Project 15: Headshot with shallow DOF


The title of this project is a little different that some of the others. You may have heard of a headshot before. Headshots are head-and-shoulder photos taken in a portrait format. Headshots are a very common entry-point into the profession for new photographers.

We are going to try to take some headshots, but we are going to add a twist. We are going to use a new mode on the mode dial and we are going to try swapping a lens. We've never done either before. So, let's start by looking at the lens we are going to use.

This is a Canon 50mm prime lens. It doesn't zoom like the lenses that we use regularly. You might think that it makes this lens less useful, but it has a secret power that you are going to love.

Each lens has a number on the front. This number describes the size of the lens opening as a ratio to the focal length. The focal length is the 50 millimeter written on the lens above. The lower that number the "faster" a lens it. That means it can gather light much faster than the lenses that are usually on the camera. The higher the number the slower the lens. This 50mm lens is an f/1.8 the lenses we regularly use are f/3.5 zoomed all the way out. What does that mean for your photos. Well, take a look below:

This image shows a photograph of wooden peg toys. Each picture shows a different f/stop. As the f/stops get higher more of the picture is sharp. At f/1.4 the yellow toy is the only one in focus. At f/16 a lot of the toys are in focus. The only ones not are very close to the camera. We can use this property to make pictures look pretty amazing.

Here we have two photos where the subject (the person the photo is about) is in-focus, but the background is all blurry. This is one of the super powers of the 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. It can make the background less noticeable or blur it artistically.  

Use the Mode Dial

To use this feature, we need to use one of the other creative modes on the dial. Canon calls it Av. Av is an abbreviation for aperture value. Av is the adjustment that lets us change the size of the diaphragm inside the lens.


When we put the camera in the Av mode we can select the f/stop and the computer in the camera will select all the other settings to make the picture look the way we want it to. If you select f/1.8 the diaphragm is wide open and the camera select a faster shutter speed. If you select f/8 the diaphragm is a little hole and the camera will select a slower shutter speed. However, all of this is dependent on light.

Swapping Lenses

We don't have an unlimited number of lenses, so if you are wanting to use the 50mm lenses you will need to check one out from me. It's also important to know how to safely change a lens on these cameras. If you don't know how to do it, ask. Here are the instructions form the Canon user manual:

The Project

You are going to create a series of headshots. Have your subject fill the frame (mostly) and be sure to select background that would look good a little blurry. Take at least 20 pictures of your subject in different poses or angles. Make a contact sheet with all 20. Select the best and turn that one phot in with your contact sheet.