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How to Capture Close-Ups in Digital Wedding Photography

Though a wedding has a lot of fast-paced movement for a photographer to capture, it also has quiet times that present golden opportunities for some really great photos. Some of the most iconic pictures of most weddings, like a portrait of the bride in her dress or a candid of the couple in an unrehearsed embrace, come from these calm moments.

How to select an aperture for a close-up

Choosing an aperture is one of the first elements you decide when shooting the still moments. Aperture is one of the factors that determine your depth of field, or how much of the picture is acceptably sharp. Depth of field is used to create mood by softening or hardening the foreground and background of your photo.

When shooting a single subject, photographers have different preferences. When deciding what to do, consider the information in the following list, which addresses apertures f/1.2 to f/11 and how they create certain effects. Pick and choose what you want to use based on your circumstances and artistic style.

  • f/1.2 to f/2: These widest possible apertures are best used for a single subject. They result in a very shallow depth of field, which isolates your subject from the foreground and background. They can create a very soft and dreamy look.

    50mm, 1/200 sec., f/1.4, 100
    50mm, 1/200 sec., f/1.4, 100

    If you’re shooting a portrait, be aware that a person’s face will not be entirely in focus with apertures this wide.

  • f/2.8 to f/4: These apertures also give you a shallow depth of field but allow more of a person’s face to be in focus. For a single subject, if you start around f/2.8, most of the face is sharp, but the ears are softly focused. If you go up to f/4, you can get the entire head in focus.

    If you’re photographing two people, start at a minimum of f/4 to ensure that both people are acceptably sharp in the picture.

  • f/4.5 to f/5.6: For a single subject, f/4.5 to f/5.6 begins to add sharpness to the entire subject but also includes more of the background.

    This aperture range works well for pictures of two people and small groups.

  • f/6.3 to f/8: These apertures add increasing sharpness to a single subject as well as add in more of the foreground and background.

    This aperture range also can be used for larger-group photos with several rows of people.

  • f/9 to f/11: A single subject photographed with this aperture range is very sharp. The foreground and background are sharp as well.

    50mm, 1/40 sec., f/11, 800
    50mm, 1/40 sec., f/11, 800

    This range also can be used for very large group photos, such as the couple and all the wedding guests.

Play around with apertures and depth of field to find what looks best to you.

How to capture a close-up by focusing on the eyes

As you photograph people on a wedding day and capture their expressions, keep in mind that the eyes are the strongest focal point of a photo of a person.

If your subject is looking at the camera, the eyes are the most crucial part of the picture to have tack sharp (highest clarity and detail possible) and well lit. Here are a few ways you can make eyes pop in a photograph:

  • Using single-shot mode: If your subject is standing still, single-shot mode is very helpful when focusing on the eyes. Single-shot mode works well because when you press the shutter-release button halfway down, it locks the focus until you take the picture.

  • Taking advantage of your autofocus points: Rather than using the center autofocus point to lock the focus and then recomposing, consider using the different autofocus points available. Move the point to the center of one of your subject’s eyes.

  • Smiling with the eyes: Without a smile on her face or in her eyes, a person can look sad, depressed, or even angry. To smile with the eyes, have your subject raise her eyebrows slightly and open her eyes a little bit. You can also tell her to think about how happy she is and to communicate that with her eyes.

    50mm, 1/250 sec., f/1.6, 125
    50mm, 1/250 sec., f/1.6, 125
  • Creating catchlights: One of the biggest ways to make your subject’s eyes come to life is to give them a little gleam with catchlights. Catchlights are reflected light in the eyes, and you can capture this effect if you’re aware of the light source and make sure that enough is present to provide that reflection.

    When you figure out where your light is coming from, angle your subject toward the light to give the eyes a little oomph.

    28mm, 1/100 sec., f/2.8, 125
    28mm, 1/100 sec., f/2.8, 125

How to choose angles and framing for close-up portraits

To prevent your pictures of the calm moments from becoming static or boring, consider switching your angles and in-camera framing to add interest to the photo.

  • Angles: Most portraits are taken from an eye-level point of view, so changing your angle can show different details, especially when shooting close-ups. Try standing up on a chair and shooting your subject from above or getting down on the ground and shooting up at your subject.

    50mm, 1/160 sec., f/4.0, 100
    50mm, 1/160 sec., f/4.0, 100
  • In-camera framing: If you find yourself getting stuck shooting in portrait mode or in landscape mode, try switching it up to add variety to your photos.

How to play with lighting for a close-up photo

Lighting can have a huge impact on your photos by creating different moods. When you combine certain types of lighting with expressions, you can create photographs that draw in a viewer.

50mm, 1/100 sec., f/3.2, 125
50mm, 1/100 sec., f/3.2, 125
  • Side lighting: When you light a subject with a neutral expression from the side, it can add a very dramatic effect to a photograph.

    38mm, 1/50 sec., f/3.2, 160
    38mm, 1/50 sec., f/3.2, 160
  • Backlighting: Backlighting, especially in golden sunlight, can convey a sense of warmth, happiness, and romance, highlighting the emotions already present.

    50mm, 1/640 sec., f/3.5, 125
    50mm, 1/640 sec., f/3.5, 125
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