am doing the workshop for the Boy Scout troop that meets at my church in a few weeks. We meet for class and then complete four weeks after they shoot a photo story.

The cool thing about WinShape camps is the emphasis on relationships. As you can see, the staff enjoy each other, which spills over to the campers. [NIKON D4, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 4500, 1/500, ƒ/5, (35mm = 28)]

Shallow Depth-of-Field

I thought I would answer a friend’s question I received the other day.

Hey Stanley,
I have a quick question for you. I bought a Canon ƒ/1.4 50mm prime lens last year and I love it. My only issue is that when set to automatic the depth-of-field can be so narrow that a nose is in focus and an eye is out of focus. I’m assuming that the aperture is just too open. Is there a rule of thumb when taking portrait-type shots as a minimal (or max – not sure which is which) aperture? Maybe I just need to stay on aperture priority and ƒ/1.8, or something. What’s your recommendation?

One of the most popular lenses today is the 50mm ƒ/1.4. The reason for the popularity is the silky smooth shallow depth-of-field obtained when shooting at ƒ/1.4. You will see a lot of wedding photographers using these not only to get that look but also because you can use it to take photos when flash is not allowed—like during the ceremony.  

Nikon 60mm ƒ/5.6

 When you are inside and cannot use flash, the rooms are so dark you need a lens with an aperture of ƒ/1.4 or ƒ/2 to get photos. The problem is that you can only go so slowly with your shutter speed before the pictures are blurry due to movement. If you were photographing objects and not people, you could take a photo with a shutter speed of 1 second, but with people, you need to be shooting at least at 1/30 of a second or faster to avoid movement issues, which will give you blurred images. 

Using the lens for portraits wide open at ƒ/1.4 and filling the frame with someone’s face will very quickly give you the results you just described.  

There are a couple of things that affect depth of field. 

  1. The ƒ-stop/aperture. As you already know, the lower the number, the less depth-of-field you have.  
  2. Distance to subject. The closer you get to a subject, the shallower the depth of field when the ƒ-stop stays the same. In macro photography, for example, when you get as close as a 1:1 ratio, you often have to be at a ƒ -stop at a minimum of ƒ /11 to appear in focus. When I do macro photography, the aperture is often at ƒ /45 and still seems like a shallow depth-of-field.   
Microneedles give painless shots on December 3/10, 2003 The smaller the hypodermic needle, the less it hurts when it pierces the skin. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed ways to manufacture solid and hollow metal, silicon, plastic, and glass microneedles that range in size from one millimeter to one-thousandth of a millimeter. [Nikon 60mm ƒ/45]

This photo here (figure 3) is at ƒ/45. Again, see how the eye is out of focus. You would think at ƒ/45 everything would be tack sharp, but it isn’t.

My suggestion is the closer you get, you will need to increase the ƒ/stop to keep the facial features of the eyes, nose, and mouth in focus. I don’t mind the ears out of focus.  I occasionally will shoot with my 85mm ƒ/1.4 wide open and get a person’s eye in focus, but the number of photos you need to take to get a good picture can increase due to them or you moving. So I usually shoot between ƒ/4 and ƒ/5.6 for headshots to keep most things focused. 

When doing group photographs, people are often two or three deep in the photo. In these situations, you need to shoot at ƒ/8 or greater aperture, or the people on the front or back will not be sharp.  

If you own a shallow depth-of-field lens like ƒ/1.4, remember, if you want that silky smooth out-of-focus look behind the subject, you need to be sure what you want in focus is in focus. You can move the focus point around on many new cameras in your viewfinder. Shifting the focus point will help you maintain your focus and composition. Focusing in the center of the frame and then recomposing the photo will often give you poor results since the tolerances are so critical. 

Practice making portraits at ƒ/1.4, then do some at ƒ/4, and then some at ƒ/5.6. Get comfortable with the look of each aperture, and when you want a specific look, you will feel confident that you can deliver because you have practiced.

Got a question about photography you would like to see me write about, send me a note and let me know at [email protected].