good SLR camera settings?

Question by Branden: good SLR camera settings?
i just want to know if anyone knows any good SLR settings for portraits,
now ive been told 1000 times that “theres no magic settings”
but i mean settings that you think might be good or the ones you use most of the time,

i have a canon rebel XSI, EF-S 18-55 IS kit
and i also have a canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 lens.
hope that helps


Best answer:

Answer by Sam
True, there are no magic formulas, but try the 50mm lens at f/1.8. Focus sharply on your main subject and let the background go blurry. 50mm translates into a “classic” portrait equivalent of 80mm on your XSi. It lets you get a little bit of distance between your subject and the camera so you are not all up in their face and they can relax. It is a flattering focal length as well. Yes, you have this on your kit lens, but at 50-55mm, you will be at f/5.6 and it will be harder to throw the backgound out of focus.


Use the 50mm, using Av or aperture priority choose f/1.8 and see where the shutter speed ends up.

You might want to use your pop-up flash at (-1.0 or -0.7 ev) if there is a problem with shadows on the subject’s face.

I won’t go into any more about lighting, as your question tells me that you are just starting out in this type of photography. Although… Outdoors on a cloudy day is great. (Don’t forget to use the cloudy day white balance setting.)

Add your own answer in the comments!

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3 Responses to good SLR camera settings?

  1. DCReed says:

    While Sam’s got a cooler colored camera, and I agree with both of you that there’s no magic setting, I prefer f/4.0 for portraits. Too close with f/1.8 and you’ll wind up with their nose in focus and their ears blurry.

  2. tiberiustibz says:

    I prefer to set my white balance to cloudy all the time outside to warm things up. You can bump up the saturation if you want. And also I usually underexpose the picture and give it a curve in photoshop to prevent loss of highlight detail.

  3. Edwin says:

    Use ISO 100 and set your camera’s resolution to its highest setting.

    Shoot in Aperture Priority – just watch the shutter speed so it doesn’t get too low.

    An overcast day is excellent for outdoor portraits. If its sunny and clear, look for areas of open shade. Watch your white balance.

    You can use the 50mm f1.8 or the 55mm f5.6. You’ll get better results with the 50mm at f4.

    Be aware of your Depth of Field (DOF). I went to and computed the DOF for both lenses on your camera. Three factors affect DOF:

    1) Lens focal length.
    2) The f-stop chosen.
    3) Subject distance.

    55mm @ f5.6 focused to 10′, DOF is from 9′-01/2” to 11′-3”
    11-1/2” in front of your subject to 1′-3” behind will be in focus

    50mm @ f1.8 focused to 10′, DOF is from 9′-8” to 10′-5”
    4” in front of your subject to 5” behind will be in focus.

    50mm @ f4 focused to 10′, DOF is from 9′-2” to 11′-0”
    10” in front of your subject to 1′-0” behind will be in focus.

    55mm @ f5.6 focused to 5′, DOF is from 4′-9” to 5′-4”
    3” in front of your subject to 5” behind will be in focus.

    50mm @ f1.8 focused to 5′, DOF is from 4′-11” to 5′-2”
    1” in front of your subject to 2” behind will be in focus.

    50mm @ f4 focused to 5′, DOF is from 4′-10” to 5′-3”
    2” in front of your subject to 3” behind will be in focus.

    As you can easily see there isn’t a lot of difference between the 55mm and 50mm once you stop the 50mm down to f4.

    It should also be obvious that using the 50mm at f1.8 at 5′ will not give you sufficient DOF for a portrait. Since you should always focus on the subject’s eyes its quite possible that the tip of their nose and their ear will be out of focus. Shoot a profile and focus on their ear and their cheek will likely be out of focus.

    Good luck with your portraits.

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