Behind the scenes: the right lens for the right shot

Sometimes I like to take a step back after my photo shoots, observe, and give myself, and whoever else is listening, some advice and tips for future. In this case I remembered a question a friend asked me about choosing the right lens for the shot and when to switch lenses. So, I thought today, I would give a behind the scenes tutorial on how I decide which lens I choose for the shot. That might be too bold of me to do, since I don’t own the last word on anything I’m going to say, yet this is how I learned, this is how I shoot, and if that works for you, well that makes two of us.

To start off, I have three favorite lenses that ALWAYS come with me on my shoots and my Shootsac makes it very convenient to switch them on the spot. The lenses are: Canon 35mm 1.4, 50mm 1.4 and 85mm 1.8. And I actually like them in that order too and use them in that order. Most of the time I start the shoot with a 35mm. I do that 1. because it allows me to see the big picture, the background in it’s entirety. (I had times when I would walk away from a space where I just shot and notice something that would have been really nice to include in the photo, but because I was so zoomed in on the couple, I missed it.) And the number 2 reason, because it provides room for me and the couple to get more used to each other. I stand farther off and at the same time talk to the couple, joke around, and they get more comfortable with me and the idea of someone taking pictures of them.

Then I switch to a 50mm, to include the same background with a slightly different perspective. The focus now shifts to the couple, I get closer up portraits of them, their interactions and I’m not so much concerned about the background. At this point I might ask the couple to move to a slightly different area that I observed while shooting with a 35mm. During this time I will be switching between 50mm and the 35mm, depending on the shot I want to take and on the ability of the lens. 35mm is amazing at sharp images, 50mm is great at portraits, especially solo portraits. If there is too much going on in the background, I will use 50mm to zoom in on the subject. If I’m shooting in front of a gorgeous property, I will be using the 35mm more often, to get more of the surroundings in. It can get tiring, but the results are so much rewarding than shooting with one zoom lens ;).

If I only have this one wall, or building, or brick alley to shoot in, then I will switch to an 85mm and get more portraits of the couple with a much creamier background (bokeh). You’ll be surprised how different a location can look by just switching the lens. It’s more typical for me to use 85mm at weddings, because there is not much time to walk around and find a new backdrop.

This is what I observed myself doing on the shoot and maybe it will help you as well.

Below are some examples to illustrate some of what I said

Example 1. We just came to this side of the barn and I had the 35mm on my camera already. The shot on the left I took first. I walked slightly back to get the entire barn in the shot. Then I walked closer to the couple, directed them into a different pose and when David happened to lean in to give Kirsten a kiss, I pushed the shutter and got the shot on the right. We both made this shot. As you can see the barn in the back, with its every plank is in focus.

Then I switched to a 50mm to get some portraits of Kirsten in the foreground and have the background more blurry. The background is the same, except now Kirsten is standing closer to me.

Example 2. This is an example of how one lens might be better for the shot than the other based on its strengths ;). The photo on the left is shot with a 35mm. But once Kirsten was back on the ground, I switched to a 50mm for a few reasons. With 35mm I had to stand very close to the horse, and because it moves, a few times it bumped into me, because I couldn’t tell how close it was to me with my camera glued to my face ;). I also did not like the green tree in the background for the shot, and I was also warned that the horse might step on my foot. So for those obvious reasons, I switched quickly to a 50mm and took a shot on the right. The 50mm made the background smoother and washed out the deep green from the tree in the back, the rest of the trees in the background, and the field looks much smoother, helping the focus to be just on the main subjects.

Example 3. We just moved to this path from an oak tree, and I asked the couple to walk away holding hands. As usual I started with a 35mm, to get the bigger picture and more of the surrounding in focus.

The couple was far away from me and when I asked them to walk back, I switched to an 85mm to get closer shots of them. I focused one shot on the their feet. Here you can see how blurry the entire background became with just switching the lens. Plus, the path looks smoother than in the previous photo, making the image more appealing as apposed to shooting the same shot with a 35mm.

And if you happened to miss this post, you can see all the photos here!
Happy Wednesday

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