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Photography Question 
Cindy 
 

What Lens is Best for Outdoor Portraits


What kind of lens is best to use for outdoor portrait of person? My camera is a Minolta STsi 35mm. Thanks.


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4/4/2003 1:23:47 PM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Cindy,
The focal length decision depends on what type of portraiture and how you compose it. The significant criteria for traditional portraiture are how many people, how much of the subject(s) you are capturing in the image (head, head/shoulders, 1/3, 2/3, full, etc.) and the distance at which a specific focal length would be used for it. Most portraitists have a "style" and settle on favored lengths for them.

Traditional focal lengths range from 50mm to 135mm, but I've seen as short as 35mm used (huge groups or whimsical perspective) and as long as 200mm (flattens perception of depth; very tight head shots at a distance; more difficult to hold steady). The "rule of thumb" is twice the "standard" focal length . . . plus or minus. My preference for traditional work with one or two subjects is an 85mm lens for 35mm small format work and a nearly equivalent 150mm lens for 645 medium format. They're smaller and lighter than longer lenses which makes them easier to hand hold, an important aspect for me, but still a bit longer than "standard" lengths. Other portraitists will have different preferences depending on what's available for their camera systems.

-- John


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4/5/2003 9:15:14 AM

 
Jeff S. Kennedy   I'll second John's recommendation for a an 85mm. I use my 85mm f1.8 all the time (probably too much sometimes). Not only is it sharp and light but it's the fastest lens I have. Which makes it easy to use in natural light.

As John states, though, any focal length can work. I've made portraits using all my lenses which range from 17mm to 300mm. There is no one lens for everything but if I had to choose one it would be the 85mm.


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4/5/2003 9:33:04 AM

 
Cindy    John and Jeff,

I'm a beginner and I'll be practicing on a friend's daughter (in her prom dress). I will want to do some head and shoulder shots as well as full length. I don't have a 85mm lens. I have a telephoto lens though and thought that would be ok. Maybe not? Thanks for your suggestions.


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4/7/2003 7:19:41 AM

 
Jeff S. Kennedy   What length telephoto lens do you have?


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4/7/2003 10:47:02 AM

 
Cindy    It's a Sigma 70-300mm. Dimensions (dia x length) 74.5 x 119.5mm / 2.9 x 4.7in (fully extended length 208.3mm / 8.2in).


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4/7/2003 11:04:20 AM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Cindy,
The "70-300mm" is its focal length range. As you extend its focal length there should be some markings on the lens barrel showing an estimated focal length. Start by working with it in the 70-100mm range. Go out slightly farther if you want to. Experimentation is encouraged with the type of portrait you are making, various focal length settings, and the working distances these create. You'll eventually settle on settings that work for you and what you want to do for the portraiture.

-- John


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4/7/2003 11:12:04 AM

 
Jeff S. Kennedy   Cindy, I think you are confusing the term telephoto with the term zoom. The lens you have is a zoom lens. It also happens to be a telephoto (focal lengths longer than normal). The 85mm focal length is within the range of your zoom. So you do have an 85mm.


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4/7/2003 4:49:03 PM

 
Sharon Ann Lightbody   I once asked this question of a famous N.J. photographer and his reply was "the 105 lens".


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4/8/2003 4:28:45 PM

 
Jeff S. Kennedy   That's the beauty of photography Sharon. It's an art and as such it's subjective. The reason I prefer the 85mm is that it's much easier to do full length shots with it than it is with a longer lens. But it also does very nice head and shoulders work too. For an all around lens the 85mm is much more versatile. For strictly headshot work a 105 or 135 may give a slightly better compression but I still love my 85.


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4/8/2003 6:33:02 PM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  From a slightly different perspective . . .

I inquire, examine and sometimes experiment with equipment others use to understand how it is employed, and why. Rather than copy someone else's style by rote, it is incorporated into my knowledge of cause->effect, both technically and artistically. I define and visualize what I want for a photograph, then determine how to accomplish it from that cause->effect knowledge and experience.

There is no "correct" answer in terms of a single focal length for every photographer on every occasion; one size does not fit all. The "correct" answer is that which works to achieve the photographer's vision for the photograph.

Jeff mentioned his 85mm is an f/1.8 lens. Mine is an f/2 . . . nearly as fast. There is an advantage to using lenses this fast. It's not that it would normally be used "wide open" unless a depth of field of only a few inches is specifically desired. Lenses that fast provide a bright viewfinder image and it's easier to set critical focus exactly where it's desired.

-- John


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4/8/2003 9:20:07 PM

 
Jeff S. Kennedy   Personally, I shoot a large percentage of my portraits wide open. I like the look and it fits my style. FWIW


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4/8/2003 9:40:43 PM

 
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