Shooting Wide Open?

Here’s a question from a reader.  Kevyn asks:

I really want the 50 1.2 and read on your blog that you prefer it over the 1.4 (which is what I currently have)- I use it all the time.  I am trying to do my research first though and have stumbled across forums with people saying that the 1.2 has a learning curve and that it is hard to get it in focus.  I feel like I have this issue with my 1.4 at times.  I will focus dead on the subject and it still is not as sharp as I would like it.  Okay- I know you don’t have to help me.  BUT- any advice would be GREATLY appreciated.

Thanks for the question, Kevyn.  I’ve covered this a little bit, but I will go into it a little more because this seems to be a problem for a lot of you.  When I got my first prime lens – the 50 1.8 – I shot everything at 1.8.  A whole engagement session.  And when I got home almost every single shot was out of focus.  I threw that lens in my closet, said a few curse words, and vowed to never, ever use a prime lens again.  Well, now I know why my shots were out of focus.  So, you don’t make the same mistake as me read this carefully and slowly – Just because you have a lens that will stop down to 1.2, 1.4, or 1.8 does not mean you have to shoot that wide open!  When shooting at those apertures you are going to get a ton of out of focus pictures.  Why?  Because it’s extremely hard to get everything in focus at that shallow depth of field.  You may get the nose instead of the eyes or one eye instead of two.  Also, if you’re shooting more than one subject you are bound to only get one in focus.  Frustrating, right?

I love my 50 1.2 because it’s a great piece of glass.  It’s buttery and yummy and oh so gorgeous, but I rarely shoot at 1.2.  Very, very rarely.  And if I do shoot at 1.2 I will shoot the same picture at 2.0 just to make sure I got it.  I very rarely shoot wider than 1.8.  Usually somewhere between 2.0 and 2.8.  And guess what?  I don’t get very many pictures that are out of focus and even though I’m not shooting wide open I think my pictures still look pretty good and sharp.

There are a lot of very good and talented photographers who shoot wide open all the time and their are pictures are amazing.  But, I’m not one of them.  When eyes are out of focus it’s a deal breaker for me so I choose to shoot not as wide open.

Here are two shots I took very quickly today under not the most ideal lighting situations (and B was mesmerized by GaCa aka Madagascar).  Just a little lightning done in photoshop.  Honestly, under ideal lighting situations the 1.2 probably would have turned out a little better, but I worked with what I had :)  You be the judge and see which one you like better.  I have my favorite.

f 1.2, ISO 250, 1/320


f 2.0, ISO 400, 1/250


And, yes.  My son is wearing a Run DMC shirt because he is hardcore like that.


  1. Nicole says

    Great comparison! Nice to visually see an example to really “get” it! Thanks!

  2. Rachel says

    I am SO glad you posted about this! I just realized the other day that shooting wide open wasn’t always the best thing.
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..Seriously?!!? =-.

  3. Kathleen says

    Yay! Thanks for answering this question. I am just now realizing that wide open is not where I need to be right now. Next please share with us some of knowledge to acheive those amazing sunflare shots. :) Pretty, pretty please.
    .-= Kathleen´s last blog ..Grocery Deals 8/26 – 9/1 =-.

  4. Elizabeth says

    So, if you don’t shoot at 1.8 or lower, then why should someone purchase the 1.2 lens? I have the 1.8 and love it. It’s all I use.

    I’m curious did you have to do the engagement session over?

  5. Laura says

    Oh My! I did that with my 1.8 with a friend’s maternity session! Dad was OOF almost every time! I could totally tell-they couldn’t. hmmm… I gave them mostly pics of just mom or bellies etc. It was a reminder to ALWAYS check your settings AND move your ap around to make sure you get the shot!!

  6. Trista says

    Dang B…when did you get all gangsta on me?? ;-) Sorry..couldn’t resist :-)
    .-= Trista´s last blog ..Tracy and Andy : Enaged! =-.

  7. I just learned that tip as well. I didn’t realize that to get really sharp images you typically have to shoot with a higher aperture. I have some great ones of my kids at 2.0, but when you start adding more people forget it :) I 2nd the sunflare tip ; But sometimes a magician doesn’t want to reveal all their tricks! I try to do sunflare and I blind myself everytime!
    .-= Noel Kelley´s last blog ..Lani =-.

  8. Tanika Lamar says

    Love the RunDMC shirt!!!!!

  9. Love this post!! Thanks Drew!! :) Love the look on his face in that second one.
    .-= Jamie Bengard´s last blog ..Happy Birthday Dad!! =-.

  10. ac says

    you crack me up “yes, my son is hardcore like that” lol

    ♥ ac
    .-= ac´s last blog ..The climb at twilight =-.

  11. Ashley says

    Thanks for explaining this Drew! I love the philosophy that just because you have a 1.2, doesn’t mean you have to shoot at a 1.2. Awesome.
    .-= Ashley´s last blog ..Multitasking in an unexpected form. =-.

  12. Interesting. Helpful. THANK YOU! My fav is #2.
    .-= Bobbie Brown´s last blog ..I have moved! =-.

  13. Wow! Great comparison! Thanks for taking the time to do that. I second the question Elizabeth had. Then why buy a 1.2? Is it just better quality glass?
    .-= Wendy Tienken´s last blog ..Summer =-.

  14. Tonya says

    I like the second one Drew. It is sharper but you still that bohek in the background. Side note…I’m guilty of shooting wide open and have learned by trial and error of when to shoot wide open. My favorite subjects to shoot wide open with my 50mm 1.4 lens is tiny infant features. Yummy indeed!!!

  15. Jen Imus says

    The clincher for me was when I borrowed your lens at the shoot — the 1.2 was more in focus and tack-sharp vs. the 1.4. I actually loved my 1.8, but the 1.2 is nothing short of amazing. And I’ll say that even when shooting at 2.8 the pictures come out so much sharper. Tell B the girls say “hi”! :-)
    .-= Jen Imus´s last blog ..The end is near =-.

  16. im so not a mom. but I sooo appreciate coming on here and reading your tips! thank you so much!! you are awesome!

  17. Jo G. says

    i love the expression on B’s face in the second pic <3
    my 9 yr old son has the same shirt. he LOVES run dmc.

  18. Christine says

    Love all your advice! Thanks for taking time to share!
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Happy to be Me =-.

  19. Rachael says

    Such a good point. And something I had to learn the hard way. I love shooting all the way down at 1.8…but find that with kiddos I rarely get the chance. They move around WAY too much. Shooting them at 2.8 is easier for me (I use the Nikkor 24-70 f2.8). I save the nifty fifty for those adults who can sit still and my other fine art subjects :)
    .-= Rachael´s last blog ..My FIRST Give-a-way/ Contest !!! =-.

  20. Lanette says

    Hi Drew! First off I just want to say Thanks So Much for taking time out of your busy schdule to give us tips on how to better capture life! You are such an amazing photographer and I’ve been following your blog and website for a while now. This tip will definitely help me and my recently purchased 50mm 1.4! :) I have a related sharpness question–Even when I have everything in a good plane of focus and shoot at a fast enough shutter speed it STILL seems like my pics aren’t as sharp as yours and all the pros. What am I doing wrong? Should I be sharpening them? If so, what’s the best way to sharpen them? Thanks!! :)
    .-= Lanette ´s last blog ..The Fountain… =-.

  21. vanessa says

    perfect timing for this questions. just got the 1.4 and wasn’t getting super sharp pics. i’ll try shooting at 2.0. thnx!!!

  22. amy holst says

    I recently realized the same thing when shooting with my 1.4. And now I’m shooting around 2 when I’m trying to capture only one of my kiddos, but down around 4 or so when i’m trying to get all 3 kids. I’m with you, if the eyes aren’t in focus, i toss it. Thanks so much for all your great tips. Oh, and my 2-year-old has a Run DMC shirt too!

  23. Cat Ward says

    Thank you so much for posting this! I just got the 50 1.8, and never ever thought I would like a prime lens but decided to try it out and I do indeed love it…but like you say I was getting more blurry shots than I liked and now I know why!

  24. Sid says

    Thanks for sharing! This info has proven very useful! Oh and btw my little Caileb has the exact same shirt… love it!
    .-= Sid´s last blog .."Beauty" =-.

  25. beverly Luckenbill says

    where did you buy the shirt?
    Please send me a Msg to my email i want one for my son!?

  26. admin says

    The shirt is from Old Navy

  27. Kevyn says

    Hi Drew-

    I fell off the face of the earth for a few weeks…gone to Dallas. I just saw this post and really appreciate your time to answer it. Keep up the awesome work!


  28. Brandi says

    This is a fantastic post! Thank you for explaining it this way.
    .-= Brandi´s last blog ..Baby K – Tutu Love =-.

  29. Jen Hill says

    glad i saw this. i am learning a lot from your blog. thanks so much!
    .-= Jen Hill´s last blog ..Life =-.

  30. Thanks so much for this post, I’ve been frustrated with my 50/1.8 lately because I’ve been trying to shoot at 1.8. My images at 2.8 come out so much better. This was a much needed info. I really like the way you explain the technical stuff. Thanks again!
    .-= blissmamaof3´s last blog ..Indian summer, sort of =-.

  31. This is my favorite thing in the whole post
    “And, yes. My son is wearing a Run DMC shirt because he is hardcore like that.”

  32. LisaJ says

    OK–you are my new favorite photoblogger momtogger, whatever.

    I have 167 blurry shots of my DD at her FIRST BIRTHDAY party. And they looked ok on my Rebel screen…and when I put them into Lightroom, they are almost all blurry. And I cried. Hard.

    I am still sad and disappointed. But at least now I know why.

    Thank you SO much.

  33. This is a very nice post. Lisaj, blurry and out of focus are two different things. If it was blurry it was because yout shutter speed may not have been high enough or your iso was too low if you were indoors. Also, usually the lens is at its sharpest 2 to 4 stops from wide open. The lower quality the lens the further from wide open is its sharpest point. Like on a kit lens it is sharpest around f8. This is one of the reasons fast lenses 1.8 and better can cost more as their max sharpness has a wider range. Great info though.
    tomas haran´s last blog post ..Ask the photographer – 2

  34. Laura says

    Thanks for explaining and showing the difference. I shoot with an 85 1.8 and struggle with getting that crisp picture like your second one. Keep practicing.

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