The Blog: See what
Sigma is saying.


What is SteamPunk portraiture? According to Wikipedia “SteamPunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.” It also refers to any of the artistic styles, clothing fashions or Victorian-era fiction and films from the mid-20th century. That, being said, there are apparently no boundaries as far as how to portray a SteamPunk person or fashion: it is a wildly creative form of CosPlay that lends itself perfectly to photo portraiture!

©Judy Host 2018 Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM Art | F/1.4, 1/800 sec, ISO 160 | Manual mode. Natural light. Hand held.

Photographically speaking, how fun to have that kind of freedom—and with that in mind, I have pretty much gone crazy with my styling of SteamPunk design imagery!

This doesn’t have to be a difficult thing to do. With very little costuming and a lot of imagination, you can take a simple outfit and with a pair of goggles, a SteamPunk inspired hat and/or a leather corset and you’re ready to go. The location or backdrop also can help to create an illusion of another world of sorts adding to the fantasy of it all as I have demonstrated with the image above.

I like to use a variety of lenses in my work. It all depends on what perspective I need for the job I’m doing. My first step to any project is to create a storyboard and pre-visualize how I want my images to look. It also depends on whether I’m inside or outside, how large a space I’m working in and whether or not I’m using natural light, which I do most of the time, or studio lighting.

What are the Best Lenses?

For this project, one of the lenses I used was Sigma’s new 105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art lens, nicknamed “The Bokeh Master” for that exact reason. An amazing lens that is so unbelievably sharp, even at F/1.4—I can shoot anywhere with enough depth of field to soften the background. I can also hand hold the lens even with the weight of it at 3.63 lbs. (1645g). For me that is a plus, to have this kind of power behind the lens and still have the flexibility to move around without needing a tripod. This lens assisted in my ability to create a very dreamy look to the images, almost otherworldly, a SteamPunk fantasy set in an idyllic garden.

©Judy Host 2018 Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM Art | F/1.4, 1/800 sec, ISO 160 | Manual mode. Natural light. Hand held.

This image of my SteamPunk subject demonstrates the beauty of shooting wide open at F/1.4 with this lens. You can see here all the different levels of sharpness and softness based on my distance to each element in the image. Andrea is perfectly sharp because her distance to the lens is even or the same. The grass and trees surrounding her are all at different distances, which are why some are out of focus, and some are sharp. This is a style choice when shooting wide open and for me, only adds to the presentation of the image. The viewer’s eye will always go to the sharpest part of the image. The softer elements act as a framework.

©Judy Host 2018 Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM Art | F/1.4, 1/2500 sec, ISO 125 | Manual mode. Natural light. Hand held.

Another great demonstration of this wide-open effect is this image of Andrea changing her position to my lens. Her waist, hands and skirt have moved away from me causing a “falloff” of sharpness while her face and hair, still very sharp, have remained in place putting the emphasis on her gorgeous face.

©Judy Host 2018 Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM Art | F/1.4, 1/800 sec, ISO 125 | Manual mode. Natural light. Hand held.

Still shooting at F/1.4 with the 105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art 018 lens, I moved Andrea underneath an awning using only available light to create a different kind of contrast in my image to showcase this beautiful subject. There is minor “fall off” of sharpness on her right eye even at about 6 feet from lens to face, a tribute to this wonderful lens.

©JudyHost 2018 Sigma 24-105mm F4 DG (OS)* HSM Art | F/4.0, 1/800 sec, ISO 160 | Focal length 51mm | Manual mode. Natural light. Enhanced in Photoshop. Created on location at the Goat Farm Art Center in Atlanta, GA.

As stated earlier, I do use a variety of lenses in my work. The 24-105mm F4.0 Art lens is a great all around lens when working in the field. Here, my subjects are both dancers making it very easy for me to have them pose in strange positions that really make no sense. It’s part of the fun of photographing SteamPunk and allowing yourself to “look outside the box for creativity.” This image was then enhanced in Photoshop using Adobe Paper Textures. Their clothing included a pair of black jeans on Keith along with a Halloween mask and Alexis who is wearing a long scarf which we have wrapped around her and a pair of boots. The location is an old paper mill and I’ve added textures to the image in Photoshop to add to the SteamPunk look.

©JudyHost 2018 Sigma 24-105mm F4 DG (OS) HSM Art | F/4.0, 1/125 sec, ISO 1600 | Focal length 68mm | Manual mode.

Not everything I create for Steampunk is photographed outside in natural light. This image of Nick was created at a convention in Nashville a few years ago using Westcott lighting and a Denny’s background. I was lucky enough to be working with a model that collected all sorts of SteamPunk inspired props and I happily used them to create the look I wanted. Nick is holding a plastic gun with an artificial arm brace and shoulder piece we fashioned to look like something out of Terminator. The lighting was angled to mimic the lighting on the background and once again using Sigma’s 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM | A lens to give me the perspective I needed to make it look like he was actually in that room.

I get a lot of questions about my usage of textures and graphics in Photoshop. I am without a doubt, a Photoshop junkie. I have been using textures and graphics in my work for many years and spent a lot of time on tour teaching them to my peers through a company called Graphic Authority. These days, I use Adobe Paper Textures, which is a free download from Adobe, and a process they have made extremely easy to use. The hard part is always trying to find the right combination of textures to enhance the image without making it all about the process.

©JudyHost 2018 Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM | F/2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO 320 | Focal length 70mm | Manual mode. Natural light. Enhanced in Photoshop.

This image above with Susan, my SteamPunk model, I wanted you to see how I actually captured the image and then enhanced it with the textures. It really can make a huge difference when you’re trying to create something very different. This image took three different textures all combined into the image using different opacities and masking out what I didn’t want. I also used Sigma’s APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens and used an open aperture to soften my background and help me to frame the image the way I wanted. This was created during a workshop and I was demonstrating how to make a difficult background work. This was outside of the ladies room at the Sonesta Resort in Hilton Head.

©Judy Host 2018 Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art | F/1.4, 1/320 sec, ISO 250 | Manual mode. Westcott lighting. Denny’s background.

This studio session with Jennie as my SteamPunk subject, was created using Sigma’s 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | A lens. The setup we had for this convention was quite small. Using the 50mm lens give me the extra space I needed to capture this image and make it feel like we were in a very large area. The wide-open aperture at F/1.4 softened the background even with studio lights and again helped to create the illusion of a larger space. The background and floor were provided by Denny’s and the lighting by Westcott.

©JudyHost 2018 Sigma 24-35mm F2 DG HSM Art | F/2.0, 1/80 sec, ISO 2000 | Focal length 35mm. Manual mode. Natural light.

The image above was captured with Sigma’s 24-35mm F2 DG HSM | A lens and is a good example of lens usage. I was able to capture an aerial view from upstairs giving me a wide-angle perspective. My subject, another SteamPunk fan, supplied the costume for these images.

©Judy Host 2018 Sigma 24-105mm F4 DG (OS)* HSM Art | F/4.0, 1/320 sec, ISO 160 | Focal length 68mm | Manual mode. Natural light. Enhanced in Photoshop. Created on location at the Goat Farm Art Center.

I placed my subjects against a graffiti painted wall out in the middle of an old abandoned paper mill. Still one of my favorite lenses, Sigma’s 24-105mm F4 DG (OS) HSM | A lens is always with me in the field and is usually my first choice for a straight on perspective. When I’m not looking to create a super wide-angle look or get close up images with a lot of compression, I will always reach for the 24-105mm lens. If I’m out on location and searching for the perfect angle to shoot, I find that I have a lot of options and can be very flexible with this lens.

©Judy Host 2018 Sigma 24-105mm F4 DG (OS)* HSM | A lens. F. 4.0 s1/250 ISO 320
Focal length 24mm Manual mode. Natural light. Created on location at Old Car City in Atlanta GA.

Costumes for anyone who is interested are found on Esty, Ebay and Amazon along with a variety of thrift stores and a lot of imagination.

Here are the lenses Judy used…the Sigma 105mm F/1.4 DG HSM ArtSigma 24-105mm F4DG OS HSM, Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OSM, Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art, and Sigma 24-35mm F2.0 DG HSM Art lenses!

3 comments so far

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  1. First off I saw this lens compared by Matt Granger side by side with the Nikkor 105 f/1.4 . They did look very similar in color representation. The background he chose was not the best for creating a cool oof. It didn’t allow for a good oof comparison at all. But I did notice the Sigmas oof was a little more pleasing to me and slightly softer in the transition areas. Also he shows a background where the Sigma showed more detail that was not seen at all in the Nikkor lens. At first I thought it was because the Sigma was not a true 105 and or true f/1.4. But then saw side by side comparisons of the pics. The Sigma seemed to have greater light transmission. Probably meaning it either opens up more or because of the bigger objective lens lets in more light . This is usually the fact.
    Now that I’ve seen these pics from this article I can see how beautiful the bokeh is from this lens. It is absolutely gorgeous and almost has a slight swirl to it in some instances.
    I am a bokeh whore as they say and I could definitely see me getting this lens in the near future. I just want to see a few more comparison and performance reviews first. I need the autofocus to be spot on . I struggle with this hugely on my Sigma 50mm f/1.4 art and will rarely ever use a lens I paid $900 for .

  2. Wow Judy – Fantastic article and beautiful images! I’m nowhere near a portrait photographer, but your use of the Steampunk subjects really sparked my interest. The tack sharpness of your subjects and that soft bokeh really make all these images outstanding. I was a bit surprised that you used zoom lenses on some of your shots. I’m particularly interested in adding the 24-105 that you used in several images to my camera bag. I got to use one last summer for a few weeks and found the IQ to be outstanding.

    My question to you is how do you find the 24-105’s ability to produce bokeh and reduce depth of field given that it’s an f/4 lens. Is it a good lens to use for portraits?

    I shoot with a D7100 crop sensor camera and have an older 17-70 f2.8-4.5 and an equally old 50-150 f2.8 and am looking to add the 24-105. The thing is – I keep getting request to start shooting portraits.

  3. Dear John Lincourt,

    My Sigma 24-105mm f 4.0 lens is one I can’t live without. As a working professional it is extremely important to me to have the right equipment at all times. If I could only take one lens with me out in the field for portraits, it would be the 24-105. I will usually compliment this lens with my Sigma 135mm 1.8 or now, with the new Sigma 105mm 1.4 mainly because my style choice is to shoot wide open. I LOVE the Bokeh from both of these lenses. The 24-105 still makes my life easier. It’s sharp, it’s fast and allows for both wide angle shots as well as closer up. I have learned to create enough depth of field in my portraits so that I don’t miss the f. 1.4/1.8/2.0/2.8 when using this lens. I believe it’s an awesome lens to add to your bag. On a side note, I have been creating portraits with telephoto lenses for years.