What to Do With Your 85mm Lens. A Guide for New Photographers

The 85mm lens is more a lot more than just portraits.

Lots of folks think that 85mm lenses can only do one thing. But that’s wrong. It’s not as wide as a 50mm or a 35mm, but they can do a whole lot. However, most people buy 85mm lenses just for portrait photography. Indeed, it’s great for this. It flattens a person’s profile very well and makes them look flattering. The truth is, though, that the 85mm lens is very versatile. And you can do a whole lot with it. We’re going to break those down in our roundup.

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Street Photography

Photographing the streets is traditionally something done with shorter and normal focal lengths. The reason: they want people to feel like they’re right there in the photo. That’s awesome. But there is also a way to tell stories in the streets in a cinematic way. An 85mm lens can do that. If you’re nervous about taking candids of people in the streets, use an 85mm. And check your intentions when you photograph them.

Try This

Go shooting in the streets. Set your camera’s autofocus to continuous. Turn on face detection. Stand in one spot and just wait for something to happen. Shoot when you see a moment that you’re emotionally connecting to.


Photographing landscapes is also something thing you need a wide-angle lens for. But that’s not always the case. Telephoto lenses help you hone in on a particular part of the scene. They let you see the world as an aspect of the scene. This turns into an entertaining exercise.

Try This

Stop your lens down and slow your shutter speed. Create some intentional blur in your landscapes to make the scene look different. The idea is to also swing your camera and lens in a specific way. Start by focusing on the scene. Then point your camera upwards with the focus still locked. Slowly start swinging it back downward. When you get to a normalized plane, snap the photo. Continue to pull through on the swing. Take a look at the intentional blur and adjust accordingly.


Photographing architecture is also thought of as something you need to shoot wide with. But that’s not the case. If you have the privilege of using a tilt-shift adapter, you’ll see how fun this can be. But by using an 85mm lens, you can see in a new way. Focus on certain parts of the scene as you’re looking up at the building. Look at the critical details. 

Try This

Lock your white balance. Shoot at 3200K or 5500K. Those are film white balances. Depending on the light, you’ll either get a Blade Runner look or a normalized look. It’s going to be very fun. We know that you can do this in post-production. But if you do that, you’re not going to approach it with the same level of enthusiasm as you would otherwise. Give yourself the give of a more enthusiastic shooting experience.

Obviously, Portraiture

Photographing clients, friends, family, and more can be done with an 85mm lens. Of course, this is the most common use of the focal length. Newer 85mm lenses are very capable. They can do tight portraits, wider portraits, etc. But the cool thing about them is that they can isolate the face or eyes to get the best from the scene. 

Try This

Shoot a portrait. Stop your lens down. Remember that you have the aperture setting for a reason. Do it both stopped down and wide open.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.