Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

Started Jun 28, 2010 | Discussions
mikeyman13 New Member • Posts: 15
Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

I recently bought a Nikon D5000 with the 18-55 and 55-200 kit lenses. Extremely pleased. I am shooting mostly family photos and after reading so many posts regarding the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G as being a fantastic all around lens for portraits, night, indoor etc., I purchased it this weekend.

After shooting several hundred photos on my new 35mm f/1.8G, I don't feel the pictures are quite as good as the other two kit lens. I believe I am struggling with the narrow depth of field/focus plane when set at the lower aperture.

I have done a fair amount of reading, but wanted to see if anyone on the forum has any tips/techniques I can work on to improve the quality of my photos. (Note: I typically shoot on aperture priority setting.)

As an aside: About 5 months ago I was struggling with whether or not to upgrade from a point and shoot to a dslr. Needless to say, I am now on my third lens and loving photography....

Mike

canterel Contributing Member • Posts: 629
Re: Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

are you shooting people with the 35? at what aperture?

you need good AF technique to use lenses at wide apertures, and it may take hundreds or thousands of frames to get there. you can practice on still or very cooperative subjects, but eventually you'll need to practice with moving subjects as well.

mikeyman13 wrote:

I recently bought a Nikon D5000 with the 18-55 and 55-200 kit lenses. Extremely pleased. I am shooting mostly family photos and after reading so many posts regarding the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G as being a fantastic all around lens for portraits, night, indoor etc., I purchased it this weekend.

After shooting several hundred photos on my new 35mm f/1.8G, I don't feel the pictures are quite as good as the other two kit lens. I believe I am struggling with the narrow depth of field/focus plane when set at the lower aperture.

I have done a fair amount of reading, but wanted to see if anyone on the forum has any tips/techniques I can work on to improve the quality of my photos. (Note: I typically shoot on aperture priority setting.)

As an aside: About 5 months ago I was struggling with whether or not to upgrade from a point and shoot to a dslr. Needless to say, I am now on my third lens and loving photography....

Mike

Guidenet
Guidenet Forum Pro • Posts: 15,748
Re: Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

For starters, I'd advise to learn more. Get a book like "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson. Google Zone System and learn how it applies to digital photography. The fact that you say you tend toward Aperture Priority tells me that you're not yet understanding exposure and how to apply it. Beginners that never really get out of the beginner status seem to use aperture priority the most.

Aperture priority is for when setting the aperture first is the most important thing. That would be depth of field mostly. Shutter priority is for when setting the shutter speed is the "priority." Hence the term priority. Shutter priority would be stopping action mostly. Using the wrong one can still be done, obviously, by watching the other as you change the wrong one, but that really makes little sense. It just shows that one hasn't mastered it yet. Program mode might be for those times where you really don't have a priority. Then there's us oldtimers who just don't trust the meter so shoot manually most of the time.

After you've learned basic Zone System and memorized full stops, it's time to start really understanding depth of field and how to isolate your subject. That 35 f/1.8 is a killer lens, IMO. There's no excuse for not getting wall hangers if you do your part. Moreover that D5000 is also a wonderful camera. My gal does wonderful with it. Start out by using one center focus point. Try turning the rest off for now and learning this. Learn to half press the shutter allowing focus on what you want to be in focus. Keep the shutter half down and recompose to put that place where you want it, and then press the shutter all the way down. On a portrait, I'd pick the eye that's closest to you or either if they're head on. Once in focus, put that eye at a to one side, maybe toward the light a little or whatever. Press the shutter the rest of the way.

The same would go for any other shot. Pick your target, half press, recompose and shoot. Just for fun, you might try spot metering while you're about it to get a hang of knowing what you're metering on.

I like to meter grass or something green in Aperture priority if that's important or shutter priority if that's important, then set the camera to manual with those settings. Now anything in the same light as that green grass will have a good exposure. Stopping movement for me is generally most important more times than depth of field. So I decide what shutter speed I want and let the camera tell me the aperture. I set that manually and maybe adjust based on a test shot and the histogram. Google how to use a histogram too. That and the Zone System will have ou shooting like a pro in no time. Bryan Peterson will teach how to apply it to your composition.

Forgot to mention, if you don't have green grass or a bush, you can meter off your palm and open one full stop to be the same as grass. Remember, your hand must be in the same light as your subject. The hand is zone 6 or twice as bright as a neutral density grey card. Grass is generall the same as a neutral density card. Saves carrying a card around or an incident meter. If your subject is in bright light, but the front of that subject is shady, hold your hand the same way. Think about the light and where it's coming from. For example, a bird in a bright sky right overhead is probably showing it's shady side to you, so meter your hand or grass in the shade. The light is all important. You're painting with it.

Once you set your camera this way manually, you need not change anything to do with exposure unless the light changes. For example, you're shooting a car race. You've found the right exposure by metering some grass in the sun. You've taken a test shot or so and adjusted for some blown hightlights. Now the camera is ready. You might not need to change the manual exposure setting for the next few hours. Just check occasionally. You're much faster and more accurate than letting the meter get fooled by reflections and sky. Just check that histogram every so often.

I"d glue that 35 f/1.8 on your camera until you've totally mastered it and the camera, then branch out. Take the protective filter off.

Sorry for the long post and the above is purely my opinion. Others might be different..

Edit: Visit the Grand Tetons. They are beautiful, especially after a Spring snowfall.

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Cheers, Craig

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PhilDubai Contributing Member • Posts: 700
Re: Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

Guidenet wrote:

Learn to half press the shutter allowing focus on what you want to be in focus. Keep the shutter half down and recompose to put that place where you want it, and then press the shutter all the way down. On a portrait, I'd pick the eye that's closest to you or either if they're head on. Once in focus, put that eye at a to one side, maybe toward the light a little or whatever. Press the shutter the rest of the way.

The same would go for any other shot. Pick your target, half press, recompose and shoot. Just for fun, you might try spot metering while you're about it to get a hang of knowing what you're metering on.

Some very good advice there from Craig. One thing I'd look out for though, with the recomposing, is that if you're shooting at f1.8 you will have a very thin DoF. Even recomposing slightly after focussing on a eye could move the intended focus target out of the plane of focus. Stick the camera into AF-C to help.

For example, if you're taking a head shot of a family member at a range of around 1m at F1.8, your depth of field will be around 6 cm. Only a slight movement towards or away from the subject when recomposing may result in a sharp nose or ears, and blurred eyes. Stop down to F4 and the depth of field widens to around 11cm, or at F2.8 to 9cm. It doesn't sound like much, but will make a difference while you're learning and practising. Also, the lens is pretty sharp from F1.8 but a very very good performer from F2.2-F2.8.

When taking family portraits and learning about your new kit, I'd start off at F4 and then take a series of shots at increasing apertures to F2 or F1.8 and see how you get on.
--
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OP mikeyman13 New Member • Posts: 15
Re: Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

Many thanks for the responses. To answer the first post, I tend to shoot my 10 month old; therefore, I have a very active subject. DoF at low light settings was challenging as I was tended to be close to him and therefore was getting some unwanted blur.

As to the second, I am working on my understanding of exposure. I have been working off aperture priority and allowed shutter speed/ISO to adjust accordingly as this was what I was told to use when I first purchased the camera. However, I am now seeing the limitations in my photos by using just this setting. Here is a typical photo:

I am definitely going to get the Understanding Exposure book, but the newest edition comes out in August so I was going to wait until then.

PhilDubai wrote:

Guidenet wrote:

Learn to half press the shutter allowing focus on what you want to be in focus. Keep the shutter half down and recompose to put that place where you want it, and then press the shutter all the way down. On a portrait, I'd pick the eye that's closest to you or either if they're head on. Once in focus, put that eye at a to one side, maybe toward the light a little or whatever. Press the shutter the rest of the way.

The same would go for any other shot. Pick your target, half press, recompose and shoot. Just for fun, you might try spot metering while you're about it to get a hang of knowing what you're metering on.

Some very good advice there from Craig. One thing I'd look out for though, with the recomposing, is that if you're shooting at f1.8 you will have a very thin DoF. Even recomposing slightly after focussing on a eye could move the intended focus target out of the plane of focus. Stick the camera into AF-C to help.

For example, if you're taking a head shot of a family member at a range of around 1m at F1.8, your depth of field will be around 6 cm. Only a slight movement towards or away from the subject when recomposing may result in a sharp nose or ears, and blurred eyes. Stop down to F4 and the depth of field widens to around 11cm, or at F2.8 to 9cm. It doesn't sound like much, but will make a difference while you're learning and practising. Also, the lens is pretty sharp from F1.8 but a very very good performer from F2.2-F2.8.

When taking family portraits and learning about your new kit, I'd start off at F4 and then take a series of shots at increasing apertures to F2 or F1.8 and see how you get on.

I have been trying to work on this:

As you noted, when I bought the 35mm f/1.8G, I was having trouble with the narrow DoF at 1.8-2.8 for late evening shots. All in all, it is apparent that I have not mastered enough basic techniques to really be able to fully utilize the benefits of my new lens. I don't have those pictures uploaded yet otherwise I would demonstrate some of my common problems.

Craig/Phil thanks for the suggestions - I will start working on those today.

Mike

canterel Contributing Member • Posts: 629
Re: Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

here's a different kind of suggestion: get closer. a lot of people will tell you that portraits are best from at least 10 feet away, but with kids you can get a lot closer than that. for one thing, they are smaller, so perspective issues are less pronounced; for another, a lot of times we view kids from very close up when we don't have a camera in our hands, so we're used to that perspective. and the shots will feel more intimate.

at closer distances you'll have less DOF for a given aperture, but you'll have a larger target which will make it easier for the AF system. focus and recompose is fine if you don't have a sensor that sits on your subject, but you will have to get really good at it for shots of children.

finally, i would stick with aperture priority for now. the kinds of photos you are taking are more about composition and picking the right moment than they are about precise exposure. if you were a landscape person i'd have the opposite advice. are you shooting RAW? that gives you more latitude to correct exposure in post.

WEC Regular Member • Posts: 143
Re: Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

GREAT post, Craig. I am not much further in development than the OP. Yet i have spent more time trolling for used lenses, thinking if only i had this or that the pictures would be fantastic. I think you put your finger on what I am sensing: I really have been treating my newish (now) d90 and all of these lenses like a bigger, shinier, point and shoot. Nothing really wrong about that, but i don't really feel in control of what I am doing.

I went from a p&s to a d40, with an 18 - 200, to the d90 and 3 or 4 lenses, including the 35 / 1.8. Loved the d40 and found it effortless to make images i enjoyed, a lot. But the d90 has been a real challenge.

I am also taking mostly family shots although my kids (at 12, 10, and 5) are willing to stand still for a minute or two. And I think that what I am starting to realize is that I don't really know what I am doing. I get using shutter mode to freeze the action and priority mode to manipulate dof, but I don't really understand what the manipulations I make are doing to the camera, exposure is still a crap shoot, etc. And don't even get me started on picture controls, etc etc.

What I am driving at is i think i very much like the idea of sticking a lens on my camera and using it with a sense of photographic purpose, rather than to grab a shot of my kids being cute, as being two different functionalities of the same camera. And, the better I get at the former, the more satisfied I will be with the later. If that makes sense.

Having said all of that, Craig, please help me understand something very, very basic: when you say meter off the grass, or your palm, what do you mean? As I say, I have a d90. Are you suggesting that I set the apperature and shutter speed to produce an image that is lined up at zero in the viewfinder exposure meter, when focued on the grass, and then use those settings on the "thing" i want to shoot? Is that different than focusing on the thing I want to shoot and keeping it at zero then?

Thanks.

Walter

SNGX1327 Veteran Member • Posts: 5,186
Re: Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

the canon 28mm f/1.8 was my lens of choice on my previous camera. after switching to the D90 a few months ago and picking up the 35mm a few weeks ago i took it to my first typical "outing" for me -- a drunken rowdy tailgate with my friends in kansas city for the I-70 series (baseball). i have to say that i am super impressed with how the 35mm handles. the images out of this by far blow away what i was getting with the canon (granted, it was also an old camera).

first, a lot of people whine about sharpness, especially wide open, and especially at the corners. who cares about sharpness at the corners at f/1.8? isn't your subject in the middle of the frame? at f/1.8 the corners will most likely be out of focus. so don't hesitate to shoot the lens open. even in broad daylight. think about it, why buy a 35mm f/1.8 lens if you are going to shoot it at f/8? at f/8 you might as well be using your 18-55mm lens or 18-105 or whatever.

saturday was one of the hottest and brightest days we've had so far this year. at ISO L1.0 (100) and f/2.8 i was teetering on the upper shutter speed limit so i was shoting at the largest aperture i could. later in the day cloud came in and allowed me to open the aperture as high as f/2. this is where you get the great shots that differentiate an SLR from a compact camera. even in broad daylight when you don't NEED that high aperture you get the great narrow DOF shots where your subject stands out and the background/foreground is blurry.

other advice: select your AF point manually. center AF point along with "focus & recompose" is the most basic, but i personally use the cross buttons to manually select an AF point (which was much easier to do with the canon, btw!).

a lot of people think that a fast lens is made for low light situations, but it's quite the opposite. in the brightest of light you get the best AF results, you eliminate any possibility of blur due to the high shutter speeds, and you get clean results because you aren't pushing any boundaries of ISO.

sure it was bright enough that i could have used my 18-105. it's more versatile, and i could have gotten some shots framed closer. but i had way more fun with the 35, and i think the shots came out better due to the forced prime lens framing and fast aperture

Hear2see Veteran Member • Posts: 9,190
one of the best comments in a long long time!

SNGX1327 wrote:

first, a lot of people whine about sharpness, especially wide open, and especially at > the corners. who cares about sharpness at the corners at f/1.8? isn't your subject in > the middle of the frame? at f/1.8 the corners will most likely be out of focus. so > don't hesitate to shoot the lens open. even in broad daylight. think about it, why > buy a 35mm f/1.8 lens if you are going to shoot it at f/8? at f/8 you might as well > be using your 18-55mm lens or 18-105 or whatever.

Just a great comment..from SMGX1327
way way too much fretting over corner sharpness!

yes that f/1.8 helps to isolate and call attention to what you want to call attention to but to me, the affect is best seen at distances where the subject is less than 20 feet or so..

may I suggest one thing to look out for is a sparkley pin pointy lit backgrounds... the lens can kinda crunch up that kind of background bokeh IMO
..but it's a fun lens as you no doubt are finding out.

shutterbugsdesign New Member • Posts: 1
Re: Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

Hi mikeyman13!

i've experience the same thing as you when I first tried shooting with a prime lens. I tried the 50mm and the 35mm.

I posted on my blog http://www.shutterbugsdesign.com/main/nikkor-35mm/ the reason why I decided to buy this lens. Some of my sample raw shots can also be found there.

Here are some basic settings I commonly use.

If you want to blur the background of your subject of course you need to make the opening to f/1.8. aperture priority is fine. I shoot on manual. These are my settings:
aperture: f/1.8
shutter: 1/8sec
iso: 400
you can try using flash but I rarely use it when using prime lens.

If you want to make you subject and the background both sharp, just make the opening to f/8.

just remember to check the metering of you camera just so you get the right exposure.

happy shooting and post some of your shots!

ianz28 Veteran Member • Posts: 5,382
Re: Beginner Tips for Shooting with Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

1/8th of a second? Or 1/80th of a second?

I would strongly encourage you to watch your shutter speeds and to keep them at or above 1/40th of a second with the 35mm unless shooting on a tripod.

If you are struggling to keep your shutter speeds up you can set up Auto-ISO and set your minimum shutter speed to around 1/40th or 1/50th of a second. As soon as your camera can't achieve those shutter speeds at the selected aperture it will start increasing the ISO to get to that shutter speed. The D5000 can still capture pretty nice photo's up to ISO 1600. (though you should be careful with this tool as it can be a double edged sword - you lose sharpness, color accuracy, generate additional noise, mess up flash photography, and the tool itself can become a crutch.)

Both those photo's you posted are quite nice. As another poster stated you shouldn't be afraid to get in closer.

Another thing to learn is the "histogram". This is a very useful tool..... one that gives a lot of information about your exposure.

Going hand in hand with the histogram is the button on the top right of the camera, right behind the shutter. This button is the "EV" or exposure value adjustment. + to make your photo's brighter and - (minus) to make your photo's darker. Different scenes may require slight adjustments of your EV to quickly and easily get your histogram/exposure to where you want it. The EV button tells the camera's meter to adjust the exposure depending on the value you set.

On this photo I would have set the EV to +0.7. Reason for this is that there was back lighting and your baby's face is shadowed. The camera metered the scene well.....but, we need to tell the camera that we care more about the brightness of the babies face than the overall brightness of the image. This is a perfect example of a situation where moving in tighter would likely improve the photo.

There are other ways we can manipulate the camera's meter. Utilizing either spot or center weighted priority. Using these metering methods in conjunction with the FV/EV lock (activated with your thumb on the back of the camera) can be very effective and may be something you want to study in the future. For now I'd stick with the histogram and using the EV button on the top of the camera.

Finally, I pretty much only use lenses wide-open when it's absolutely required by the scene or lighting. Every lens I own benefits from stopping down slightly. The 35 f1.8 is no exception and I generally shoot it around f2.8. By all means when your shutter speeds start getting low and your ISO starts climbing up start opening the lens to faster apertures.

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