People pictures with shallow depth of field

I am not particularly interested in portraiture that entails setting up lights and diffusers, umbrellas, reflectors, etc. in a studio or even outside.  My photo club has offered workshops in this genre of photography in the past, and I have not even been interested enough to attend and listen, let alone participate in the photographing of models in front of lights.

Candid people pictures are a little more my style.  But I am not very good at it.  I would never make a good street photographer, in fear that I would be observed by my subject and reprimanded. 

Until recently, all my people pictures were taken with point and shoot cameras using natural light when available and the little pop-up flash when more light was required.  And you know how ugly those flash photos can be: a black background with the people looking like deer-caught-in-headlights.

I viewed these "candid" images pretty much as snapshots: great for family and friends to look at online or in 4" x 6" prints.  These images recorded memories (which in itself is a good reason to take a picture) but are not much in the way of art.

However, this all changed last fall at my step-daughter's rehearsal dinner.  I had just become a new owner of a micro-four-thirds (m43) camera, the Panasonic G2.  [I no longer have this camera, having loved it so much that I upgraded to the GH2, and more recently I added the Olympus E-M5 to my toy chest.]  M43 cameras are thinner than dSLRs so with a small lens adapter you are able to use almost any old lens, as long as the adapter has been designed for that particular lens. 

For $20 on EBay I bought a m43-to-Nikon adapter.  I then attached an old Nikkor 58mm F1.4 lens.  Because the sensor on a m43 camera is 1/2 the diagonal dimension of a full frame (FF) camera, the 58mm lens gives a more telephoto view, equivalent to the field of view of a 116mm lens on a FF camera.  This made for an awesome people lens with great light collecting ability and a pretty shallow depth of field. 

Below are a few shots I took in the bar after the dinner.  Nothing outstanding, but I loved the shallow depth of field I got by using the large aperture of F1.4, F1.8 or F2.  Mostly shot at ISO 1600, the G2 was a bit grainy.  A fill flash would have been a great addition, and likely the first recommendation any accomplished portrait photographer would recommend, but I didn't want to attract attention to myself nor appear to be annoying.

The large aperture lens meant a far blurrier background than what I could get with a point and shoot camera, where the depth of field is bigger at any given F-stop due to the physics of the small point and shoot sensor size.  The blurry background (and foreground) that I was able to achieve helped draw attention to the main subject, as the eye goes naturally to the sharpest part of the image.

This image more than the others would have been greatly helped with a little fill flash.
It would have eliminated the racoon eyes  (i.e. shadows created by the overhead
lights) on this party-goer who was "haming it up" for the picture.

I was excited by these pictures.  I had so much fun.  All would have been better with fill flash, but with a flash I would not have been able to move around unnoticed.  I took a number of images of the groom and his entourage shown above in black and white, and not once did any of them notice I was clicking away.  I am sure the excitement in part was from using an old manual lens designed for a 35mm film camera on a new digital camera. That made the exercise a bit challenging, but also rewarding.

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