Using the Sigma 85mm f1.4 for Portraits


It is no secret that great wedding shots are about producing dreamy, ethereal, and diffuse looking images. The internet is full of reviews and comparisons between the Canon 85mm f1.2 and the Sigma 85mm f1.4 and I am far less qualified to offer such an opinion so instead I shall be focusing (excuse the pun) on the practical experiences of using such a notoriously difficult lens out the box.

I purchased this lens with wedding photography in mind and the decision to buy the Sigma over the Canon was simple, the Canon did not warrant an extra £650 for an extra 1/3 of a stop and a slower focus. Many of the pragmatic reviews online suggested that the Sigma was infact a stunning piece of glass and my initial impression would be to agree.

Upon receiving the lens I spent 30 mins trying it out on stuff round the house and quickly the cat grew bored of being the subject of constant pestering. I did quickly conclude that positioning and accurate focusing are critical at f1.4

Here is a link to an online calculator and it shows that at 2m from our subject the depth of field is just 3cm.

I persuaded Frankie to pop over to my house after work and we spent an hour using the early evening light to take a few test shots. I think it is really important to test equipment properly before using it, never more so than with such a difficult lens.

Being quite thorough I did memorise several values for given distances / f Stops and this was really handy and it allowed me to roughly guess what could be achieved. For portraits you have the time to properly check the screen for critical sharpness but when pushed you may not.

In each shot the eyes are the focal point and so we need to calculate how square on the face is to the camera. The more it is turned the more we need to give consideration to the distance between the two. 

Focusing on any of the new Canon systems is much, much easier, the offer centre points are very accurate and both the 1D-X and 5D Mk III had no problem using any focus point. It is important to ensure you use a single point and not a grouping as it is that critical. 

I would say the biggest thing is to know your composition and use the nearest focal point as the focus. Recomposing needs to be done as quickly and smoothly as possible given your subject only need move fractionally and the shot is lost.  

All the sample images attached are untouched, I have simply imported using my standard Lightroom preset (which is tweaked from the default) I love the colour rendition and amazing Bokeh that this lens produces. It has wonderful opportunity where your subject needs photographing against an unpleasing backdrop. 

85mm is perfectly sized especially compared to the 70-200 IS 2.8. I do think that primes take getting used to and require you to move alot more to make the composition, but ultimately this will hopefully make me a better photographer. 

I look forward to seeing the results from a real world wedding in a couple of weeks. 

Deep beneath a famous Belgium graveyard lies this now closed off crypt. It is one of the most amazing photographic locations I have found. This is the first in a series of images from this location.

Deep beneath a famous Belgium graveyard lies this now closed off crypt. It is one of the most amazing photographic locations I have found. This is the first in a series of images from this location.

Urban Exploration USA

In June 2013 I travelled to the USA for landscape photography trip. The idea was to drive between the Palouse and Olympic Park of Washington State, and the Columbia Gorge of Oregon. The trip involved driving 2700 miles in 8 days. As part of my trip I wanted to explore the small towns situated and located off the beaten track. I often drove the small back roads which once served as the main highways through a state. This allowed me to find the towns which struggled to survive when the traffic moved routes onto the faster Interstate Highways.

There are many locations marked on maps which you can fin online and I visited several, I found most to be very disappointing and several of the buildings were no longer standing. I found much greater results by simply trying to spot small communes from the road and then trying to find old paths or roads leading to them. There are literally dozens of old farms and cattle ranches that have been abandoned throughout Oregon. I also found old schoolhouses and churches too. A good selection of vintage Fords and Chevrolet trucks were to be found too. 

Second Beach in the National Olympic Park has got to be one of the most amazing locations in the world to photograph sunset. 

Second Beach in the National Olympic Park has got to be one of the most amazing locations in the world to photograph sunset. 

Olympic Contender was taken a the Olympic training facilities in Havana, I just love the worn state of his training shoes and the wonderful tones throughout his body.

Olympic Contender was taken a the Olympic training facilities in Havana, I just love the worn state of his training shoes and the wonderful tones throughout his body.

Out of the Vortex is from a series on high speed water droplets. This is the moment when multiple droplets collide producing amazing shapes that are too fast and too small for the human eye to see.

Out of the Vortex is from a series on high speed water droplets. This is the moment when multiple droplets collide producing amazing shapes that are too fast and too small for the human eye to see.

Yesterday I went out with Frankie for a model shoot. The idea was to try and create beautiful pictures in the most difficult of light. This picture was taken a 2pm in bright sunlight. I’ll be writing a full tutorial on how to shoot portraits in straight direct sunlight shortly.

Yesterday I went out with Frankie for a model shoot. The idea was to try and create beautiful pictures in the most difficult of light. This picture was taken a 2pm in bright sunlight. I’ll be writing a full tutorial on how to shoot portraits in straight direct sunlight shortly.

I love the texture in this woman’s face. I refer to her as the Cigar Lady of Havana. I think the yellow backdrop really sets this off nicely.

I love the texture in this woman’s face. I refer to her as the Cigar Lady of Havana. I think the yellow backdrop really sets this off nicely.

Affectionately known as No 1 The Thames, this abandoned Grain Tower provides a wonderful location for photography. Taken using a Lee 10 stopper and fast moving clouds.

Affectionately known as No 1 The Thames, this abandoned Grain Tower provides a wonderful location for photography. Taken using a Lee 10 stopper and fast moving clouds.