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Why Everyone Needs an 85mm Lens

by Chris Gampat on 06/15/2010

During the course of time that I’ve been a photographer, I’ve blogged about the 50mm lens and just how incredibly useful it is. Overtime though, the 85mm F1.8 for Canon has steadily become my go to lens for many situations. Not only is it sharp, delivers wonderful color and very useful, but it gives a different perspective on the things you photograph.

The Ideal Portrait Length

85mm is the ideal portrait length because it maintains closeness to your subject without showing any distortion. Distortion, or lack thereof,  is what is important to all photographers to ensure that things like noses don’t seem too big. Additionally, 85mm lenses tend to be very sharp and render the background out of focus in a way that is pleasing to the eyes. This is very useful when shooting headshots in the studio with subjects.

If you’d like more, check out my resources on studio headshots and social networking photos.

Street Photography Is Simpler

Red Riding Hood as Marilyn Monroe
If you like to shoot street photography, try slapping on an 85mm lens to your camera (if it’s full frame that is.) When doing this, you’ll be far enough from most subjects that you won’t really disturb them or they won’t notice you. Additionally, 85mm lenses are fairly compact, so the look won’t be terribly intimidating either. This is very useful when photographing in harsh environments and delicate subjects like how the recession is affecting people living on the Lower East Side in NYC. If you’re used to shooting wider and getting up in people’s faces then this will take some getting used to. Shooting wider allows photographers to capture environmental portraits very easily. Shooting more telephoto with an 85mm allows us to capture the details—such as sorrow and pain in one’s face.

For Concerts

Portrait taking at concerts is very important. Equally as important is a fast and sharp lens. Musicians tend to move around quite a bit and express their music not only through playing, but their body language and facial expressions. Capturing that is part of the essence of a concert. Standing back at times and also capturing how this energy flows out to the crowd through interaction is also important.

As a rule of thumb, go for different perspectives. Hold your camera in a way that isn’t straight vertically or horizontally. Also move around a lot granted that the venue permits it. Asking nicely usually works wonders on top of casual conversation.

For Weddings

Perhaps one of the most important lenses than any wedding photographer can have is an 85mm lens. The reason for this is not only the combination of light weight, fast aperture, sharpness and discreteness, but also the fact that the lens is so versatile in this situation. Move near the stage in a church and you’ll be able to capture loads of facial expressions of the bride and groom during the readings. Move further away and you’ll be able to get the entire stage with the attendees.

Keep it on during the reception and you’ll be able to capture the guests casually going about their business without disturbing them too much. When they usually see the photographer, they try to pose. This is fine if the subjects are kids as they tend to make silly faces which make for fun photos.

If you’re a Nikon user you essentially will almost never need a zoom lens as the higher end cameras allow photographers to selectively choose the sensor area.

More on your equipment can be seen here.

For Events

Events involve lots of different people, characters and subjects. 50mm lenses usually do great, but an 85mm can also work wonders. Put it on your camera and use the street photography skills and the art of being the fly on the wall at a wedding. You’ll be far enough away from your subjects to capture them without disturbing them which will translate into wonderful photos. Further you’ll also be able to get in close enough in tight venues.

For more on this, check out my tips for shooting events.

The One For You

We all shoot with different systems, but most readers here use Canon, Nikon and Panasonic. Either way, I’ve got a full posting here on the right lens for you as well as tips for portrait taking.

Tell us your story of using an 85mm in the comments below.

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