For several years now I’ve used my Nikon 85mm f1.4 prime lens primarily for weddings and engagement pictures. My other workhorse lens was the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens. This is considered an excellent lens and it should be as much as it costs. It focuses very quickly, and it gives a fantastic range for family pictures. I could shoot the whole group and still get nice close up portraits of individuals and the kids. The longer I do photography the pickier I get about wanting a certain look to the pictures. I want that really soft Bokeh or out of focus background and there is just something special about the clarity and color I get from my 85mm Nikon prime lens. I started to realize I just wasn’t happy with any zoom lens no matter the quality. So I decided, even for family pictures, that I would move to using all prime lenses such as the 85mm, 50mm and 35mm.
It takes a bit of extra work moving to all primes especially on the beach. In normal circumstances someone could carry one camera body and a couple of different lenses and switch between them as needed. Many times after a beach session my camera is covered in salt spray, that would ruin a camera if it got inside. So switching lenses at the beach is pretty much impossible. So instead I have to carry a camera body for each lens I want to use. Thanks to my Spider Holster, carrying a couple of cameras is an easy thing to do, I’ve done it for years at weddings. I decided for family pictures to carry one body with the 85mm f1.4 and another body with the lightweight 35mm f1.8 lens. (Update, since I’ve made this post, I’ve found I can generally do everything I need with a single camera body and a 50mm f1.4 lens. I now typically just carry that. I finally have a 50mm lens I love with the Sigma Art series.) I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now and getting really good results. Something I’ve realized is I hardly even need the 35mm lens unless I want to use it for a specific look, such as getting a good view of the sky at sunset. As long it’s not high tide I have plenty of room to move around, so with the 85mm lens I just backup more if I’m shooting a large group. I’ve come to realize zoom lenses are just dumb, your feet can do exactly the same thing without compromising the image quality.
A couple of things to keep in mind if you switch to all primes. Remember an 85mm f1.4 lens has an extremely shallow depth of field. This is exactly what you want if your subjects are all at the same distance from the camera, such as if you are shooting an individual person or a couple. However at f1.4, unless your focus is exactly perfect, you could end up with a nose in focus and the eyes blurry. It takes more practice and skill using a lens like this. In fact I typically shoot at around f/2.0 which still gives a beautiful creamy out of focus background while making the acceptable in focus area a bit wider. When moving to group shots with an 85mm lens you have to be especially careful. If you place some people behind others and try to stay at a wide aperture setting, the ones in the background will be very out of focus. Make sure to stop the camera down to at least f/4.0 or f/5.6 for group shots at 85mm, or around f/4.0 with a 50mm lens. If using a 35mm lens it’s ok to stay around f2.0 or so for group pictures. As you can see it’s just more to keep in mind when you are concentrating on getting a bunch of kids to look at the camera, it takes some practice but it’s definitely worth it.
I’ll post a few of my pictures from the past few weeks, these were all shot with the Nikon 85mm f1.4G lens except for one (Update: I’ll add a couple of 50mm lens shots as well). Can you figure out which one is shot at 35mm? (Update: I’m going to add lens and f-stop settings in image captions.) If you ever have any lens questions let me know in the comments below, I always like talking about geeky photography stuff!