F/1.4: wide aperture, don't be stuck.

Street photograph with a large aperture
A photograph with a good example of a too wide aperture, the person on the right side is not in focus however he is a part of the scene i forget to adjust the aperture from the picture below which was taken before this one. 85mm @ f/2.2 © Patrice Laborda

I am a crazy fund with wide aperture in photography, i love it! I love it so much that i should refrain myself some time. F/1.4 ...

It give you this very shallow depth of field to isolate the subject on the photograph, with an usually awesome bokeh (the bokeh is the quality of blur in the background or in the foreground of a photograph).


But it's not because your lens can be opened at f/1.4 that you should always take pictures at f/1.4 !

Sure it's nice to shoot at f/1.4, and like i already said above, specially if you want to isolate the subject from the background or if you want to have some effect with a nice bokeh on your pictures.

It's not specifically about the aperture at f/1.4 i want to speak today, it's about the very shallow DoF (Depth of field), and it is not because your lens wide open is at f/1.4 or f/2.8 that you should always shoot wide open!

Street photograph of people at a wide aperture
Here a good example of a good use of a wide aperture, the subject is in focus and he is isolated from the crowd, this picture was taken few second before the first one above. 85mm @ f/2.2 © Patrice Laborda

Many photographers when they get stuck at wider aperture forgot or don't see anymore, for example, that having only one eye in focus it's not nice ... at all.


How many time i saw it, it's a shame, because most of those pictures are made by excellent photographer with a very well controlled lighting, but when you look at the picture and you feel like the model is one-eyed ... What a  big disappointment, specially when at the very first glance, the picture seem to have an excellent good looking.


But first let's speak about portrait and tight portraiture.

What are you looking first when you are watching a tight portrait photograph ?


Photograph at very shallow depth of field, wide aperture
Photograph at very shallow depth of field, wide aperture: Sigma 85mm, 1/1000s @ f/1.6 © Patrice Laborda

I got you with the photograph of my son on the side! You was looking first at the eyes and you cannot tell that it's not true.


Why ?

Because it's a reflex! Every living mammals on earth have this reflex, so when you encounter a living creature, after the very first glance to tell to your brain what is it, you will look at the eye immediately after having identified the creature, even if it's just a glance.


Why ?  Like i already said, it's a reflex, it's to try to find out what are the intentions of the encounter, and this latter you will find it with the eyes first!

It is not for nothing that there is the saying "the eyes are the mirror of the soul" and this saying is even more true in photography! Because when you will take your first glance at a picture, your brain know already what your are doing, so your first glance, by reflex, will be at the eyes on the picture!

But depending who's on the picture, and men and only men do this, when somewhere in the part of theirs brain, the identification say "Female", men usually look elsewhere first ... below the chin ... around 20cm below ... yes here ;)

Having said that, you can now understand how it's important to not be stuck at a very wide aperture, especially if you cannot determine what is the Depth of Field of a given aperture at a given distance, but by practicing and practicing, again and again, you will be able to do it, and do not hesitate to close a little bit your aperture to put both eyes in the Depth of Field.


There is another issue with very wide aperture lenses, at their maximum opened aperture, they are usually less sharp and have more chromatic aberrations than were they are stopped down, no need to stop down to a very small aperture, but depending on the lens quality, usually one or two stop is enough.

More or less, you know why in portraiture photography it's important to not be stuck at f/1.4, but the photography's domain is large as ... the planet and even more, so there will be always a reason to not be at f/1.4, use it (i do), enjoy it(i do), but don't be stuck.

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