The Limits of Shallow Depth of a Field Portrait

Michaela, Precision Camera Portrait - Austin, Texas

Michaela, Precision Camera Portrait – Austin, Texas

The simple rule of thumb in portraits is to make sure the eyes are in focus. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Like any rule, I’m sure there are exceptions. And, with my example from yesterday, one could argue a general softness across the portrait may create an artistic and moody effect.

Getting the eyes in sharp focus may sound easy, but it’s not always. Especially if you shoot with a wide aperture up close. Today’s is an example where everything went right, which wasn’t easy with the hardware I used. I was adapting a Canon 85mm f1.8 lens on my slow-focusing Fuji GFX 50R.

Michaela’s eyes are sharp, but even her eyelashes and the rest of her face have softened. As you get to the hair and clothing, they further blur away. I don’t necessarily recommend shooting portraits in this way. However, I do enjoy attempting these. It’s the kind of odd and challenging thing enthusiasts like to do with their gear.

There are a couple of ways to increase the hit rate with portraits, even with gear limitations. You can use a smaller aperture, which increased the depth of field. In today’s portrait, I pull back slightly, using f2.5 instead of f1.8. That probably gave me a few extra millimeters of play. You can also step back from the subject so that critical eye focus becomes easier. That’s what I did in my first portrait from a couple of days ago. I shot that one at f1.8 but was far enough away that I just had to make sure the face was in focus.

Modern technology is making these shallow depth of field portraits easier. The newest cameras with the fastest processors have eye detection and tracking that works reasonably well. With my Fuji GFX 50R, the eye-tracking just isn’t quick and accurate enough. However, I noticed the newest Fuji GFX 100S is. Am I ready to upgrade? No. But the GFX 100S is a fun camera to use.

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