Loving f1.8…

If you are a reader of this blog and have followed any of my technique articles over the last few years you will, no doubt, have an impression of me as a photographer who lights most of his work – especially portraits. That would, I guess, be a fair impression based on my body of work but the last couple of years have seen a shift in my style and I thought that it would be cool to share a couple of more recent pictures with you.

©Neil Turner, July 2011

This gentleman is an author and a ceramic artist whose portrait I shot recently for a Dutch newspaper in London. The bulk of the pictures were taken during the interview and the light in his loft studio was very lovely. The deep joy of modern full-frame cameras is that you can shoot beautiful quality at 1600 ISO and beyond and whether or not to light something has gone from being a technical necessity to a creative decision. Ten years ago, anything over 400 ISO was awful and five years ago the ceiling was probably not much over 800 ISO. These days we have so much freedom that even a committed lighting nut like me often goes with the ambient option.

My ‘nut’ credentials were further emphasised on this job however: I chose to shoot a lot of the pictures at 100 ISO like we used to do in the days of shooting transparencies just to see if I could.

So while the excellent reporter was asking the questions and getting some interesting and thoughtful responses I was moving around with my two Canon EOS5D MkII cameras with prime lenses on making interesting portraits. Most of the pictures were made with a Canon 85mm f1.8USM lens (is there a better bargain lens on the market?) but I also shot with a 50mm f1.4USM and a 28mm f1.8USM (both cut-price gems too) whilst using my position to alter the crop and not simply relying on a zoom ring. I’d never say that this is a better or worse way of working – it is just different. I was loving the freedom of shooting at, or near, the widest aperture and the shot above was taken at 1/80th of a second at f1.8 at 100 ISO.

Much has been written about the failings of the focusing on the EOS5D MkII but I have to say that for my work I rarely stray off of the centre focusing point, which seems to be pretty accurate and easily quick enough for me – especially when using a fast lens. I concentrated very hard on the subject’s eyes and an overwhelming percentage of the pictures were bang in focus where it mattered. Shallow depth of field on people pictures has always excited me and I made full use of it on this job.

©Neil Turner, May 2011

This simple headshot was part of a project that I did for Photography Monthly magazine’s August 2011 edition. The idea was to shoot some very simple headshots without any lighting. The edition of the magazine is still current as I write this but the idea was very simple: get the subject into reasonably open shade and shoot with the same camera and 85mm lens combination as the previous picture. The trick here is to have interestingly out of focus backgrounds – in this case it is grass with dappled light and an absolutely crisp area of focus.

This portrait was shot at 1/640th of a second on 400 ISO at f1.8. I had set out with this young actor to shoot some new headshots and then write about it for the magazine. If they put the piece on line, I will link to it.

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