50mm Portraiture—A Fresh Perspective

saint augustine social magazine writer meaghan mae alvarado

Firstly, thanks for following along with me on this 50mm March project I started on a whim. It goes to show that sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, just go out and do it and you may be surprised with what you’ve gained and learned at the end. This project has a lit a fire in me that I haven’t had with photography in a while. I’ve connected with some really great artists and photographers this month who I may have never otherwise connected with. If you’ve ever thought about doing a project like this—just do it!

I said in a previous post that a portrait post was coming and here it is.

When my wife and I were shooting for our portrait business, the Canon L 135mm f/2 was one of our favorites. The compression, the sharpness, and being able to make the subject the focus was awesome! But there were two issues: 1) I felt the customer wanted some variety and when you shoot with one long lens most of the time, images start feeling pretty similar and 2) sometimes it’s just too long to get get everything in the frame you want.

It’s hard because when you think of classic portraiture, compression is huge. It “slims” the person in the photo and the wider your lens is, the wider your subject can relatively look. So why did I start gravitating to the Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM?

As I’ve grown as a photographer, the more I’ve wanted to capture more of the background into the scene of the photo. I was always scared of unflattering elements possibly cluttering or distracting from the subject. Portraits are about the subject, right?

justmeaghan blogger posing in front of dolphins vilano pier

But one day, I was shooting with the super cool Just MeAghan for her Fashion Friday blog posts. Our setting was historic Saint Augustine in Florida. I wanted to incorporate the cobblestone streets, long staircases, and colorful old buildings and bridges into every shot. It was also important to get full body shots because we were showing off entire outfits. The 50mm stayed on the entire time I shot that day.

Let me be clear—it’s not that you can’t do that with a longer lens, but you’ll have to get much further away from your subject which isn’t always possible and it will not give you that wide perspective. On a full-frame camera like the Canon 5D I shoot with, a 50mm gives you quite a bit of area to work with.

Ever since that shoot with Meaghan, I embraced the environment and backgrounds using the 50mm expanded my vision on portrait shoots.

vest model sunset vsco florida

As photographers, I think sometimes we’re just looking for a different perspective. The 50mm focal length on a full-frame camera feels standard to a lot of people because it’s close to our own field of vision. When we use the other extremes of wide and long lenses, our perspectives change from what we normally see. But there’s something I like about the “realness” of the 50mm.

With my 50mm March ending today, I’ve wondered if I sound like I’ve been hired by some outside group to praise 50mm lenses. I’m not making any claim that it’s the best focal length out there—a lens is just a tool in the end. I just wanted to share some perspectives from those feeling like they need lots of lenses, zoom lenses, and gear they can’t afford because it will make their photos better.

Changing lenses will change the perspective. Learn to make the most with the tools you have.

tough leather jacket boots on bridge on fl coast

Thanks again to everyone following the daily posts on my Instagram and giving me such great feedback. And please check out Meaghan Mae Alvarado at JustMeaghan.com—an incredibly talented blogger and overall person. I’ve been lucky to have worked with her throughout the years and love seeing all the interesting projects she’s working on.


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