Learning to use manual settings in your camera will provide you with the ability to create the beautiful exposures you desire. The exposure in your camera is determined by several different settings. Exposure refers to the lightness or darkness of the image. The settings are: 1) the aperture, the lens opening, which lets in light and controls the depth of field; 2) the shutter speed, the speed by which the lens lets in light, and 3) the ISO, which controls the camera’s sensitivity to light. The right combination of these three settings will give you a nearly perfect exposure and give you the effect you want for your image.
When your job is to flatter your portrait subjects, you need as many tools in your photographic toolbox as possible so you are prepared for any features, and any ‘flaws’.
I think it is important to mention that I am not judging people’s appearance. As a fashion photographer, I often get to photograph what society considers “ideal” forms of beauty. What I notice time and time again, however, is that certain models’ “flaws” are what make them unique and memorable. In fact, there are several supermodels with so-called flaws like gapped-teeth, unusual noses, and more.
What matters is not what society says is ‘perfect’ but instead how your subjects perceives themselves. You want them to feel confident, attractive and proud of the images you provide them. You want to help them reduce anything they are self-conscious about and help their expression glow in their images.
Prime lenses are designed for exceptional imaging at a single focal length. Unlike zoom lenses that easily span a given focal range and variable field of view with a twist of the zoom ring, the field of view and focal length remains constant. If you want to take in less of the surroundings with a given prime lens, you’ve got to physically move closer, and to take in more of the scene, you’ve got to back up. But of course, as you move, the angle of view remains the same all the while.
A year ago I purchased a 24 megapixel Sony NEX-7 to use as a backup camera during a trip to Belgium, Germany and France. I carried Sigma’s 19mm and 30mm f/2.8 prime lenses. The quality of the photographs amazed me every evening when I downloaded the day’s take. Those results made me carry my “big boy” Canon 5D Mark 2 less than I’d originally planned. The professional quality coupled with it’s touristy—amateur look, I was never questioned in museums, cathedrals, gardens or when I was doing street shooting.
More and more I find my self shooting one of three Sigma prime focal length lenses in the studio… the 50mm f/1.4, the 85mm f/1.4 and the 150mm f/2.8 OS macro. I noticed that zooms were making me a bit lazy. Hey! It’s a lot easier to twist a zoom ring that it is to move a 300 pound studio stand even if it is on wheels. So why do I do it? A couple of reasons. Perspective, perspective, perspective. I shoot full frame Canon cameras. Their normal focal length is almost 50mm. That’s about the same angle of view as we see with our eyes. I use the 50 mainly for full length photographs.