Tales from the Studio - 4 Depth of field

Following on from my depth-of-field musings a few days ago, I thought I'd post some shots from when I was taking portfolio pictures for performing artists using an early small sensor digital camera, in this case an Olympus E10.

After working with film for many years there were all sorts of possibilities that opened up, and I really did appreciate the choices it offered. The picture at the top of the page and the one below are similar but there are obviously different moods and I adjusted the depth of field accordingly.

Even in the second shot with the lens opened up there is still a lot of DOF with the subjects body and face clearly all in focus. I did get feedback from agents and bookers who liked the digital images because they clearly showed more of the actor or performer they were considering hiring. I was told that they often got portfolio pictures that were either shot with flash or natural light and with only parts of the subject in sharp focus. They didn't know why, but they preferred the digital pictures. "Not so many blurry bits" was one explanation I was given.

Even for more straightforward shots this depth of focus worked nicely.

I did eventually move on to to shooting on APS-C with a Fuji S2 and 35mm with a Kodak Pro 14n, and though I was getting better quality than from the E-10, I missed that ability to shoot images with lots of depth of field in natural light.

If I was doing the same thing today, I would have no hesitation in going for m4/3. Despite what you read, you can still get very limited DOF if you want (Its all a question of the right lens and where you stand) but you do have the option to go for a different looking shot, which has much more in focus.

I can understand the appeal of MF cameras for the studio, because of the stunning quality, but I wonder how often the photographers think about the people they are photographing. The flash rigs and the very bright lighting required to be able to use stopped down lenses on MF cameras and backs is uncomfortable for the models. I used to use a couple of 500 watt tungsten lamps and they were seriously hot. Sweaty models is not really what you want, unless you are shooting "specialist" photos of course!!

As you can see, I've always liked a natural light look to my portraits, which is why I preferred lights to flash. My studio was in my loft in London with North facing windows, so if I could I liked to shoot in daylight with a combination of window light and the tungsten lamps, and thats how I got the results I liked the most. It wasn't all plain sailing, since to get the DOF I wanted with the E-10 and the fact it was useless at anything other than its base ISO which was 80, some of the shutter speeds were quite slow and required the models keeping still. Somewhat old school compared to what goes on these days, but I liked the classic look and it was a different approach to shoot loads, shoot fast, edit later. 

In many ways I miss doing this. It was mostly great fun and I liked the collaboration with the subject. I was never one of those "Do this, keep quiet and I will capture your soul" photographers and I always thought a friendly interaction led to better results. So apart from making my point, it was nice to see these pictures again.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.
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