Everyone loves a tack sharp photo, and I am one of them, however there are times when softer image makes a more pleasant photo, and that is when taking portraits.
By portraits, I don’t mean animal portraits (you need the sharpest lens possible for these) but human portrait shots. Super sharp lenses are great, there are no arguments about that, but if you use them to take human portraits they show every spot, pimple, blemish and change in skin tone, which doesn’t make for a flattering photo.
Okay, you can use photo editing software in the digital darkroom to even out the skin tones and deal with the spots, pimples and blemishes by cloning them out however this requires suitable photo editing software, as well as the knowledge and experience on how to do the job so you can’t tell it’s been edited. Personally, I don’t have the time and inclination in getting to know how to manipulate photos to this extent as I like to get it right in camera therefore I just don’t take super sharp portrait shots.
Yep, in my experience it is best to use a slightly softer lens for human portrait photography not just to prevent the issues above but to create more pleasing photos. Children especially, benefit from being photographed with a softer lens, as does women. In order to capture slightly soft portrait photos you don’t necessarily need a soft lens, you just need to use it in a specific way.
One of my favourite portrait lenses is the 50mm f1.8, and since I shoot a Canon I use the Canon branded 50mm f1.8. This is a cheap and cheerful lens that has excellent image quality and, if used wide open is a little soft, resulting in a pleasing photo.
Many photographers like the 50mm f1.8 lens however they all criticise it for being soft when used wide open, i.e. its maximum widest aperture. Okay, I appreciate some people may see this as a bad thing, but as I am sure you have already guessed by the above, I think it is one of the advantages of this lens and one of its unique selling points.
Whilst the Canon 50mm f1.8 lens is soft at its maximum f1.8 aperture if you stop the lens down it becomes tack sharp. This is a good thing, but only if you’re not photographing portraits of people. Bearing this in mind, it is worth noting that in good light using an aperture of f1.8 requires a fast shutter speed and your camera may not be able to cope with this. In order to overcome this you are going to have to reduce the ISO rather than stop the lens down to keep the lens ‘soft’.
If you don’t own a 50mm f1.8 lens (and I highly recommend you have a look in to getting one because they are awesome lenses that are cheap as chips to buy) it is worth noting that all lenses are at their softest when used wide open, i.e. at the widest maximum aperture.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.