How to Enjoy Shooting Portraits With a F1.2 Lens

Everyone loves bokeh, but shooting with an f1.2 lens is trickier than you’d think.

The dream of so many portrait photographers is to own an f1.2 lens that they can shoot dreamy portraits with. This stems from the days of Canon EF lenses and their legendary f1.2 primes. Since the film days, these lenses have let photographers shoot in the dark with little problems. They also somehow just make everyone look magical on camera. As pleasant as f1.2 lenses are, they’re not easy to use if you’re an inexperienced photographer. They’ve undoubtedly improved over the years, but to make the most of them, you should check out our latest cheat sheet!

All the Bokeh?

F1.2 lenses give you a ton of bokeh! It’s true! It’s also effortless to get lost in the bokeh and just shoot wide open. Just remember that you have other apertures on your lens, and you should use them. You’ll get a specific look when shooting wide open, but you just spent a lot of money on one particular tool: use that tool to your fullest advantage. You’ll still get a lot of bokeh when stopped down to f2, for example. And you’ll get the benefits of added sharpness.

Can You Even Hold Your Hands Still, Bruh?

One of the traditional advantages of an f1.2 lens is that you can use a lower ISO in low light settings. But these lenses are also pretty heavy. Using an f1.2 lens with a low ISO will yield you the sharpest photos. But so too will having a faster shutter speed. Even so, can you stabilize it? If you can’t support the lens, then you’re not going to get a sharp photo. Besides possible camera shake, the slightest tip can throw off the focusing plane. It’s incredibly shallow, and you can’t move the lens and camera at all. If you really need to, then get a tripod, but the best thing to do is to control your breathing.

Sharpness? Or Softness?

When shooting wide open with an f1.2 lens, you’ll get a sharp yet soft look. This soft look makes everyone appear lovely and it’s very addicting. But you can deliver more sharpness by just stopping down a tad. We already talked about this, but the ultimate point is to find the balance. Personally, I like the softer look with a Polarizing filter on the front of the lens, which enhances the colors and contrast more. It’s a similar tactic to what many f1.2 lenses have with their APD variants. With these variants, there is an extra element that brings even smoother bokeh to the photos. So give it a shot!

Yes, a Flash Can Still Help

Why use a flash with an f1.2 lens when you can use all that available light? Well, a flash is a creative lighting tool that lets you add light to a scene that isn’t there to begin with. With a flash, you can do so many things:

  • Provide brightness and sharpness on top of the softness, as specular highlights do a TON for details in an image
  • The fast flash duration will act as a second shutter speed and counteract shaky hands
  • Possibly overpower the sun’s natural light, if you’re shooting during the daytime
  • Gel the flash to add cool effects

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.