As my photography has improved I've shied away from doing portraiture. As my photography has improved family members have been handing me their point and shoots or DSLRs and asking me to take portraits. I've been telling them that I'm just not good at it. And while that may be the case, the truth is that I have not tried.
My wife recently decided to return to the world of work for pay — she's been a stay-at-home mom for 12 years — and she wanted a headshot both for her LinkedIn profile and for her employer's web site. I decided to rent a portrait lens and lighting kit from BorrowLenses.com. I've rented from BorrowLenses.com before — a Nikkor 70-200mm f/3.5 that I used to capture action shots for my kids Tae Kwon Do Academy — and the service has been excellent. They will deliver in one or two days and while insurance is optional, it is highly recommended. However, I quickly found out that renting a lighting kit was beyond my budget. I decided I would need to use natural light from an inside window and that meant I needed a fast lens.
I'm reading Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography Book, Volume 1 on my iPad via the Kindle app. Scott advises that portrait photography requires a lens with an 85-100mm focal range assuming the camera is about eight (8) feet from the subject. The Nikon D40 has a 1.5 crop factor which means I needed a lens with a 56-66mm focal range to achieve an 85-100mm 35mm equivalent. Nikon does not make fast primes in that range — the AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED is a macro lens — so I opted to move my lens closer to the subject and rented the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G AF-S. On the D40, the 50mm is equivalent to a 75mm lens on a full frame camera. According to Ken Rockwell "On DX cameras, it makes a superb close portrait lens."
I don't have any fancy equipment. My camera kit consists of a Nikon D40, the 18-55mm kit lens, and a Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX prime lens. Since I had rented the 50mm f/1.4G from BorrowLenses, I thought it would do well as "short" portrait lens.
- Nikon D40
- Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G AF-S
- Nikon ML-3 Wireless Remote Control
- Opteka SB-1 Mini Universal Studio Soft Box Flash Diffuser
- Targus TG-50 TR Tripod
I turned my bedroom into a photo studio while my wife and daughter got ready. I positioned one of our kitchen chairs near our bedroom window about two (2) feet from one of the walls. The camera was mounted on my cheapo Targus tripod — I'm budgeting for Gitzo tripod legs with a Manfrotto ball head — with natural light coming in from a nearby window. The camera was positioned about five (5) feet from the subject.
I set the D40 in Aperture mode with f/2.2 at ISO 200. I took a few shots of my wife while she held our white comforter draped over her shoulder. I later used this image to set the white balance of the photos after I had downloaded them into Adobe Lightroom 3. I had my wife experiment with various head positions and I experimented with various f stops up to f/11. Most of the shots are ISO 200, 1⁄200 sec.
I tried to focus on the eyes. This is what Scott Kelby suggested in his book. The first few images are without the Opteka soft-box because I forgot to turn my flash on. All remaining images are with the natural light and the Opteka.
I did some cropping and adjusted white balance and sharpening in Adobe Lightroom 3. I also applied a little spot removal and played around with Lightroom's Clarity filter. How did I do?
Although it seemed that setup took more time than the actual shoot itself, I enjoyed the experience. I am renting a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G AF-S lens from BorrowLenses.com in December and will find a way to create some lighting in my basement without renting expensive strobes.