I’ve been working to improve my portrait photography lately. While I have a range of focal lengths with the lenses I currently own, none have a large enough aperture to create the blurred backgrounds (bokeh) I’d like to see in some of my portraits. So this got me looking into prime lenses.
When it comes to prime lens portrait photography, I have noticed two approaches: Some photographers seem to prefer one focal length and reposition themselves to include more or less of their model in a shot, while others prefer to always be the same distance from their model and change lenses depending upon how much of the model they want to capture. I’m more of the single lens school myself, so I chose to focus on what those photographers had to say.
Model: Suzie Borders (Nikon Df, f/2.8, 1/1600, ISO 100)
After some research, it seemed to me that somewhere between 85mm and 135mm would be a good length for portraits. Having determined this, I then started looking at portraits I admire and seeing what lenses those photographers used. When I noticed that one of my favorite portrait photographers, Ann Nevreva (http://500px.com/annnevreva), uses the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G lens to capture the sort of portraits I am after, I decided to give this lens a try by renting it for the weekend through BorrowLenses.com.
Let me cut to the chase and simply say that this is an incredible lens. At f/2.8, it creates wonderful bokeh and, being a prime lens, it is sharp and quick to focus. It’s a bit heavy being a professional grade lens, but nothing that one can’t get accustomed to with some practice. It’s also a macro lens (though Nikon for some reason calls it a micro lens) with a minimum focal distance of only 12 inches (30 cm), giving you two lenses in one. Of course, it’s also the price of two lenses (around $900 new).
Macro (Nikon Df, f/3.2, 1/320, ISO 400)
Portrait and macro photography aside, this lens can be used as a “regular” lens as well. All of the photos in this post were taken using this lens and I have tried to include a variety to show what this lens is capable of. Do you have to have this lens to recreate these? Of course not. Many of these shots could also be accomplished using an inexpensive (but just as fast and sharp) 50mm prime lens, but I for one like the distance I stand from a model for a head and shoulders shot when using this lens. I also don’t need to worry about the distortion sometimes caused when moving in too close with a 50mm lens.
Abandoned (Nikon Df, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO 400)
One thing I have learned while looking for a portrait lens is that one’s approach to portrait photography is personal. While I love this lens for head and shoulders shots, I do find myself having to step back a little too much if I want a whole body shot, making me wonder if maybe an 85mm f/1.8 wouldn’t be more versatile. Guess I’ll have to rent another lens and schedule another shoot.
UPDATE: A few months after writing this, I ended up purchasing this lens used from BorrowLenses.com during a sale. While I find myself doing more and more model work with my 50mm f/1.8 lens, I still use this lens for portrait work. I have yet to really delve into its macro abilities but hope to some day.