A few days ago, I posted a survey on my facebook page about what people would like to see next, and thanks to all FIVE people that voted (take THAT Jasmine Star!!!), they want to know how I capture those tack sharp images that I am known for. This is one of the topics we will be teaching at the WORKSHOP that is coming up on 8/28/2011 as well. Obviously we will be going into a lot more detail than what is being discussed here.

Before I start getting into this, there are a few things I have to clarify up front.

1. My camera is ALWAYS set to manual mode
2. Focus mode is ALWAYS set to AI Servo.
3. AF point (the little red square) is always set to the middle of the frame.
4. for Bride & Groom portraits I typically shoot at F1.4 to F1.8 range. I have a 50mm F1.2 that I use about 90% of the time for portraits I take. Once in a while I’d venture down to the F1.2 range. But very rarely. The depth of field is so shallow, I tend to have more out of focus shots.
5. Autofocus on the lens.
6. Always, always, always, ‘back focus.’ Which means separating out your shutter from focusing.

Now if you ask me why I do these, this will be another post. But I will make the assumption that you are doing the same. There are quite a few factors that will affect the sharpness of your photo, and I will try to tackle each one of them in this post. Aperture, shutter speed, in-camera setting, lighting, etc..

For my brand of image; I choose to shoot at a very shallow depth of field. It means the F-stop number is low (lower=wider). I mainly shoot with a 50MM F1.2 prime lens for portraits. One thing to keep in mind is that the wider your aperture is, the shallower your depth of field. However, the further away you are from your subject, the more depth of field you will get, even at wide open aperture. For example, if you shoot a super closeup portrait and focus on the eyes; the tip of the nose will be out of focus. But if you stand further back, the whole subject will be in focus. As a photographer, you will have to decide the ‘look’ of your photo. Some shoot with a deep depth of field, but for my brand, I choose to shoot with a shallow depth of field. The images above were taken from one of my favorite weddings of 2010 at Pasadena City Hall.. I shot these images at F1.2 & F1.6. But yet the image is perfectly sharp where I want it to be. For the image on the right; Rena & Han were actually walking towards me. I was walking backwards. I lock in the focus with AI Servo on Han’s tuxedo lapel and since there was about 15 feet between us, I was able to get his whole body in focus even while shooting wide open. For the image on the left, I lock in the focus on the bouquet. Since I was only standing about 5′-0″ away from Rena, her body is out of focus even though I was shooting at F1.6.

My general rule of thumb is this; if I am shooting with a 70-200mm, fully extended to 200mm, my sutter speed is no less than 1/200th. For portraits, my shutter speed is generally no less than 1/125th. Any slower than that I start to get unintended blurry images. What I always say is that I can use a grainy photo, but I can’t use a blurry photo. The above image was taken by Abi Q Photography when we shot a beach wedding at Rincon Beach Club in Carpinteria last month.

If you are shooting outdoors, lighting generally is not a problem. It’s when you are shooting into the sun, or backlighting your subjects, that’s when the camera will have problem focusing. So here’s the trick. Block out the sun with your free hand so you can focus on the subject. Lock in your focus, then shoot away. Or use your subjects to block out the sun to achieve focus, then recompose.

AF Points
I know there are new SLR’s out there with 10 gazillion focus points. I only use one. The middle one. What I do is I focus on my subject’s eyes with the center point. Once the focus is locked in, I move and recompose the photo based on what I want my viewers to see. Generally based on rule of 3rds or other negative space and leading lines. Since I shoot 100% in manual mode, not having to mess with the focus points is just one less thing I have to worry about. And NEVER, NEVER, EVER, NEVER, NEVER let your camera select where it wants to focus. Inevitably it will select the wrong point to focus on.

So that’s about it! Like I said, we will be covering a lot more of these topics in depth at the workshop. If you haven’t registered already, head on over to the website to register TODAY!

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