The eyes have it
Most good portraits boast pin-sharp eyes, so discover which settings you need to focus attention where it matters most
Portraits are typically shot on a short to medium telephoto lens at a wide aperture in order to make the subject stand out clearly from the background. The combination of a longer focal length lens and a very wide aperture means that depth of field is much more limited than when shooting landscapes with a wide-angle lens. Because of this focusing needs to be very precise. The band of focus may be just a few centimetres deep when taking a close-up portrait, so it’s important that the subject is sharp where it matters.
The crucial part of any portrait is the eyes, so at least one eye needs to be sharp, no matter what. As long as this is the case, it almost doesn’t matter if nothing else within the frame is in focus – the viewer will engage with the subject of the photo automatically.
Another consideration is that your subject is unlikely to stay completely still, even when you’re shooting a formal studio portrait, and any head movements, however minor, could well throw the subject’s eyes slightly out of focus. This problem will be more exaggerated the closer you are to your subject, so it’s important to have your Nikon set up correctly so that you can be sure of getting the crucial part of every portrait sharp.
Top Blurring out dappled light in the background results in a lovely ‘bokeh’ effect, which helps to focus attention on your subject
Bottom When you’re further away from subjects, focusing on their face(s) should be sufficient to get the key elements in sharp focus
Above When shooting
contrejour, or into the light, focus on the rimlight around your subject’s face to help them really stand out