Wednesday, February 2, 2011

So... you're interested in taking portraits of your kids.


This post contains photography speak. If you are a newbie to photography and shoot Nikon, I think you will find it of interest. If you are a newbie and don't shoot Nikon, you may still find it of interest if you skip over the Nikon speak. If neither of these apply to you, there are still some adorable photos for your viewing pleasure.

My DSLR camera is a Nikon and at this point in time, I plan to stick with Nikons. Canons are comparable but I have already invested money in Nikon lenses and I understand Nikon menus and controls. I am comfortable with Nikon and I like to stay within my comfort zone. If you are ready to upgrade to your first DSLR, you really cannot go wrong with either Nikon or Canon. It really comes down to personal preference.

The entry level Nikon DSLR cameras are the D3000, D3100, D5000 and D40. If you purchased your camera through an actual camera store, you may be aware of the auto focus issue that goes along with entry level Nikons. If you are new to photography, you may not have understood exactly what was being said or if you purchased through a store like Target or Best Buy, chances are you don't know anything about it.

I'm going to talk about auto focus and manual focus and when I talk about auto focus and manual focus, I mean the actual focus on the subject of your photo. I am not talking about taking a photo with your camera on the auto setting or the manual setting. When I refer to manually setting your camera, I mean that you yourself set the ISO, aperture and shutter speed. When you take photographs with your camera on the auto setting, the camera decides what your ISO, aperture and shutter speed should be.

Okay? So now let's talk about auto focus versus manual focus. When you manually focus on your subject, you turn a dial on the lens while viewing your subject through the viewfinder. To auto focus, you depress the shutter half way and listen for a beep (while also viewing your subject through the viewfinder.) Well, you do other things too like (hopefully) set where you want the focus to land but the actual focus part is done by the camera. In my professional (yes, you can laugh) experience, there is no need to use manual focus. Especially if you are taking photographs of your kids. By the time you get the focus just right, your kids will most likely be in a different location.

Now let's discuss the auto focus issue that I mentioned above. Entry level Nikon DSLR cameras do not have an auto focus motor in the camera body. If you want to use auto focus, which you do, you need to purchase lenses that possess an auto focus motor. These lenses are identified as AF-S lenses.

Most folks usually purchase entry level DSLR cameras as a kit, which means that the camera comes with one or two "kit" lenses. The most common kit lens being the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. In my experience, Nikon kit lenses are decent lenses but they are not great for low light situations nor will they produce a great deal of bokeh (blurry backgrounds.) I read several photography message boards and the next suggested lens for a photographer who wants to expand beyond kit lenses is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8. And for $129, how can you go wrong?

This lens unfortunately will not autofocus on entry level Nikon cameras. Another suggested lens is the Nikon 35mm f/1.8. It is currently listed on Amazon for $219. Now, my Nikon (an antique D50) does have an auto focus motor in the body but I decided to go with the 35mm instead of the 50mm lens. If you are photographing a baby or a small toddler, the 50mm is probably fine but with three kids, I was concerned with having enough space to be able fit what I wanted to fit into the frame. When I'm shooting inside, I sometimes find the 35mm to be too tight. There are times that I'm backed up against the wall or furniture and I can just barely fit what I want to (which is three kiddos) into the frame. Keep this in mind if you don't have an auto focus issue and are trying to decide between a 35mm and a 50mm lens.

Okay, so all of this babble has a purpose. I think that the 35mm f/1.8 is a great "general" lens but it is not good for portraits. This lens allows you to focus from one foot away so you may think you can take portraits with it. Now without getting all technical (because I kind of don't like technical stuff sometimes) just know that wider lenses produce more distortion. (My 11-16mm f/2.8 Tokina lens is considered to be an ultra wide angle.) Distortion on landscapes can be cool. IMPO. (That stands for In My Professional Opinion, by the way.) BUT you have to be very careful with distortion on people portraits.

So let's compare portraits taken with my Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and my Nikon 85mm f/1.8. Can you match the photo with the lens?


Scroll on down for the answer.

That's right! Photo A was taken with the 85mm and Photo B was taken with the 35mm.


Look at Em's face in Photo B. Do you see how the left side of her face (on the right half of the photo) looks disproportionate? That eye looks bigger and appears to be popping out of her face. Her cheek looks like it belongs to a chipmunk. Although her face is slightly turned in Photo A, all of her features still look proportionate.

So the moral of this post is to please be careful when taking portraits of your kids with a wider angle lens. 35mm is not an appealing focal length for portraits. I highly recommend an 85mm lens.

Right, Em?




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Pyjammy Pam said...

Well, great. Now I want an 85mm lens. :P But, I usually use my 23-75mm lens at the 75mm length, so I guess I'm doing okay with that.

Colleen said...

Very interesting. I have the 35mm and didn't realize this. Now I'll be looking for it! thanks for the tips.

hope you are keeping warm with all this NE snow!

Doubly Blessed said...

I have a d60-but I'm not thrilled with my kit lense either. Should I get the 85mm lens then? I mainly take pics of my 3 kids too :)

Chic Homeschool Mama said...

This is fantastic- thank you for this post. I just bought a cheaper DSLR style camera that has a lot of auto features but does actually allow for some manual settings. It's my "learning" camera. I figure when I finally know what everything does & how to set the manual settings to get exactly what I am looking for & know WHY I want those settings- then I will upgrade to a Nikon. In the meantime- posts like this give me so much info that I desperately need so that when that time comes- I am not disappointed.

Souza Sisters said...

Thank you for posting this! I'm going to be buying myself a new camera and was thinking about the Nikon D3100. I will have to look into a lens too!! Thanks again!

Kari said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I recently got a Nikon D3000 and am trying to learn the ins and outs of it. I have yet to take it out of auto...LOL!

Amy said...

That's interesting! My D40 came with an 18-55mm, and also a bonus 55-200mm. Is the 85mm a fixed lens? Like, it only shoots at the 85mm setting? And does my 55-200mm hit the same range as that?

Sarah said...

Thanks, Colleen. Trying to stay warm - don't know what to do with all of this snow!

Doubly Blessed - I love my 85mm but it is only practical indoors for portraits and close ups. I took a bunch of pics w/ it this week that I will be posting soon so you can see. You would have to be on the other side of a fairly large room to fit a child's entire body in the frame.

Amy - my 85mm is a prime lens, meaning that it stays at 85mm. Your 55-200 is perfect. 85mm and up is good for portraits. Some photographers prefer prime lenses over variable range b/c they can be sharper.

Jayme said...

I have a Nikon D5000 that I'm trying to learn how to use. I want a new lens, but I really need one that I can use on auto since I don't know what I'm doing and I have lots of kids.

I have the kit lens and a 55-200mm that my husband bought me a few months ago.

I want a portrait lens, and was totally thinking of the 50mm f/1.8 but if it won't auto focus...

So tell me, what would you recommend?

Christi said...

I adore my 85mm lens. It's so sharp. I just don't use it that often in winter because indoors is too cramped to get all of a grown-up person in the frame on a dSLR with a crop factor. (And I can't justify the price of a full-frame Canon 5D as a non-pro photographer!)

I use the 50mm f/1.4 more in the winter.

Jennifer said...

love the comparison shots!

Sarah said...

Jayme - I would suggest practicing with your 55-200. I don't think that the Nikon 85mm lenses will auto focus on your camera. There is a 105mm which is good but costs like $800.

Wendy said...

Oh to have an 85... You need to upgrade to the 90 or the 700000 lady friend! I keep my nifty fifty on my 90 at all times. I had thought about a 35 but the wonky distortion bugs and I don't know how to correct that.