What apertures and focus d'you use during the wedding day?

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by john_meyer|14, Jun 23, 2008.

  1. Hi

    I've very recently bought two 'fast?' 2.8 zoom lenses (17-50 & 50-150) for my D200 and I'd appreciate knowing
    what apertures you'd use with these lenses during a typical wedding.

    My aim is, ideally, to have a shallow depth of field and to have the important part (usually the eyes) nice and

    I'm tempted to use them wide open because, like a lot of people, I like shallow depth of field images - it makes
    the photo 'pop'!. But I'm conscious that this might result in a lot of out of focus shots when people are on the
    move, e.g. guests arriving, etc. So, to be safe, what apertures do you use?

    And, with moving subjects, do you tend to select continuous focus or stick with single focus? And what about
    Focus area? I've tended to use the centre point and recompose. I find moving the focus point all the time a bit
    of a pain and it slows me down.

    And just as a footnote, if one regularly closes down to, say, 5.6, doesn't this rather negate the benefit of
    having 'fast' glass?

    I'd really appreciate hearing about your experiences.


  2. My advice: Practice! Find situations where the distance between you and the subjects are the same as you expect to run into, at the wedding.

    You might find you prefer the look of the f/2.8 pics over the f/5.6 or f/11, but if they are not sharp, whatメs the point?

    And you might also want to experiment with different settings on your D200: Narrow or wide focus areas and one or many focus points. Your D200 has a few settings to master, in that area.

    But back to your question: If you are not experienced; choose the safe thing, and shoot at f/8.

    Keep it at single focus, unless you are 100% certain, you'll remember to change settings: If so, you use continuous focus for subjects moving towards and away from the camera. When shooting something or someone that moves left to right or vise versa, use single focus again.
  3. Everyone has their own style. There is no right and wrong. Your portfolio should represent your style, and the clients will either like it or not like it.

    I would spend more time practicing on things that aren't as important as a wedding.
  4. If I use an f/2.8 zoom, I will try to stop it down a bit if possible, e.g. shoot at f/4 instead of f/2.8. Wide open such lenses are usually not that sharp. Stopping down a bit adds sharpness and makes minor focusing errors less significant. But the background will be a bit more visible. If I want to shoot at f/2.8 I will normally use a prime (which is typically faster than f/2.8). I think the real difficulties with focusing start when you shoot at f/2 or f/1.4. Then you need to pay more attention to precise focusing and it can be somewhat difficult to obtain high consistency. You basically need to put more time and effort into doing the shot, especially if the subject is close.

    I use single-point autofocus or manual focus for subjects that don't move much. Multipoint focusing is great for sports but I think the likelihood that the system focuses on the wrong point is very high in weddings. On the D200 I prefer to just use the center focusing sensor. With the Multi-CAM-3500 system in the D3/D300, 9-point or 21-point focusing are quite nice for shooting moving (ie. dancing) subjects.
  5. The fact that you are asking these questions makes me think that you've never shot an event. In fact, nobody can answer most of them for you. You have to learn your equipment, learn basic photography principles, and figure out your own style.
  6. But usually, my clients want what is represented in my portfolio. That's really why they chose me to begin with. I might ask them how serious, glamorous, dramatic, funny, light-hearted, or generic they want their day, but it's still within the bounds of my style. If they want something that's not my style, they should hire someone else.

    Things like my use of aperture and shutter speed are non-negotiable.

    Most really famous photographers, such as Mr. Ascough and others, give the client almost no say in how the wedding is shot, or even album design. I lean in that direction.

    The OP probably shouldn't be asking clients anything yet.
  7. I rarely shoot any of my work larger than f5.6. on a crop camera, this is usually plenty DOF for group shots.

    using DOF effects when you know it is safe and people aren't moving around a lot.

    when I shoot with small DOF, I shoot more than I would otherwise, and I do this:

    1) focus with back thumb button (* on canon)
    2) shoot
    3) DE-focus the lens by twisting the ring
    4) focus AGAIN
    5) shoot again
    6) repeat

    90% of my work is f4 or larger with zooms. when using primes. it is 90% larger than 2.8.

    john, if you really like shallow DOF, check out the D3. the full frame cameras have a significant DOF and bokeh difference compared to crop cameras since you are using longer lenses and getting the equivalent view.

    I just picked up a 5D and paired with my 35mm 1.4 - it's like a whole new world. my shooting style is starting to change b/c of this camera!
  8. john - I use canon 'one shot' focus mode, center point, focus and recompose if necessary. I have a pretty good keeper rate except in low light, at which time I shoot a lot more to compensate.

    shooting at 5.6 sort of negatives the point of having fast glass, yes. however, most fast glass is a prime, and primes are usually pretty darn sharp at 5.6 since they are several stops 'deep' into the lens.
  9. I like Conrad's suggestion of focus bracketing with shallow depth of field.
  10. I had a small event in the weekend and I discovered in the morning that shooting most of the time with f2.8 could be a pretty big mistake. I got blur faces when I shouldn't have. So ... from now on I'll pay more attention to my dof.

    Ask the customer, but make sure the image will be so that they do: WOOOW! ;)
  11. I had the same line of reasoning before, until too many otherwise good compositions ended up blurry. If you're not an expert yet, my advice is to play it safe. You can always blur out the background later in Photoshop. It's harder to correct out of focus images.

    As for the focus and recompose method, (somebody correct me if I'm wrong) I believe your exposure and TTL will revert back to the center point when you do that. So you might end up exposing for the groom's black suit, rather than a face.
  12. "...I believe your exposure and TTL will revert back to the center point when you do that...."
    That's what the AE-L/AF-L button is for on the back of the camera. You can program it to do one or the other or both. (at least on Nikon camera bodies!)
  13. John, your aperture setting is going to depend on the amount of light you need to let into your sensor in combination with your shutter speed and ISO. I shoot on full manual and I try to keep my shutter speed above 1/60th. Whatever aperture gives me the correct exposure, I go with. I try to keep my ISO at 800 or lower. I use a Nikon D300 as my main camera, so I sometimes take my ISO up to 1600 in order to get a higher shutter speed. If you focus on aperture settings to get of shallow DOF, then your shutter speed may slow down and cause blurred photos. When I am shooting the formals, I use one Alien Bee 800 strobe with a shoot through umbrella. This enables me to shoot at shutter speed 1/250th, aperture f/8.0, ISO 200. For formals shadow DOF is not important, crisp clear photos are.
  14. I typically use one shot, focus on the eye or whatever needs to be in focus and
    recompose... usually with the center point if possible, or another one if necessary. I typically use manual in
    low light situations so I don't worry about metering unless the light is changing as I shoot. I use the
    thumbstick to select focus points. Best feature canon ever added.

    For lower light circumstances, I'll typically use f2.8 strictly and get back whatever I can in shutter speed. The
    reason I forked over the $1300 and bought the 24-70L 2.8 was so I could use f2.8 and still get sharp images with
    good colors and contrast in low light situations, and it's paid off. There is some technique to master with wider
    apertures, but with practice it has worked well for me. I'll take finicky focus and blurred backgrounds over
    motion blur any day.
  15. A portrait with one person in focus and all else quite out of focus is one kind of photo: and one or two good ones of those is desirable. But weddings means people and context: so a lot of photos where the non-subjects are oof but nevertheless the character of their faces or even their expression can be discerned is, I think, quite desirable.
  16. If you use wide apertures a lot, a focusing screen specifically designed for manual focus can be a big help. Katz eye and brightscreen.com make replacement screens for various DSLRs, and I've found a split-image screen to be invaluable. Having a large viewfinder also helps, and larger sensors in general make it easier to handle the situation.
  17. There is a still active thread on the subject of DOF.


    No one can tell you what apertures to use because it will vary according to subject matter, lens focal length, subject distance, and DOF needed/desired. Go to DOF Master and download their calculator. Study it. Think about the various situations you will encounter at a wedding and the DOF needed for those situations. Figure out from the calculator what apertures you can use to get the effects you want.

    As I said in the previous post, it is 'poplular' now to use selective focus ALL THE TIME. This comes, no doubt, from seeing a lot of luscious selective focus shots from famous wedding photographers as well as the chatter in forums about it. That plain does not make any sense at all, and is probably why Steven wrote what he wrote. For group shots, for instance, you need more DOF if you have rows of people. I can assure you, the client will not like it if you have one row of people in focus and all the other rows OOF. They won't like it if you take a picture of the couple where one is slightly back from the other, and one is OOF, unless it is obvious that was the intention, and even then, some clients will not 'get it'. As I also said in the other post, use your head about this instead of blindly following whatever is in fashion at the moment. And f2.8 isn't exactly ultra fast anyway. You will also find that using f2.8 outside in bright light will be a no-go unless you use ND fileters.

    As for focus, I don't know about Nikon cameras, but I always use One Shot unless I have a moving subject in good light. Then I use AI Servo. I use the center focus point/recompose method, although in a no-win situation such as dim light and close subject, I will use the closest focus point. Sometimes I will pre-focus or zone focus. It depends.
  18. "So, to be safe, what apertures do you use?"

    This will tell you what you want to know. To be safe shoot everything at 5.6 and 8. That's safe.

    But shooting a wedding is not a series of "safe" moments. If all of your shots are that way you will not have any shallow DOF which is what I think you are saying is your desire. That's why you bought the 2.8 lenses right?

    You can't have it both ways. But in order to shoot shallow DOF and still know you are getting acceptable shots....there's where study, practice, and years of experience come into play.

    You may like your artistic shots of in-focus eyes and softer backgrounds, but to your bride's aunt Mabel from Nebraska, they will be a lot of blurry pictures. You will need to know when to apply each and every aperture setting and combination of settings that your camera and lenses are capable of giving you in order to achieve an acceptable mix of pictures.

    Also, you may find you need a different setting at every angle in a 360 degree radius as your light varies.
    How can you choose only one setting and be sure you nailed it?

    Don't worry, as a brilliant music teacher once said, "there's nothing 20,000 hours of practice won't fix".

  19. "I'm tempted to use them wide open because, like a lot of people, I like shallow depth of field images - it makes the photo 'pop'!. But I'm conscious that this might result in a lot of out of focus shots when people are on the move, e.g. "

    Actually it's the opposite. Shooting wide open gives you an advantage in moving subjects by allowing faster shutter speed to freeze the motion. Provided you focus track and they do not escape the DOF at a given aperture. In otherwords, if someone is walking across your view larger aperture is an advantage. If they are coming towards you the smaller aperture may increase your DOF but the trade off might be shutter speed.

    Sounds like you need to study the basics a bit more.

    As for the "I only shoot wide open or I only shoot F8" crowds, I say As a craft, you need to be able to determine which technique/settings to use and when and how.

    For portraits of couples, Wide open fast apertures make perfect sense for nice bokeh.. For group shot's 3 rows deep, moderate apertrures and larger DOF makes sense. And for landscape work on a tripod, smaller apertures. This is basic stuff.

    As for the focus quesiton, I always use center point only and recompose. It's the most reliable method.

    And AI/Servo is really only for fast moving subjects that you are tracking. I find the pace at a wedding to allow for one shot which again is more consistent/predictable.

    "And just as a footnote, if one regularly closes down to, say, 5.6, doesn't this rather negate the benefit of having 'fast' glass? "

    Yes, in many cases I think it would. But for those few occasions when you need F2.8 it's nice to have it. If you only shot landscape or macro and really only used F 5.6 and up then it's pointless to buy a fast lens.
  20. What apertures and focus to use- well it's gonna be allover the place, depending on the type of shot, distance, etc. I've not accepted pay, but have been pretty successful in producing pleasing shots for friends when attending numerous weddings over the years. I do not find a set rule that works specifically for a wedding. You'll have group shots, portrait shots, activity shots, indoor flash shots, outdoor fill flash shots, etc. etc. and the principles that govern regulating DOF, and all other photographic matters apply as the situation calls for.

    You have not stated if you are being hired or are serving as principal photographer. Be sure to attend any and all rehearsals. Practice exercising those principles!
  21. I think you will most likely be disappointed shooting at f/2.8 as far as subject sharpness is concerned. Save that aperture for low light. As far as sharpness goes, zooms rarely perform at their extreme apertures. 1 stop down to f/4 was great advice above. You can also get the nice blur and selective focus by increasing your focal length. I do this often, I will put on the 70-200 or 85mm prime, stop down to f/4. Talk about isolating you subject. Also to, many zoom don't yield their sharpest results at their extreme focal lengths either. 90% of my wedding shots are around f/4, with the occasional f/5.6. Here is a great resource for you: http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html
  22. I have a 17-55 f2.8 and I shoot wide open whenever I can. I love the blurred out of focus back background. And I have several clients who also love that look.
    I just completed a shoot where I used a 50mm f1.8 and shot wide open because the client wanted extreme shallow DOF.
  23. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Typically, I use F2.8 zooms at F5.6 to F8.

    For purposefully planned shallow DoF shots, I use prime lenses.

    I would not usually plan a Shallow DoF shot for a moving subject at a Wedding, unless it was the Processional or
    Recessional, i.e. a planned path that the subject would follow, at a metered gait.
    In this case I would most likely use a predetermined focus point, and take three or four shots (at different points) to
    ensure a good capture of the subject`s features.

    I would attempt the same on the dance floor, if the dancers had purposeful movements.

    However, good quality F2.8 zooms I will use at F2.8, if necessary, (e.g. no time to change to a prime).

    I usually use the centre point focus and recompose my shot. I usually use one shot.

    Regularly closing down an F2.8 zoom to F5.6, does not negate the benefit of having 'fast' glass: just go get an F5.6
    50 to 200 zoom and use it wide open and compare:

    1. the view through the viewfinder and

    2. the quality of the resultant image

  24. Hi all

    Many thanks for all your comments. They've been very helpful - as usual. This is the BEST site!

    Once again, it just goes to show that everyone has their own opinion on things, and these opinions are often different to others. That's what makes us individual.

    Yes, practice makes perfect, and I'll certainly be practicing hard!

    Kind regards

  25. The OP stated that he wanted "safe" shots at 2.8. Those are shots that don't leave a lot to chance with respect to getting a sharp image. Shooting at 2.8 all the time doesn't work in every situation.
    I have been shooting weddings as a professional for 12 years. I like shallow dof too but it doesn't always work in every situation. Sometimes you want a lot of activity captured in the background. The guests reaction to the groom taking the garter off the bride is an example. Why blur that background? S

  26. My answer to this is the rather primitive advice to 'Plan your work and Work your plan'

    You have to have a basic plan of the shots that you need to get and what those shots should contain. For example, if the Wedding is at an impressive Old Church, then not to take a group shot with the whole magnificent frontage in focus is almost a crime IMHO. I use a local public garden for some wedding parties as the ceremony location is somewhat commercial and uninspiring, this again needs the full DoF to show off the location in full. However, the head shots need some plain foliage as a backdrop, to enable the narrow focus field of the lens to enable the image to 'pop' as has been said. Or if the background is a bit industrial, then you may want to restrict the DoF to get rid of some unwanted items. This is why I mainly like to shoot at locations I know well, therefore I understand the location, lighting and background challenges, which enables me to deliver a high quality product consistently.

    So in essence, DoF is just a part of the creative process, it should vary with the content of the shot, therefore the answer is to plan what the shots will be and what creative effect you want to achieve.


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