“If I have the means, I have the responsibility to employ them.” ― Terry Brooks,
My portrait lens selection is going through some changes. I’ve been sitting squarely in the camp of only shooting portraits in the 85-200mm range for quite a while because the compression and creamy bokeh in this range. To get this I’ve selected the Nikon 70-200mm VR II, Nikon 85mm F1.4 and the Zeiss 135 F2 at F2 with great results.
However, I recently started using the Sigma 50mm & 35mm Art F1.4 lenses for portraits; I am Understanding them a lot better and as a result I am grabbing them for portraits more often. Now, rather than just following the mantra of longer lenses for portraits I am picking a lens for the desired effect, doing this has opened up my photography options immensely.
This is such a sharp contrast to 2 years ago when I completely avoided the 50mm range for portraits, I was even very vocal that I didn’t like the look the 50mm prime. Not any more. I attribute this change to my becoming a better photographer over the past year and broadening my range of subjects and locations. Some subjects and scenes just look awesome with a 50 and 135mm.
Look at my recent posts with Erin, Shakeil and Kira. Erin was shot primarily on the longer ranger range with focal lengths varying from 85mm to 190mm. I like the way these photos came out, but I recall the longer range placed me fairly far from her. As a result we did not speak that much
With Shakeil and Kira I switched lenses during the shoots from 85 to the 50 or 35 to get different effects and I think it worked really well. I was able to use the 35mm in a couple shots to exploit the fact that Kira was amazingly tall (over 6ft in heels) and the dance shots of Shakeil with the 35mm were much more dynamic.
Another advantage of the shorter range of focal lengths is that you can use the lens distortion to shape your subject by playing with angles. If you wish to slim a curvier subject or deemphasize the waist just keep the camera at eye level and have them lean forward slightly while you tilt the camera down a bit. This puts more emphasis on the face and less on the hips – an effect that wont work with an 85mm lens. Doing this takes some posing skill and I am not a posing expert, but I am working on it. I picked up this technique from the amazing Sue Bryce, one of my favourite portrait photographers; check out her work – she shoots almost exclusively with 35 and 50mm lenses.
35 gets you closer to your subject. I’m not naturally a great talker and I am not comfortable being close to people when I photograph them, using the longer lenses kept a comfortable distance between my subject and me. Using the 35 changes that completely and I’ve become better for it. Being closer forces me to engage more and this has paid off with a better and friendlier rapport on set. If you have not been shooting portraits with the 35mm range give it a try, it is not just a street photography lens. For us longer range shooters it is different and a challenge, but well worth the effort.
He that has a choice has trouble. ~Dutch Proverb
One of the downsides adding the shorter ranges and shooting outdoors is changing lenses more often. I moved away from Zoom lenses, but if I plan to be rapidly changing positions and switching perspective constantly then I may have to reconsider that. I find it hard to relinquish my primes, but it’s about the subject and not the lens.
Camera info for the above featured image: