An Ode to the 35mm and 85mm Focal Lengths

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 35mm f1.4 Full Frame E Mount lens first impressions product images (1 of 6)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 2.5

Dear photography mentors,

I hate the 50mm focal length.

No really; I really, really hate it.

The lens is a Jack of all trades but master of none–and it tries to do many things well but ultimately fails are doing them as well as other focal lengths. I am writing this post on May 2nd 2015 and it marks the 10th year that I’ve been a photographer; not a guy with a camera, a photographer. And through the years I used to believe what everyone said about using the 50mm focal length and how it will be the only lens that you ever need. But man, was that wrong.

Why did you tell me to use it?

In 2015, Cartier-Bresson’s words don’t necessarily reign as true. Yes, sharpness can be a bourgeois concept but what he did won’t work for everyone and it will take photographers years to realize this. It will take many even more years to realize that you shouldn’t get a 50mm lens and only shoot with it. Why? Different photographers need different focal lengths for different reasons.

My work as a photojournalist forced me to shoot both wide and tight with only two different extremes and no in-between. And so on a personal note, the 35mm and 85mm focal lengths are the ones that I sing my praises to. The 50mm area feels so conflicted. It’s either too long or not long enough and only forces someone to look at directly what’s in front of them. Respectfully, though you taught me to use one, I don’t see the world with blinders on my sides.

If I had to pick any two focal lengths in the world that every photographer should work with, it would be these two. But that’s just my opinion. Every photographer should find a focal length that works for them.

A 35mm lens is the way that someone sees the world in a truer way. We see wide–we don’t look only at what’s directly in front of us. With a 35mm, you can look to a scene and realize that that is what you can shoot and what you see is what you’ll get. Remember what you taught us in college about getting close to a subject and not being further away? You were right. Remember those photos that you showed us that won Pulitzer prizes? You were up close. And what I needed before was to be up close.

And with the 85mm lens, I’ve learned to work close to my subjects and capture them and their inner beauty reflected in a single moment on pixels or cellulose; it’s taught me about working with people and more than that–being intimate but not invasive.

Switching between the two is very simple and works wonders in forcing the brain to devise new compositions, work with different landscapes, people, and more all while allowing me to get my specific creative vision.

The world doesn’t need