How do you know which is the right lens for your photography? In this blog I’ll help you answer that question by reviewing different lenses for DSLR cameras and their typical uses. After that, I’ll take a more in-depth approach to lens choices when shooting specifically fashion photography and fashion or swimwear models.
To keep this blog to a manageable size, I’ll cover more aspects of zoom lenses and discuss aperture differences in other blog posts. This post will only cover a select number of “prime” lenses, and also touch upon which lenses you should use when shooting fashion photography.
1. 50mm - Nifty Fifty
The 50mm is often called the “nifty fifty” because this is usually what people start out with when they get interested in DSLR photography and want to get the most bang for their buck. On a full frame sensor, this lens sees what your eyes naturally see. That means it’s a great way to capture beauty without distortion. It’s used for portraits, landscapes, weddings, pretty much anything. The downside and upside to this lens is you might have to move around to get the shot. I would argue this helps you to think more creatively and become a better shooter.
2. 85mm – The Tougher Cousin
The 85 is the tougher cousin to the 50 for a lot of folks. Its tighter focal length makes it ideal for smooth portraits or images of your pets’ faces. The extra 35 adds a sense of compression to your images that is ideal for close ups. I know photographers who swear by the 85, and it’s a good lens to work with, especially if you’ve transitioned from a crop to a full frame sensor and miss that closer feeling to your images.
3. 35mm – The Chameleon
Here’s a fun fact. In the old film days, most photography was shot on a 35, and not much has changed in 2019 as our IPhone’s share a similar perspective. The 35 is a versatile lens. It offers a unique twist for portraits because of its perspective, and it’s used for both landscapes and lifestyle images. This lens has become the bread and butter for many in the industry, and is praised for its classic nostalgia and the various ways it can work under different circumstances.
4. 135mm – The Portrait One
Well that escalated quickly. The 135 is a serious portrait contender. This lens usually offers even smoother bokeh (out of focus blur) and crisper resolution than the 85. For a lot of photographers its main drawback or its best attribute is the focal length itself.
For those who like the 50, it may take a bit of practice to adjust when you’re so far away from the subject. If you’re invested in wildlife, concerts, or astrophotography, you may fall in love with the 135’s depth, clarity, and function of its design.
Crop or Full Frame? All of these lenses have fixed focal lengths, but you’re the perspective, meaning how you see the images in camera and later in Photoshop, will change depending on whether your camera has a crop or full frame sensor.
A crop sensor cuts out the edges of the frame and thus increases how we perceive the focal length. A 50mm lens on a full frame sensor is actually a 75mm on a crop sensor. The same 1.5 ratio applies to all of your basic digital crop sensors. Confusing? Don’t sweat it. At the end of the day, you can use any lens for any situation depending on the type of shot you want to achieve. We all have individual preferences and until you practice you won’t know what you like!
Now you might be asking me or yourself, I’ve graduated from photos of my pets and want to shoot beautiful models in stunning locations. Which lens should I use in that scenario?
Well, I’m glad you asked internet stranger, because I’ve broken down some common issues when shooting fashion photography with different lens choices.
You can read below for all the details.
As illustrated above, shooting a wide lens with portraits or fashion can be tricky. It often crosses the line between hip and a bit weird. The distortion on say a 35mm or 24mm can make for some interesting close-up shots of faces and objects, but it can also result in terrible perspective problems, long long legs, and dark shadows where dark shadows should not be found. A lot of successful fashion photographers have made it their calling to utilize the 28mm - 35mm to its utmost potential, which results in a style that can be instantly recognizable as awesome when used appropriately.
The 50mm again? Aren’t we tired of this guy yet? Perhaps. I think the 50mm is a great resource for creativity when it comes to fashion photography, and is also a go-to lens for model tests and when you don’t feel like carrying around all that equipment. I always say that a true master photographer can use just the 50mm and take beautiful images without any added extravagance. Go challenge yourself and shoot your next portrait or model session with just a 50mm, but try to make it as unique and interesting as you can.
The telephoto is often the dream lens for newcomers and a great contender for fashion images. Depending on the type of images you produce, I would say a good telephoto lens is almost essential for fashion photography, and certainly a must for beauty portraits. A longer lens allows for greater compression which blows out the background and scrunches up the faces of your beautiful models. These lenses are great for beaches and other wide open locations where lack of space isn’t an issue, but they can also be versatile and instill a new love for studio portraits or indoor window light.
Primes or Zooms:
I’m not going to even go into this one because well, everyone has a different opinion. As a personal example, I always shot with primes for the first four years of my career. Later on I would switch to Zooms then back to Primes. You see how it goes? Don’t be afraid to try new lenses, but if you’ve found what works for certain situations (I only shoot with the 100mm for my beauty close-ups for instance) then remember to default to those if you’re caught in a difficult lens situation or have a tough opportunity ahead. Remember, practice makes perfect.
Want to Learn More?
If you’re interested in learning more about a specific photography subject or idea, shoot me a message on Instagram or contact me via email email@example.com I’m always happy to answer additional questions or comments.
Morey Spellman is a Los Angeles based photographer.
His work combines a love for beautiful light, authentic beauty, and natural scenery.