The great philosopher Ree Drummond (AKA The Pioneer Woman) once gave me a great piece of advice that I will now pass on to you. Back in the days before her cooking show and her magazine and her hair product line (that last one I may have made up), she was a woman with a blog that included photography tips. Coming from the world of film photography, I was grateful to have someone take me by the virtual hand and lead me into the land of DSLR’s. The best advice she shared on her blog was to buy the camera body that suits your needs and the lens you want separately. In other words, don’t buy the camera kit that comes with the kit lens. So many of my friends express frustration at having purchased an expensive DSLR, but not seen the results that they expected. Usually those friends are using a kit lens and have their DSLR permanently on Auto mode. And that expensive DSLR usually sits at home in a closet while these friends take better photos with their phones. The other piece of advice that PW shared was to wait until you have completely mastered your current camera before upgrading to a new one. If you use an expensive camera on Auto, buying a more expensive camera and using it on Auto will not yield different results.
So I took the woman’s advice and bought the camera body I wanted and have been adding lenses to my lens family over the years. If you’re looking to upgrade or wondering how certain looks are achieved in my portraits, read on! To give you a better understanding of how wide or tight these lenses shoot, I have enlisted some friends from the Hundred Acre Wood as models. Each picture of Pooh and his buddies was taken while standing in the exact same spot with the exact same camera but a different lens. Starting from widest to tightest, here are my lenses and when I use them:
The Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 is a wide angle lens. I purchased it because there were many times when I wished I could include more of the background in a shot. I don’t use it for portraits very often because sometimes a slight lens distortion occurs on the edges of the image, but it’s great for landscape photography.
A wide-angle lens is essential when your husband is falling off a cliff at the Grand Canyon. Silly old bear.
I purchased the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 because I needed a good all-around lens and there weren’t enough pennies in my piggy bank for the NIKKOR 24-70mm lens. It’s much better than a kit lens, but still not quite as shiny as the 24-70mm. If I’m going on vacation and I can only take one lens, I bring this one because it offers the most flexibility of all my lenses.
This is the lens I go to when I want to include the whole setting in a family portrait, such as this shot from the Farm at Agritopia.
I took the Tamron lens to Maui earlier this year and was happy to get a shot of the Nakalele Blowhole without having to get as close as that jabroni on the cliff. Didn’t he watch the safety video on the hotel T.V. channel? Danger, dude!
When I finally purchased my first DSLR, the NIkon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm 1.8 was my first lens. (Ahhh. Memories . . .) This lens is often called the “Nifty Fifty”. For a pretty great price (as far as lenses go) you can achieve that beautiful blurry background known as bokeh. The aperture is super wide and lets in all the light, making photos look light and airy and pretty pretty pretty. This is what’s known as a prime lens. That means it has a fixed focal length, so you can’t zoom in or out. This is my go-to lens for indoor shots and group shots.
Usually I can get just enough of the background with my 50mm to make it interesting.
I saved the best for last! The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm 1.8 is my absolute favorite lens for portraits. It’s also a prime lens and the bokeh is even better than with the 50mm. It’s my go-to lens for all of my portrait sessions. I find it’s a little too tight for photographing people indoors, though.
The key to getting handsome photos of this young man in downtown Gilbert was my magical 85mm. Also, it was 115 degrees outside, so the streets were empty. What am I doing in Arizona in the summer?
For more photography basics, check out my Pinterest board Photography 101!