Same model but different looks

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/160

I am not going to comment too much on today’s blog of photos.

These are all of the same young lady and all shot in a couple of hours. We changed the outfits, makeup, and lighting.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/160

Notice how much of a different personality comes through by changing backgrounds and lighting.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/160

Bangs vs. No Bangs changes her face.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/160

I think without the bangs makes her face look narrower than with the bangs. I think changing the colors she is wearing helps change the mood.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/80

All I did here to change the setup was not use the strobes inside the softbox, but used the modeling lights. I custom white balanced using the ExpoDisc. I also opened up the ƒ-stop to ƒ/1.4 to give that really shallow depth-of-field which created a silky smooth transition from front to back in the photo.

When she put her hair in a ponytail she became yet another personality.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 400, ƒ/1.4, 1/125

Shooting slightly down at her and then shooting more eye level also changes the mood she creates for the viewer.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 400, ƒ/1.4, 1/125

Backing up with the Nikon 85mm and showing her shoulders and more of her hair let a little more body language into the portrait.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 400, ƒ/1.4, 1/125

Really taking her sultry look further was to play it up with outfit and lighting.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/200

Using a grid light on her face rather than the softbox created a harsher look and then adding red to the background helped me accentuate the red lipstick. I also brought the aperture back up to make her razor sharp from front to back.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 800, ƒ/1.4, 1/125

Same outfit, lipstick and by changing the background and using the softboxes without flash I was able to soften up the exact same person and outfit.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 800, ƒ/1.4, 1/125

Lesson from all these photos is that you can do a lot if you have different outfits and mix up your lighting and even lens choice.

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 Bokeh
Macro 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 








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 being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.


Bokeh originated in the Japanese word [boke], which means blur. Today many photographers are going out and 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 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 being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 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 being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.

Shooting however at ƒ/2 you are seeing a major 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 really hard 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 is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.

When shooting at ƒ/1.4 with the 85mm the depth-of-field is tad bit 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 really 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 are wanting 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.

Depth of Field Preview – A tool underused by many photographers

One of the creative controls you have on the camera is aperture. We also refer to this as the f/stop.

As you change this from f/1.4 to f/16 the things become more in focus in front of the focus point and behind it. We call this area the “Depth-of-Field.” You may have heard photographer’s say they like a shallow Depth-of-Field. This means very little is in focus.

When looking through the viewfinder of a DSLR you are seeing the scene at the widest f/stop. So if you have a f/1.4 lens on the camera you are seeing the scene at f/1.4 even if you have chosen to record the scene at f/16.

If you want to see what it looks like at f/16 before you take the photo then you can depress the Depth-of-Field Preview Button (See photo above) to see the effect. In the days of film this was so important because until you developed the film you couldn’t see your results, unless you used the button.

Today you can always take the photo and evaluate it on the LCD and then make changes to your f/stop to get the effect you are looking for.

If you want to include two points in the photo at different depths and be sure they are sharp, but the background and foreground in the photo are out of focus you might need to have the focus point set in between those points. A good example is a group photo with two rows of people.  You want the front and back row in focus.

It would be quite easy to just crank the f/stop up to f/22, but then everything is in focus.  If you use manual focus and adjust the f/stop while depressing the Depth-of-Field Preview Button you can adjust until just the two rows of people are in focus and the sharpness falls off just in front and behind them.

Another way to see this today is on cameras that have ‘Live View” like the Nikon D3S. I have recorded what you can see doing this exercise in the video. You don’t have to have your camera hooked up to a computer to use this function. I did this so I could record what you would see on the screen and also the camera controls so you can see them all in action.

The white arrow points to the bishop which is the focus point in the video. At f/40 the front and rear focus points are in blue as to where the photo is still sharp. You will notice this is about 1/3 in front of the focus point and 2/3 behind the focus point.

Click on the video to see the Depth-of-Field in action on the camera, great way to see how it affects the sharpness in a photo before clicking the shutter.

Have you been using the Depth-of-Field creatively when you shoot?  Do you always shoot wide open at f/1.4 or always at f/8? How often are you using this creative tool to give you different results in sharpness in your photos?

Remember that the less you use these tools and modify them the more you have a simple box camera or closer to what your camera phone gives you. Use these controls to get something better with your DSLR

Shallow Depth-of-Field

Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4

For this e.Newsletter I thought I would answer a question I received the other day from a friend.

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 being bought 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 to not only get that look, but also used because you can use it to make photos when flash is not allowed—like during the ceremony.

Nikon 60mm ƒ/5.6

Often when you are inside and you 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 only so slow with your shutter speed before the photos are blurry due to movement. If you were photographing objects and not people then 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 second or faster to avoid movement issues, which will give you, blurred images.

When 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 that you just described.
There are a couple 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 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 quite often at ƒ /45 and it still appears like a shallow depth-of-field.
Mark Prausnitz, a chemical engineering professor from the Georgia Institute of Technologyshows the size of the experimental microneedle, with 400 tiny spikes. [Nikon 60mm ƒ/45]

This photo here (figure 3) is at ƒ/45. 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 personally don’t mind the ears out of focus.
I occasionally will shoot with my 85mm ƒ/1.4 wide open and just get a persons eye in focus, but the number of photos you need to take to get an acceptable photo can increase due to them or you moving. I usually shoot between ƒ/4 and ƒ/5.6 for headshots to keep most things in focus.

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

If you own a shallow depth-of-field lens like ƒ/1.4 just 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. On many of the new cameras you can move the focus point around in your viewfinder. This 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 by making portraits at ƒ/1.4, and 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 certain 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

The Psychology of the Telephoto Lens

Nikon D3S, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/125, & 300mm using a Alienbees 1600 Flash for fill flash.

“What I need is a telephoto lens.” We’ve all said this. It doesn’t take long to discover we can’t get close enough to our subjects with a “normal” lens.

If you have kids in sports or the performing arts or if your interest is photographing birds or wild animals either rules or common sense keep our subjects just too far away for interesting photos without a long lens.

Professional photographers reach for their telephoto lenses for the same reason – to fill the frame with the subject.

If they can, the professional photographer may use their longer lenses to tie a subject to its soundings. In an earlier blog post (here) I talked about using wide-angle lenses to show a person in their environment. This can still be accomplished with the use of remote control cameras put in place prior to an event. A remotely controlled camera taking pictures up close of a lion feeding on a carcass beats than risking your life.


One of the most creative tools a photographer has is controlling depth-of-field. Depth-of-field is simply the area in focus in front of and behind the point focused of focus. Telephoto lenses have shallow depth-of-field as compared to wide-angle lenses. With either lens the smaller the f-stop (f/16 vs. f/8) the deeper the depth-of-field. Of course, the reverse is true. With either type of lens the depth-of-field is shallower the more open the f-number (f/4 vs. f/5.6).

Nikon D3S, ISO 200, f/1.4, 1/1600, & 85mm using a Nikon SB900 off camera triggered by Nikon SU800 for fill flash.
This is a crop of the above photograph.  You can see the tip of the nose and just behind the eyes are out of focus.  This is what we call a shallow depth of field.

By controlling (limiting) the depth-of-field you can force the viewer ‘s attention to only what you want them to see. Take a picture of a football receiver catching the ball. If everything was sharp (large depth-of-field) it would be difficult to distinguish the main subject from everything. However, if the same picture were made using a telephoto lens with a shallow depth-of-field The player and the ball would “pop.”  You would have isolated the player and the ball from the rest of the picture, thus calling attention to what you want the viewer to see.

Portrait photographers use medium telephoto lenses to call attention to the face and not the background both in indoor and outdoor portraits.

When you increase the depth-of-field with a telephoto lens, more in focus from front to back of the photo, it will make things appear close together from foreground to the background. The wide-angle lens makes things appear farther apart. Objects in a photograph made with a telephoto lens make those objects appear closer together than in “real life.” The longer (more powerful) the lens the closer together they will appear as well as closer to you. It’s a powerful tool. You can use it to make all kinds of statements.


Nikon D2X, ISO 200, f/4, 1/1000, & 840mm

A sports photographer may use this technique to show a baseball pitcher in his windup; the scoreboard in the background shows a full count and the bottom of the 9th; You can see, again from the score board brought up close behind the pitcher that it is a no-hitter. Now that’s a story telling and powerful photograph all because of the creative use of telephoto lenses and selective focus.

If the photographer had used a shallow depth-of-field you couldn’t read the scoreboard or if a wide-angle lens was used the scoreboard would have been too far away to read.

Nikon D2X, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/2500, & 840mm

In portrait photography a medium telephoto lens shows faces in a normal perspective as compared to the distortion a wide-angle lens. A moderate telephoto lens of say 80mm to 100mm lens on a 35mm camera will put you about five to seven feet from the subject for a head and shoulder’s photograph.


When photographing wildlife the rule of thumb is to use a minimum of 300 mm lens to fill the frame. You don’t want to be five to seven feet from wildlife. That’s why wildlife photographers use 400mm, 500mm, 600mm or even as long as 800mm lenses.

When you begin to shop for a telephoto lens you’ll find many choices for the same focal length lens. Nikon makes lenses that cost a few hundred dollars on to up to $25,000. The ƒ-stop (aperture) is a big factor in the cost. The lower the number (faster the lens) the more expensive and heavier the lens. 

Fast Lens

There are two advantages to the faster lenses. First of all the faster lenses, like ƒ/2.8, allow taking photos in less light. This is important for the wildlife photographer in the woods at dawn or dusk when the animals are out. 

Nikon D2X, ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/1000, & 400mm

The second advantage of the faster lenses – they allow for more shallow depth-of-field.

It is possible to rent these longer, faster lenses from some rental houses in major cities instead of buying them.

Before mounting a lens on your camera ask yourself, “What do I want to say with this picture? What effect will help me to communicate this message to my audience?

What lens will it be?

When you reach for a telephoto lens, it may be for more than just to make the subject appear closer. Just as wide-angle lenses not only include more stuff, any lens is a tool that can be used to make your point.