“What F-STOP Was That Taken AT?”

Through the years, through all the books I have written, I have thousands of emails, letters and phone calls asking for advice…which I truly enjoy receiving (it is nice to know you are paying attention).  While many of these messages are funny, insightful and heart-felt, some of these questions give me great insight into the photographers that write to me.  By the far, the single biggest question I receive is in regards to what F-Stop a certain portrait was taken at….REALLY?  Of all the things that you would take the time to send me a message and ask about, THE F-STOP!

If the photographer decided to shoot an image at f/8 and the portrait was amazing, wouldn’t it probably been just as beautiful at 5.6 or 11.  You decide the f/stop of the image for the depth of field you want to achieve.  Outdoors I shoot wide open, since I shoot everything in the middle of the day, I want to soften the background as much as possible.  I use a 70-200mm, 2.8 lens, with most shots taken at 200mm to maximize the background softness, again because I work in the middle of the day.  Many young photographers think to themselves, “I can’t take outdoor portraits like that, I don’t have a lens like that,  so I can’t make my portraits look like that!”.  If you don’t have a lens that opens up to 2.8, use a longer telephoto lens, which will achieve a similar result.   If you don’t have a 200mm lens, but you have a moderate telephoto that has a larger f/stop, again it will be close.

The basic idea here is that is the knowledge of what to do and how to adapt is the most important thing for a photographer, not having the same equipment or using the same setting as successful photographers they admire.  The second question is always about brands of equipment.  Wow…does this matter at all?  I use Canon cameras because  I personally like them and it’s what I have always used.  Would it matter at all if I used Nikon or Sony, for that matter film or digital?  Not at all!  All the questions about camera equipment really are not the fault of younger photographers, they are sold on the idea that brands matter by equipment companies and the speakers they sponsor who give infomercials about their products.

As a young photographers I saw a speaker, who is still speaking today, stand up and give the most motivating speech I have ever heard about the quality of Kodak products (this was in the days of film).  Exactly 10 months later I was at a convention and saw the same speaker profess his love for Fuji Products and bash Kodak!  As I said, I use Canon camera products and yet I don’t received anything for saying so, nor do I want anyone to buy their products just because I use them.  I use Alien Bee lights, because I am frugal and they are a good product at a very reasonable price and again, I don’t receive anything for saying so, nor do I want you to buy them based on me using them…because quite frankly it has nothing to do with the quality of my images or yours.

It’s what you KNOW, not what you USE that make the difference.  F-stops and equipment are easy questions to ask, when you don’t know what the important questions are.  It is much more important to understand why a photographer made the choices he or she did, rather than the equipment he or she used.  It’s the surgeon, not the scalpel that make the difference!

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on January 29, 2011.

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