Portrait photography with the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses

edited June 2012 Posted in » Nikon D5100 Forum
This comment was converted into its own thread. I thought it would be helpful for others to see, read and enjoy...

@trixter: I'm just starting out and want to take some portraits of family for practice. The camera came with a 18-55 lens and I bought a 55-200 lens with flash gun and tripod. Is this enough to get started or do you have any other recommendations.

@Moose: The ideal focal length for portrait photography is between 50mm and 150mm. Any wider and features (like noses) won't look right. Any longer and faces start to lose dimension, becoming flat.

So to get started with portrait photography, I would use your 55-200mm lens and shoot mostly towards the wide end of the lens (55mm).

For portraits, you generally want a low aperture f-numbers between f/1.4 and f/2.8, however, neither of your lenses are capable of getting that low. So you'll want to shoot with the lens that will give you the lowest available aperture at a focal length that's inside the ideal portrait range.

For example, your 18-55mm lens can go down to f/5.6 when shooting at 55mm. However, your 55-200mm lens can go down to f/4 when shooting at 55mm. Knowing this, it would be best to shoot with the 55-200mm lens.

As for settings, enable Aperture priority mode (A on the mode dial) and select an f-number appropriate for the subject or scene. Leave the ISO set to Auto and enable Single-point AF so you can control the focus point.

Since you can only go down to f/4, use it for all individual portraits and small group shots (2 to 4 people). If you're capturing groups of 4 to 8, bump it up to f/5.6.

In regards to the flash, when shooting indoors it's a good idea to bounce the light off the ceiling rather than directly at your subject. This will give you more even coverage throughout the room and more natural looking shots indoors.

When shooting outdoors, try to position your subjects so the sun is hitting their back at an angle. You want their face shaded from the sun. The flash will act as fill light, naturally illuminating their face and removing all shadows.

Hope that helps and happy shooting! :)


  • edited February 2012
    Thanks Moose, very helpful. Since posting this I have purchased a 50mm prime lens which goes down to f/1.8. This I'm hoping will give me much sharper shots. I'll let you know how it goes.
  • edited December 2012
    I'm very new to DSLR. It's my first DSLR and I think everybody starts like that. After reading the pointers that you have given here, I noticed at the top it says for Nikon forum. Can this also apply to my new Canon T3i that came with an EF-S 18-55 IS II? Thank you and thank God I found your site.
  • edited March 2013
    There's no Automatic setting on the ISO when using Aperture priority mode, right?
  • edited March 2013
    Hi there Moose. Love your name and your game! I have a broker who would like an interior photo shoot of her for a business card. I have a Nikon D5100 with an 18-55mm lens, and attempted to follow the above instructions, but I'm not sure about the settings for natural interior light. Also, I just bought an external flash SB80DX and I'm experimenting. The photo shoot will be around 3:30 pm when the sun is still moderately bright. Thank you in advance.
  • Howdy @1Vue - Thanks for the kind words!

    To answer your first question, the Automatic ISO setting is actually buried within the menu system (MENU > Shooting Menu (camera icon) > ISO sensitivity settings). You have to activate it. Once it's activated it will automatically select an ISO.

    To answer your second question, it's a bit difficult to give you a good starting point because of all the light variables. I would still shoot in aperture priority, zoom the lens between 35-55mm and if possible trigger the flash off-camera (you should be able to trigger the flash using the built-in flash).

    Placing the flash off camera will give you more dramatic light. If that's too advanced, then mount it to your camera and bounce it off the ceiling (point the flash head upwards at an angle).

    Lastly, I would definitely shoot in RAW instead of JPEG. This will allow you to adjust the white-balance and other important aspects of the image in post processing using a program like Lightroom.

    Best of luck with your shoot!
  • edited October 2014
    Hello Moose, thanks a lot for sharing this valuable information. I just got started with photography a bit with a Canon 1200D. I was trying to use shutter priority mode to get the fountain in slow shutter speed of 10-15 seconds by using tripod, however, even on aperture priority around 28-29 (ISO-Auto), the picture was completely blown out with light; it was all white. I agree it was a full sunny day. I even went into the shade of the trees to capture the fountain, however, it did not work. The picture was visible only at the shutter speed of 2 seconds. If I was going beyond that it was not working. Please help.
  • edited October 2014
    Your picture was blown out with light due to overexposure. That’s the simple explanation. If shot in RAW, some photos can still be salvaged in post-production even if the original shot was overexposed, but it won’t work for yours because of the severity of the overexposure. Skip ahead if you don’t want to read this part but here’s a quick explanation as to how severe you were overexposed:

    You mentioned it was a sunny day, so I’ll apply the Sunny 16 rule which says that the optimal exposure is ISO 100, f/16, 1/125.
    You mentioned you want to slow the shutter to 15 secs. That’s 11 stops of light that you’re adding. So you need to subtract 11 stops of light from the ISO and aperture to maintain optimal exposure.
    Your ISO cannot go lower than 100 (true for most cameras), so you can’t change that.
    Most lenses have a minimum aperture of f/22, so that’s 1 stop of light that you’re able to subtract.
    That means you’re still overexposed by 10 stops. In other words, the photo is not salvageable.

    Here’s what you need to do.
    First thing is to use a faster shutter speed. Maybe you have other reasons for wanting to slow the shutter to 15 seconds, but if you want to just capture the movement of the fountain water, even 1/4 or 1/2 seconds will work.
    Take the shot when it’s not as sunny. By the way, you going into the shade won’t really help; it’s the fountain that needs to be shaded. Even then, it’ll probably still be too bright. Without an ND filter, you may need to take the shot after the sun sets.
    Use an ND filter. This will reduce the amount of light hitting your sensor and allow for slower shutter speeds. This may not be necessary if you do the 2 things above.
  • I don't know just what's available for Canons, but Nikon has remote cords that allow you to mount a flash a few feet from the camera with full TTL - very handy if your flash doesn't do remote by itself or if your camera doesn't do remote firing without a visible flash. You can put the flash on a stand, or on a bracket, or just hand hold it. The older version that lacks some locking features still works fine, and can be found used pretty inexpensively. Great for macros too.
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