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Lenses for Portrait Photography

Lens recommendations for great Portrait photography

Canon 5D camera and Canon 85mm f1.2 L series lens. Exposure Details: 1/2000 second @ f1.2 ISO 100.

It’s a simple enough recipe to make a great portrait, at least from a technical point of view. The ability to approach and successfully interact with the subject is also important, as is an understanding of the application of light and a good sense of design. We’ll keep today’s post to a few tips on technique.

Critical focusing on the subject’s eye (the one closest to the camera) and a shallow Depth of Field (DOF) will allow the subject to stand out from their surroundings and ensure they remain the primary point of interest within the frame. A wide aperture, such as f4 or wider (e.g. f2.8, f2 or f1.4), will achieve this shallow depth of field, particularly when made from a distance of less than 2 meters.

A short telephoto lens is considered ideal for rendering the average subject’s face in a flattering manner. On a full frame camera, where the sensor is the same size as a 35mm negative or slide, a lens focal length of around 90 mm is, to my mind, the best option. The Canon 1Ds and 5D series are full frame, as is the Nikon D3 and D3X and D700 cameras.

On the more common Nikon or Canon cameras their somewhat smaller sensors would require a different lens to arrive at an effective focal length of around 90mm. In the case of the average Canon, with its 1.6x cropping factor, a 50mm lens will produce the appearance of an 80mm lens used on a full frame camera, at least as far as the illusion of magnification is concerned. The average Nikon camera has a cropping factor of 1.5X. In this case a 50mm lens will produce the illusion of a 75mm lens.

This is why “so called” standard 50mm lenses are now commonly used for portrait photography. They may not produce the equivalent of a 90mm lens, but they come close. They also have the added advantage of being significantly faster (e.g. f1.4 or f1.8) allowing for handheld photography in low light and significantly shallower depth of field than would be the case with the same focal length, used from the same distance, with a common zoom lens.

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Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography

Kids Hanging Around_Lhasa_Tibet

Canon F1 camera and Canon 50mm f1.8 lens with Agfachrome CT100 precisa film

Today’s image is from the archive. Made on my very first overseas trip in 1988, this image from Tibet features a near candid of 4 likely lads.

The original transparency (slide) has not had an easy life. Adversely affected by poor processing and then scanned with, by today’s standards, the quite average Kodak Photo CD workstation, it’s one image that I never could throw out. So, while far from portfolio standard, its fun to finally get it out into the world thanks to Photoshop.

In the process of preparing this image for posting I couldn’t help but wish I’d made more of my opportunity and photographed the boys individually. They’ve all got such interesting faces. To think they’d all be in there 30’s now. Assuming they’ve survived. I wonder how their faces have changed and if they’re still in contact with each other.

The circumstances surrounding the making of the original image are very vague now. The positioning of the boys with their fly’s down or belts out adds both a sense of humor and an important design element to the image which, I think, is why I made the shot in the first place.

Image processing was conducted in Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop CS5.

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Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography

Memories of Shangri-la_Part 2

Tiksey Gompa (Monastery), Ladakh, Inida. Canon New F1 camea and Canon 50mm f1.8 lens with Agfachrome 100 film

Today’s post is the second of two articles on my first overseas trip. It’s a reasonably long article accompanied by 4 photos so, even if you don’t feel like reading it all, please make sure you click on the More symbol and scroll down to see the rest of the photos.

It was early August 1988 and I had crossed the border from Tibet into Nepal. After a difficult trip to Kathmandu, where the upper end of the highway to the capital had been washed away in a flood, I hiked for an afternoon and much of the next day until the state of the road improved and I was able to catch a bus the rest of the way to Kathmandu.

Nepal wasn’t a major part of my travel plans. I had originally planned to travel overland from Hong Kong through China into Nepal, around the top of India and then through Pakistan into Kashgar in far northwest China. Striking out from Kashgar I would journey across the country, via the fabled Silk Road, to Beijing. From there I would travel back to Hong Kong from where my return flight home was booked. The ticket included a special return trip to the Olympic Games in Soul. I wasn’t that excited by the event, but the opportunity to travel to another country was certainly enticing.

Anyway the dodgy meal I’d mentioned in my last post, on my journey from the Chinese border to Kathmandu, continued to cause me problems. I suffered from terrible stomach problems (I’II spare you the details) and, as a consequence, saw very little of the country. After around 10 days I took a flight to Varanasi, the famous city on the holy Ganges River. It is here where Hindu’s hope to be cremated and have their ashes cast onto the river. I remember reading at the time that, as the very poor couldn’t afford the cost of the ceremonial cremation, deceased babies from poorer families were often singed, rather than cremated, and their bodies thrown into the river. In an attempt to deal with the problems this practice was causing a species of crocodile had been introduced into the river to finish off the bodies. This policy wasn’t popular with local fisherman whose boats were little more than large canoes. They were, naturally, sacred of the crocodiles.

After a few interesting days, including a sunset boat trip on the Ganges, where my latest travelling companion was hasselled by our boatman causing me, once again, to swing the tripod, I took a night train to New Delhi.

Well, that train trip was certainly an adventure. I was robbed in my sleep. The next morning I was without my passport, plane ticket home, travelers cheques and all my cash, albeit for about 80 cents. There was no doubt that the eight or so seudo professionals, who bordered the train in the middle of the night, were suspicious characters. A guard approached with a 303 rifle pointed straight at them but, with a “now look here my good man” approach they embarrassed him and caused him to back away and leave the carriage. Outside of an old B-grade movie I doubt that I’d ever seen someone outside of a hospital or medical clinic wandering around with a stepascope around their neck.

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Memories of Shangri-la_Part 1

Canon New F1 Camera and Canon 50mm f1.8 lens with Agfachrome 100 film

This image was made during my very first overseas trip. Some folks will recognize the Potala Palace, the former winter palace of the Dalai Lama, in the background. The year was 1988 and I was 26 years of age. Now, I need to take a moment to apologize for several things. Firstly, the hat I’m wearing in this picture. Akubra hats, made popular by golfer Greg Norman, were popular with some types of Aussie tourists during the 80’s. I was a bit young for that demographic, but was sold the hat by legendary Collingwood footballer Bob Rose, who my mum loves to say danced with her at the Collingwood town hall in 195o something. She even mentioned this fact to him at a function in the 90’s. Surprisingly he didn’t seem to remember. The second thing I need to apologize for are the photos themselves. I was an experienced wedding and portrait photographer with some extra experience as a newspaper photographer. But I had little experience in landscape and photojournalism. Finally, camera problems and poor processing ruined most of the images I made during the trip.

Nevertheless I believe there’s value in what I have to share so I’ve decided to outline some of the more memorable moments from the 3½ months trip over 2 separate posts. Part 2 will be posted a week from today, while part 1 can be summarized as follows:

Melbourne to Hong Kong

The day before the trip’s commencement I began to feel ill. I ended up flying with what seemed to be the worst flu I have ever had. My sinuses were blocked and the pain suffered was quite severe. None of the drugs in my substantial medical kit seemed appropriate to the task.

My trusty guidebook recommended backpacker accommodation in Kowloon for some unbelievable price, I think around US$3 or US$4 a night. To this day I’ve never met a local, either now or then, who believed that price. It was an absolute dive and most of the people who stayed there, one room for guys and one for gals, were pretty sleazy. They seemed to spend most of their time involved in a range of dodgy activities with the sole aim of extending their stay and, as a result, avoid returning home. Small time black market activities including currency exchange and off-loading hard to buy electrical goods in nearby countries seemed to be popular activities. The thing is they never seemed to do anything of value. They existed rather than lived.

The highlight of my stay was a trip on the Star Ferry where I met Stephanie, a local gal who a few years later moved to Vancouver because of her families concerns regarding Hong Kong’s re-unification with China. We became good friends and stayed in contact for many years afterwards.

Hong Kong to Shenzhen

I took the train into Shenzhen; one of the then newly established special economic zones. Upon arrival I looked for accommodation. With no luck I headed back to the railway station at dusk. The area seemed to be deserted. I was immediately surrounded and harassed by a bunch of thugs outside the railway station. Weighed down by a 20kg backpack on my back and holding a camera backpack and tripod I was forced to do a Lancelot and swing the tripod around. There were so many of them that, if they really wanted to hurt me, I’m sure they could have. Nevertheless, it took all my wits and a dash of post-colonial bravo, to get out of that one.

After about a week in Shenzhen, most of it spent at a brand new, soulless and extremely expensive hotel on the outskirts of town my sinus infection had eased enough for me to get back on the road. Though it is a condition that returns to this day I’ve found ways of managing it. Understanding what your body can cope with physically and being better able to manage stress can help protect your immune system from attack from such debilitating and prolonged illnesses.

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Pic of the Week_Village and Fields_Tibet

Canon New F1 camera and Canon 50mm f1.8 lens with Agfachrome 100 CT135-36 film

Canon New F1 camera and Canon 50mm f1.8 lens with Agfachrome 100 CT135-36 film

This is a very old image, one of the oldest I have on file. It features a village and cultivated fields backing onto step hillsides fringed by low overhanging clouds. I made the image during my first trip to Tibet in 1988. It was my first overseas adventure and involved great beauty, excitement, hardship, illness and, of course, love.

I made the image with a Canon New F1 camera and Canon 50mm f1.8 lens. Back then I was using Agfachrome CT100, a 35mm film relatively low in saturation by contemporary standards. Fortunately, despite an old and average quality scan, Adobe Camera RAW and Adobe Photoshop CS4 have enabled me to bring the image back to life.

I love the old, crumbled buildings, the verdant greens of the fields and the ominous mood associated with the low-lying clouds. It is a classic setting that provides a great memory of a life-changing experience.

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Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography

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