Lenses, a guide for commercial photographers

Aug 4, 2023 | Technical

“Show Notes”

In this episode we discuss lenses. Types , brands and uses. And Marcus takes us through the lenses he uses on an average photo shoot.

“Show Transcription”

Sam: Hi, Marcus. How are you doing?

Marcus: I’m very well, sir. How are you?

Sam:  Really good. and yeah, this week’s show sounds like it’s going to be an interesting one. Marcus. So today’s show we’re going to be talking about lenses and using lenses and when is it the right time to use which lens in your creative process? And of course, to talk us through this, we have our expert in house, Marcus Ahmed. Do you want to take it away? Marcus.

Marcus: Thanks, Sam. Yeah. Lens look, I’m going to start off by saying I am not by any means a real technical or an interest in the technical side of photography as such. But I do have a very strong opinion on lenses. I mean, I’m still using a DSLR camera. I’ve not switched over to mirrorless. I’m very happy with what I’ve got. I shoot on a Nikon D 850.I’ve got two of those, one as a backup, so that could be considered as an old fashioned camera. But it does a great job for me. But what I do update regularly and always investing in is lenses. And why is that? It’s because lenses, I believe, make a significant difference to the way your photographs look. The lenses that I use, I tend to use prime lenses. Now, what I mean by a prime lens, it’s not a zoom lens, it’s a fixed focal lens. And there’s a reason for this. And in this first part of this talk, I’m going to go through reasons why I choose prime lenses as a match of interest. The lenses that I tend to use are a 24 mil, a 35 mil 50, 85, and a 105 mil macro. I’ve also got a 70 to 200 zoom lens, but I don’t really use that so much. Now, why is that? First of all, I like light lenses. I don’t like anything too heavy on my camera. I’m a little guy, I’m not particularly strong. And that extra weight of this zoom lens, it really throws me off. And at the end of the day of shooting, I really feel it. That’s always been a consideration for me, the weight. But the main consideration why I go and use prime lenses is my working practice, the way I run my photo shoots. Let me talk that through with you. I’m a branding photographer or commercial photographer. So I’m employed to come up with a story of a business. That story has got to have a beginning, a middle and an end for better terminology.  So the way I look at it is we got three parts to this story. We got the wide lens will come in at the beginning part of the story. It’s a great lens for establishing the environment, establishing the business where it is, how it looks, et cetera, et cetera. So the lens choice I would go for there would probably be my 24 mil, might  be the 35, but invariably the 24. and it’s going to be location shots. It’s going to be wide shots that are going to show the interior of the business, the people working within it, the outside. It’s a big old storytelling lens. And so it’s like what we would call the establishing shot. And what’s also great about that, you can really crop those into a cinematic proportion, which I really like doing because a lot of my work goes on websites, et cetera. So that’s my first lens I could get for I go to the job stick on the 24 35, and all I’m thinking about is that type of shot. I’m not getting distracted by my zoom lens, which think, oh, this could be good at50, this could be good a bit longer. No, all I’m focused on is that wide angle shot. So it’s a way of working. So I rinse it, repeat, keep going until I’ve got a load of shots that I’ve got using the wide angle lens. Then I reach for my main focus lens, which tends to be ones for portraits. So there I’ll go for, obviously the 50, the Nifty 50. we call that great lens for doing general purpose, or maybe even the 85. so now I put that on my camera and all I’m thinking about is those medium distance shots. They could be headshots, they could be portraits, but they’re medium distance. And it’s going to take up the bulk of my shoot, is going to be using those lenses. so you’ve got the wide I’ve started wide. I’ve now narrowed my field of vision. And again, I’m not being distracted by, oh, it might look good like this, a bit longer. Oh, it might look better wider. No, I’m totally focused. Excuse the pun on those mid range shots. And then finally I look at the details, the hands, close ups of a computer screen. I don’t know, there’s lots of different options there. And then for that, I’ll screw onto my camera the105 mil macro, which is just great for getting those really nice detailed shots, those close ups, as it were. So just go for that. Again, I do the wide shot, I do a medium shot, and I do a tight close up shot. And for each one of those different environments or different types of shot, I put on a different lens.

Sam: That makes sense.

Marcus: Any questions so far?

Sam: Yeah, so a couple of things have come up for me. So obviously for you, you’re in a quite a controlled environment. Simply, I suppose if you want to change the cropping of the picture, you can move forward and back a bit, can’t you, to some extent? You know what I mean, instead of twisting the zoom. But obviously, for people doing different things, if you’re an event photographer, presumably, then, is your thought then probably the zoom would be more vital because it might be because you’re stuck where you are and you can’t actually move closer to the action. You’re stuck in a seat somewhere or to the side somewhere and things are happening indifferent places and you need to react quickly. Would then do you think zoom be the way to go in those sort of more quick, where you’ve got to be quick?

Marcus: Totally, Sam, you’re totally right on that. I mean, if I’m doing an event, I’m going to be  putting on my 70 to 200 and pretty much using that on one camera for those distance shots, but then still on the other camera, I put on just maybe a 35 mil lens just to cover group shots or people talking or interacting. But yeah, that’s a very good point. I mean, I have had this conversation many times over years with lots of different photographers, and I know people who use zooms will give me as many reasons back to me what the benefits of a zoom are. But the main point, I want to just talk, I’m trying to get across it gives me a clarity in my shooting plan.

Sam: Okay, that’s interesting because my thought was one of the main reasons to have a prime lens would be the quality. Because obviously, if you’ve got a lens that is just50 mil, it’s going to be a higher quality than a zoom that includes 50 mil, unless you spend a hell of a lot more on the zoom. Is that right? But you don’t seem to be seeing that as one of your kind of prime reasons.

Marcus: Yeah, I mean, I’ve got chin wall fun if I have got quality of image written down here, that’s what I skipped over that. But you’re right, it is definitely  may be more so these days. Zoom lenses certainly way better quality than they used to be. But there’s no denying it. If you’re buying a lens and the elements, the glass in it has been arranged for that particular focal length, I would have thought it’s going to be better. You’re certainly going to get a faster lens.

Sam: Yeah, that makes sense. And the weight thing I’m not quite understanding here, Marcus. So you’re saying that it’s less weight for you during the day carrying four lenses than having one zoom lens? I’m not sure I’m convinced on that front.

Marcus: Sorry, maybe sorry, I haven’t explained it. I’m not carrying the lenses around with me because I work as an assistant and they carry the lenses I’m talking about on the camera. For example, on my Nikon, I use a lens I love and I’ve had it for years. It’s a 35 mil f two lens and I don’t see anybody using these. And it’s like really small. It’s probably no more than two inches deep, but less than two inches deep. We used to call these pancake lenses, and it’s really light. I put that on my camera, and I’m just really mobile. I can move around my subject, and I’m not affected by the weight of it. That’s what I mean.

Sam: Yeah. Okay.

Marcus: The weight of the lens on the camera.

Sam:  the more about when we talked about flash, we were obviously then talking about generic flash versus branded. And I guess there’s that same question with lenses. You’ve got a nick on camera? I’ve got a canon. Do you go for the Canon nick on lenses, ordo you go for the Sigma and the other Lenses, obviously there’s the cost and the quality. What’s your kind of thoughts on

Marcus:  I mean, I think you mentioned a sigma range.  They do an amazing range of lenses, they’re all catch, they’re all pretty much similar. I use Nikon lenses because I think they focus a little bit faster, et cetera, et cetera.  But it’s only because that’s what I’ve collected really over the years.

Sam: Okay, so you think the generics are really catching up because the price difference can sometimes be huge. I am there’s a lot of wildlife and I do wildlife photography, not professionally, just for fun. So we got big zoom lenses and the difference there, it’s 1000 quid for a sigma and it’s four or five for a canon. The difference was massive.

Marcus: Oh yeah, for sure. Wildlife photography, landscape photography, those are completely different rules that you attend to go to as your lens choice. And talking about rules, in one of the last shows I talked about this steps to creativity and the way that you can learn the rules, make your own rules and then break your rules. Well, you can do the same with lenses. I often people say, oh, it’s your favorite lens and it’s like well, I tend to go for the opposite view of everybody else. For example, I like using my 35 mil lens for portraits quite close up because I like that distortion. There’s photographers like Platinum, for example, or Martin Scholar, who you look at their portraits, they’ve got a very certain aesthetic to them. And it’s because they tend to use lenses that aren’t the obvious lens. To use a wide angle lens, I like that look.

Sam: Okay. And then when you’re using the wide angle, do you manage to get that? Because obviously it’s not just when you’ve got the sort of 85, 105, you’ve not just got the fact it’s close, but you’ve also got that shortening of the depth of field. So what do you about that when you’ve got those wider lenses and you’re trying to make sure it’s still focusing on the person

Marcus: yeah, I’m going to talk about the depth of field in a minute,

Sam: actually jump the gun.

Marcus: But yeah, you do get distortion with lenses but that’s the thing, people always talk about what you just said, the depth field of bouquet, and I’ll come on to that, as I say. But for me, the reason I use these different lenses is because they all affect the image in different way. A long lens is going to compress a subject and I think that gives it a very certain wide lens is going to do the opposite. It’s going to sort of spread it out for one of the better terminology. For example, when I’m shooting like doing headshots or business portraits, I like to use a 50 mil lens close up on a guy because it’s got a bit more distortion and it sort of gives a bit more interest to their features. Whereas on a woman I would tend to go for like an 85 because it’s got a slightly different compression look to it. And that’s nothing to do with the aperture, that’s just to do with the way the lens is made.

Sam: Yeah, okay, that makes sense.

Marcus: But yeah, let’s talk about bouquet because I know this is a massive subject and it is something that’s only really though it’s been around for years, it’s only something that’s really become that people are caring about. Back in the day, people always seem to be shooting at the best point quality points for lenses like 5.6f eight when the lens is a bit more stopped down so you get a better quality. These days, people really seem to really love that bouquet effect where it’s like a blurry background now.

Sam: Okay, thank you. My question was about to be what’s a bouquet effect? Now, understand, say, well, you’ve got that short depth of field, so your subject is really clear, but the back is really out of focus. So you can see the subject clear.

Marcus: Yeah, exactly. I mean, your phone can do it now in a different way, I have to say, but yeah, it’s something that people as a look, it’s become very popular. But if you look in the history of photography, as I was saying, particularly street photography, the background is inherent part of the image. If you look at a photographer like AriCartier Bresson, who’s one of the great street photographers, his backgrounds are really equally as important to the subject that he’s photographed. They work together, they play off one another. You can’t do that when you got a lens wide open at 1.41.8.You need that depth of field. Other photographers like Gary Winogr and or Mary Ann, and they use the same technique where the background well, I say technique, but it’s the same thought process where the background is equally as important as the foreground.

Sam: Yeah, I guess it’s what the photograph’s about, isn’t it? As whether the location is equally as important as the person or whether it’s just, I need this person and we’re just at a generic background and it doesn’t matter too much. Is that fair?

Marcus: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, Sam, but I would answer that by saying if you’re clueing the background, it’s important. You’ve got to frame the subject within the background. If you want nothing, a blurry background or no background, put them against the backdrop wall or a color armor or whatever you’re going to do. But it’s something that I’ve noticed that people just seem to I think it’s an easy way out. You can say, okay, I can’t be bothered to place the subject against the background. What I’m going to do is just blow it out and I can completely forget about it and just focus on the person. I get that. But really the background is equally as important the subject.

Sam: So do you think you could kind of summarize. Give us a sort of a short summary of what you’ve told us about lenses.

Marcus: Yeah, okay. I would say, first of all, don’t get obsessed by having really fast lenses. I e back lenses that are very expensive and will blow out the background, focus more on creating images where the background is part of the story. Secondly, I would say, yet again, go out and have a look at these photographers I’ve mentioned. I’ll put some more in the notes and see the way that they use their lenses to create a story. Think why have they used that particular lens and why are they breaking the rules for it? And thirdly, I would say with lenses yeah. Depending on kind of genre you’re going to be using, as you said, Sam, the kind of genre photography you’re going to do, you can have different viewpoints on primes or zooms. I work in a very constructed way, in a very formulaic way, and primes suit, that for me.

Sam: Excellent. Thank you, Marcus. In that one, it seems to be you’re saying use Primes if you can, but if you’re in that time pressured situation where you can’t move and you’ve got to get the shot quick, then yes, by all means, zoom is the way to go.

Marcus: Good way of looking at it.

Sam: Cool, right? Thank you, Marcus.

Marcus: So, Sam, do you have a stat of the day for us?

Sam : Of course I do, Marcus. So the average mobile web page load time is 22 seconds. And I don’t know what your patience is like, Marcus, but most people are not going to wait22 seconds for your website to load. They’re going to have given up by then. Google wants it to be loaded in three or it’s going to start pushing you down the rankings. So that is definitely something you need to look at. Google has a certain you can Google it. Google has a tool you can pop your website in and it will tell you your page load time. And, yeah, if it’s 22 seconds, you definitely need to do something about that because nobody’s going to wait that long.

Marcus: Yeah, and that’s the average.

Sam: That’s the average, but probably waited by some very slow ones. There are a lot that are good as well.

Marcus: Great.

Sam: Cool. Right? Been great chatting to you, Marcus. I’m going away to go and shuffle my lens collection and work out what to put where and wonder why I don’t have any prime lenses. Maybe I should be worried now and I’ll catch you next time.

Marcus: Next time. Look, looking forward to it. Cheerio.

Sam: Cheers. Bye.