Monday, March 15, 2010

f/1.4 & Family Photojournalism

Again, a special thanks to Sam Hassas for stepping in last week! Great post, Sam!

One of the principles of family photojournalism is including context/surroundings for your subject. So using the widest aperture settings for your lenses is not always best. In fact, sometimes, using a very wide aperture can lessen the impact of a shot. However, there are times when shooting 'wide open' (at the maximum aperture of a lens) is necessary to get the shot. Other times, you might just want to isolate your subject in order to highlight they way they looked that day.

I shoot almost exclusively with lenses that have a maximum aperture of f/1.4 (Canon 24L/35L/85L). I generally use f/1.4 for two reasons: 1. In low light when I do not want to use flash. 2. To isolate my subject from a distracting background.

f/1.4 IN LOW LIGHT: I shoot in low light A MOST OF THE TIME (my house is small and dark)! So for me, lenses with an f/1.4 opening is almost necessary. Shooting available light allows me I to capture the mood of a situation by shooting with the existing light of the scene. Often times, the result is how the scene actually looked.

There was very little light in this fact, it was just a small sliver of light that was peering through the curtains. I metered for that light and exposed at 1/50th, f/1.4, ISO1600. 35L.

Lit by one single overhead bulb. My youngest 'reading' before bedtime. Exposure was 1/40th, f/1.4, ISO 1600. 35L

Only light in the room was the TV. I wanted a slower shutter speed on this one to capture the motion of the Wii play. Exposure was 1/40th, f/2, ISO3200. 24L

Early morning light coming through my front window. Exposure was 1/125th, f/1.4, ISO1600. 35L

Only light source was the overhead light in the bunk bed. VERY dark. Exposure was 1/80th, f/1.6, ISO3200. 24L

f/1.4 TO ISOLATE: Sometimes the background is UGLY! Using a lens that opens to f/1.4 can help!

I wasnt a fan of all of the trees in the background of this one, so I opened my aperture in order to isolate the subjects. Exposure was 1/500th, f/2, ISO800. 35L

Loved the halloween outfit, so I wanted to show it off a bit! Exposure was 1/100th, f/1.4, ISO800. 35L

Busy background :( Exposure was 1/4000th, f/2, ISO200. 35L

Lenses with a maximum aperture can be expensive, BUT they do not have to be! Most camera manufacturers make 50mm options with a f/1.4 opening that are affordable. Also, check out the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens.

Thanks all for checking in!



  1. Good post Chuck. Once you go large aperture, it's hard to go back, and it's hard to go flash :)


  2. Oh my gosh, that halloween costume is the greatest!! There's also something about the last shot of your son at the park that I really like, I'm not sure what it is about it...

    I also love the series of pictures you have above your couch!

  3. Thanks to you two!

    Adrienne, the last photo is one of my favorites. My oldest was 4 and he was trying to get across the monkey bars. He tried about 5 times but failed. I told him to give it one more shot. He tole me that he 'cant because my hands hurt'. I gave him a bit more encouragement and he did it on this try. He was so happy that he kept doing it. Somehow he forgot that his 'hands hurt'.


  4. Thanks for this post validating my obsession with wide primes!

    My subject is mostly my family, as we both work the majority of the pictures are indoors, available light and in the evening. I refuse to use flash as I find it disruptive.

    My wife got me the 50mm F1.4 USM for my XT on Valentines day. I loved the F1.4 so much that even though the FOV was horrible the lens did not leave my camera for a year.

    Now my 50mm is broken, I want to get something faster, can't afford "L" and I'm frustrated as Canon does not make an EF-S fast/wider than 50mm prime. I'll probably go with the Sigma and cross my fingers (and toes) hoping that I will get a good copy.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  5. *sigh*... I'm seriously considering trading my 24-70 for a 35L... I'm very conflicted about it, but after reading this post, I'm thinking I can't go wrong. What're your thoughts Chuck? Think it's a practical trade?

  6. monie,

    i personally prefer primes due to the large aperture openings! for example, the 35L lets in SOOO much light which opens up all sorts of new photographic opportunities!

    the top five shots would have been difficult (if not impossible) to make with the 24-70. that doesnt make the 24-70 a 'bad' lens, its just the 'wrong' lens for those shots.

    i would use your 24-70 for a while...its an amazingly versatile lens! if you find yourself needing more light, get the 35!

    hope this helps!


  7. ...Hi Chuck... so, I gave in and traded the 24-70 for the 35L.... It comes in the mail tomorrow. I couldn't help it. I think I prefer primes. The 135 pretty much stays on my camera, and I can't remember the last time I had used the 24-70 before the trade...

    Next on my list is maybe the 50mm or 85mm for a longer FL that's sort of in between the 35 and 135...

    I see what all the hype is about. Primes are just great...! I think I'd have been perfectly content using my 24-70 if I had never touched the 135, but the second I did, my fate was sort of sealed. I think I'm hooked now.. *sigh*.. What an expensive addiction! :-)

  8. How do you get your photos so sharp at such a wide aperture? The DOF is so shallow below 3 I rarely use it except for food shots. It could be that my camera is Canon cropped frame. Do you use a full-frame camera and/or consciously stand back from your subject to broaden your DOF?

  9. Hi,
    Very good question Busygirl. I would also like to read the answer on this question.

  10. Busygirl and Yves,

    Depth of Field (the amount of the scene that is in focus) is a product of a few things: aperture, distance to subject, and focal length.

    I really do not want to 'blur the background' all that often because I want to include context. This is where shooting wide primes with fast apertures come into play. Wider focal lengths give more depth of field which allows more of the scene to be in acceptable focus even at wide apertures.

    I hope this helps!


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