I've recently bought a nikon 50mm prime 1/1.8f lens, and I'm learning about shooting portrait photos.

What I wonder about is how to focus on the eyes while having aperture wide opened at 1/1.8? The technique I know is to focus and recompose, but at such a wide opening the focus gets lost immediately in the process. My Nikon D3300 has only 16 AF points, which means that I should always focus on one of those points without any possibility to change the frame?

Also, which aperture should I choose? As far as I know, I should choose 1.8 for the best bokeh, step down a bit for better sharpness and tolerable bokeh...and try to choose "normal"/smaller apertures while shooting landscapes. How do I know which aperture is needed in which situation?

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    can you post example of image that you think is unsharp? Jan 7, 2018 at 21:21
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    A one-line answer would be "it depends - experience is all that will help you decide". Since that will not please anyone: Bokeh is of no use to you if you shoot portraits with backdrops, so it would also be interesting what your exact needs are.
    – flolilo
    Jan 7, 2018 at 21:23
  • Regarding the first part you can set the camera to live view mode, do the composition and move the af area to the eyes or wherever you want. Assuming your lens is AF 1:1.8 D (without the vr) I personally prefer to use one of the focus points with my camera placed on a tripod for moderate to low light situations. Another key point is bokeh and amount of lens blur are not the same . If you don't know when to use which aperture I suggest you do some experiments and or researchs as others mentioned.
    – user174174
    Jan 7, 2018 at 23:04

3 Answers 3


The answer always comes down to personal preference, location, lighting etc with no definitive answer.

Personally I always shoot the focus point closest to whereI want their eyes to be in frame (so usually the top most), half press (or back button) to focus on the eyes and then frame my shot. It doesn't matter how many focus points you have, usually in a portrait scenario due to the subject being stationary compared to say sport it's less of a problem.

As for what aperture to shoot it comes down to artistic intent, available light and then focal length/distance between you and the subject.

  • If you're outside you may want as much differential between the subject and the background as you can, so want a wider aperture to give you a nice background blur.
  • If you're inside and it's dim, you have no external lighting you may want to shoot a wide aperture to allow as much light in as you can. However you may want to get the surroundings somewhat in focus too.
  • If you're in a studio setting with the power of a small star with you, you may want to shoot at the lens sharpest point, as you probaly won't want to care too much about the background. Due to the ISO, and lighting power you may not be able to shoot the widest aperture anyway.
  • Me. I'm crazy. I shoot 1.2 (on a 50mm, it can be a bit too much on 85mm) in a studio. But I love that crazy depth of field with the features in focus and then it slowly blurs away. But this is my personal preference.
  • The only thing I would add is "Focus and Recompose" (as described) is very risky when there is very little DOF... and the farther the composition is shifted the worse it will be. But DOF isn't only about the aperture; subject distance (and FL) matters as much or more. Additionally, you cannot see the real DOF/Focus with wide aperture lenses, which compounds the issue if using manual focus. Jan 10, 2018 at 23:19

Most lenses are less sharp at their widest apertures. You should try f2.8 to f4 which gives the best sharpness and bokeh for this lens. As per the following source, this lens is sharpest at f5.6.


  • Except sharpness usually isn't really the deciding factor when it comes to portraiture, is it? OP isn't complaining about unsharp lens, but about a plane shift when doing focus-recompose method, which happens with every lens at wider apertures.
    – walther
    Jan 9, 2018 at 10:50
  • If he goes for a smaller aperture (f2.8 to f5.6) , the depth of field would increase allowing him some 'space' to focus and recompose.
    – Thiagu
    Jan 9, 2018 at 11:09
  • Yes, and how does it answer the question "What I wonder about is how to focus on the eyes while having aperture wide opened at 1/1.8" ? You just repeated what he said - stop down the lens to get a sharper result and focus-recompose can work better, but his question was different.
    – walther
    Jan 9, 2018 at 12:15

For Portraits (e.g. sholders and head [sorry don't know the english word at the moment]): Avoid to use f1.8 at close range, because in most cases it look not that good, when your focused area starts behind the nose tip and end at the ears. A f2.8 or f4 would be still fine.

And keep in mind: Even a good prime lens produces a more or less soft image a wide opened apature. If you want to get a soft image, take the f1.8, if not stop down for min. 1 stop.

And for your "problem" with the "few" focus points: Look for the focus lock feature of your camera. (You should find it somewhere in the manual of your cam.)

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