Portrait Lenses are not the easiest to pick it seems, getting many emails I am always asked which do I use? First of there are many photographers whom are much better than myself and can create pure works of art with Lenses I would never think to use! This, is one of the main and most important points, that every Artist (you must think of yourself as such)has a tool they like best.
The 50mm 1.4or 85mm 1.8 I consider to be always some of the best lenses out there for creating beautiful works which can also give you a wonderful Bokeh effect (Soft Background) . The low light ability of the 1.4 is something which can give you a cinematic style which is hard to achieve with a 2.8 Lens or even worse a 4.0 lens unless you use flash lights. With the 50mm 1.4 or 1.8 which is cheaper at I believe just below 100 Euro you can capture amazing images of people in low light conditions, nightime. For this all you need to do is find a light source such as a public space, a strong lamp or as my friend has done he used even the strong LED lights from a hotel ....the key is to be creative and have fun with it as there are not any set rules, it is only important to get the look you want. The 50mm 1.4 for Ballet can be used during night time but be careful not to make the image too soft 2.0 and above is ok, yet 2.8 would give you enough sharpness providing you do not shoot too close to the model as the edges will be softer away from the centre .
A good trick is to use a tripod to take *2 passes * .
- Set the camera on tripod, shoot the environment at f/1.4 to f/2.
- Without moving the camera or tripod then ask the model to stand where you wish and take the same image but with a setting of f/2.8 to f/4.0.
- Composite later in Photoshop the two images placing the layer with the person on top of the "First Pass", then use a mask to remove the parts where the you want the background to be soft. This way you will get a character in sharp focus but a background which is much softer, best of both! Note however, it does take some skill and practice , not to mention aesthetic taste.
Oh So much writing ! If you can afford the 85mm 1.8 then get it! Anything from 70mm -200mm produces compression which is where the background and the foreground are represented in an true way. If you use a lens that is below 50mm you will make the "Model" look not as accurate, the shape of the head will distort and look un natural thus perspective is not as it should be to the human eye.
The reason why I have only talked of a 50mm 1.4 is because the 70-200mm can be very expensive. The 50mm 1.4 or the cheaper but almost as good 50mm 1.8 can produce amazing results and I have even used it in my Ballet Photography (the f/1.4 model)! The great thing also it is light and easy to move around with (But always buy a UV filter to protect the lens from Damage or a polarizing filter which can produce great results) .
The advice above is what works for me, it really is what is best for the individual but I hope my advice helps as people always ask about equipment. It does not matter which camera you use or brand the 50mm 1.4 is really one of the best Prime lenses out there! But saying this.....I have also found that the Tamron 50mm F1.4 Art Lens is amazing, just more expensive, of course if yo can afford the L series lenses then get them as they are the best but the difference is not as vast as you might think between the cheaper lenses and the much more expensive ones. The main difference is in the body...the cheaper ones are primarily plastic, the very expensive ones are metal and thus much more durable!
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