Ever since my days as a BBC cameraman I’ve captured collections of shots that make a narrative. When shooting dramas or documentaries with video I used wide shots to set the scene and then took tight shots to show the detail. The same was true when I migrated to shooting stills at weddings and for portraits way back at the end of the last century. All through my career I’ve relied on my wider lenses and tight lenses in equal measure to produce bodies of work that are eloquent and self supporting.
It makes just as much sense to me to make a portrait with the XF14mm lens as it does the XF56mm lens. In this article I’m going to share with you the background to my lens choice for portraits and how I use them.
My Fujifilm Journey. I fell in love with photography again in 2010 when I bought my Fujifilm X100. This changed the way I shot and gave me a real sense of excitement every time i used it. I’d been a Canon shooter using mainly primes up to that point. It only ever supplemented my shooting with Canon camera gear but the X100 got me into Fujifilm products again. There is something in the DNA of the Fujifilm company that resonates with me. I love their passion to innovate, and their quest for a decent balance between form and function in their products.
My X system purchase history. I’ve invested in chunks and usually I’ve been an early adopter pre ordering and getting cameras and lenses the day they have become available. It all started with the X100 (23mm). Then came the X-Pro1 with 18mm, 35mm and 60mm lenses. I had this kit for a year and I was so impressed with it I sold all my Canon kit. Then I added the X-E2 with the amazing 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses. I sold my 18mm prime at this point. Next was the Fuji X-T1 with the 14mm, 23mm, 56mm and 10-24mm zoom lenses. I was finally back on prime lenses for all my portraits. Finally I got myself an X100T (23mm) to replace my original X100 and I recently added the 50-140 zoom lens too – Wow is all I can say. This is stella glass and so much better than the equivalents I had from Canon or Nikon.
So now I have masses of kit, but which cameras and lenses do I use and how do I use them?
• My interior portrait kit is the X-T1 with the 14mm, 23mm, 35mm, 56mm
• My exterior portrait kit is the X-T1 and X100T, 14mm, 35mm, 50-140mm zoom
• My wife Julie uses the E-X2, 10-24mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms for travel and safari work
• My back up body is the X-Pro1 and I have the X100T too.
Sometimes I find myself leaving the 23mm lens at home and popping the X100T in the camera bag instead. It fit’s in the same compartment as the 23mm lens in my bag. I’m shooting a wedding on Friday and that’s what I’ll do. My wedding kit will be the X-T1 and X100T cameras with the 14mm, 35mm and 50-140mm lenses. That’s it! those are all the cameras and lenses I’ll use at the wedding. For the shot of the rings I’ll pop an extension tube on the 35mm lens.
The 14mm is the lens I set the scene with. It pulls in the background and sets the person I’m shooting clearly in their environment. I nearly always shoot full length portraits with the 14mm lens. There are exceptions, but these are rare.
The 23mm lens gets me closer to the action but still anchors the sitter into their environment. It creates more intimate pictures and introduces a subtle background blur.
The 35mm lens is for my mid shots and couple shots from the waist up. It is a great all round lens and I could shoot most of a portrait shoot on the 35mm only needing a wider frame to set the scene.
The 56mm lens steps into the head and shoulders zone. Sometimes I like to shoot wider mid shots with it especially at f/1.2 where a shallow depth of field ensures an interesting background. I use the 56mm at 1/250th second when I’m shooting hand held. This ensures a shot free from camera shake.
[Note] I use a formula of 1/(4*focal length) for my hand held work on non OIS lenses with the Fuji system.
The 50-140mm OIS zoom. The OIS is the deal maker on this lens. It is spectacularly good. I can shoot with it hand held at 1/60th second even at the 140mm end and still get super sharp images. The choice of shutter speed then comes down to subject movement. For regular portraits I shoot this lens at 1/125th second. The 50-140 is super sharp, even wide open at f/2.8 so I don’t feel the need to stop it down a bit. If fact all these lenses here work well wide open and that’s pretty much where I shoot with them.
The 90mm lens (yet to be released) I don’t expect to be adding the 90mm f/2 prime to my kit because I’d have to shoot that at 1/500th second hand held to guarantee sharp images. The 50-140mm is one stop darker at f/2.8 but I can use it at a shutter speed equivalent to two stops brighter so the zoom wins in low light. I could of course use my monopod but that takes something away from the Fuji experience.
The 16mm lens (yet to be released) This will replace the 14mm lens in my portrait kit. I find the 14 just a bit too wide for individual portraits but a fabulous asset at a wedding. The 16mm lens will be two stops brighter too and this really does matter when I’m shooting interior portraits.
At a wedding I use the 14mm to show the opulence of the venue. It also shows who’s in the room with the bride while she is getting ready for instance. It’s a lens to capture one shot stories. Once I have established the scene with the 14mm I’ll pop the 35mm lens on my X-T1 for some tighter two shots and to cover the action. Once I have shots of the hair being done and make up etc I’ll pop the 50-140mm zoom on the X-T1 to capture some character moments. I can create the fun needed for these if the ambience is a bit stressed. When I come to lay out the album spreads for the getting ready section I will use the 14mm establishing shot and then close up, close up, close up shots taken on the other optics. I like to have a rhythm in my albums. It’s always good to start with the end in mind. I also use the X100T at weddings as a go anywhere camera. I wander around with it spotting moments to shoot. I can usually hear the groups of people having fun and I capture a very dynamic rendition of the day. With a camera as small as the X100T no one flinches or turns their back. It really is an unobtrusive camera. I never have my bag on my shoulder and I sometimes take my jacket off too to appear less formal.
What about the other lenses I own? I have been quite a vocal advocate of the 60mm lens over the past three years and this is in no small part due to the fact it re-energised my passion for portraiture back in the Spring of 2012. It was the first XF lens I bought to compliment my X-Pro1 and I have special affection for it as a result. A recent lent test I carried out reinforced my belief that the 60mm holds up in all respects to the later lenses added to the Fujifilm X series despite it being a fraction of the cost of some of them. However the 56mm has stolen the show for me. If I want a short telephoto lens for a portrait shot the 56mm has become my go to optic. Do I still love the 60mm lens? Yes but the 56mm and now the 50-140mm zoom have become mainstays in my work.
I am a great believer of having a limited kit and getting to know it well. The same is true for lenses and this is why for the majority of 2013 right up to the release of the 23mm lens I was using the 18-55mm zoom for just about everything. I shot the majority of my images using that ‘kit’ lens and it’s fair to say that I have no regrets whatsoever it is really sharp and up to the demands of the professional shooter. Now that I’m on primes for my wide and standard focal lengths the 18-55mm zoom has taken a back seat in my world but it lives on in Julie’s Fuji X-E2 kit. Julie spends up to three months at a time in Africa on photographic assignment and she uses an X-E2 with the 10-24mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms. When the 120-400mm lens is released that will join her in on safari too.
The 55-200mm zoom I bought this lens on the day it was released and on the whole I’ve been delighted with it. Out and about it has been a fabulous asset when shooting my figure in the landscape style images and has constantly delivered outstanding pictures. The sharpness drops off very slightly at the 200mm end when wide open but stop it down a click or two and it is stellar.
When I shoot with flash on location I use ND filters to allow 1/180th second, wide open using ISOs between 200 and 800. Having a technical strategy like this helps me concentrate on my subjects and composition.
The one lens that hasn’t been announced that I’d like to see on the lens roadmap is a 200mm f/2 OIS. It will be big but when matched with the next series of Xtrans sensor (22mp or 24mp?) it will be the perfect fashion shooters combination.