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My Three Favorite Prime Lenses & How To Use Them For Portraiture

By Pye Jirsa on June 7th 2019

In this video, I want to show you my 3 favorite prime lenses, and how to best use them for portraiture. If you are looking to buy, these are the lenses I’d start with first.

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Prime lenses are wonderful for their low light capabilities, bokeh aesthetic, sharpness, and overall quality. However, they aren’t necessarily the fastest lenses when it comes to versatility and focus speed. This makes them ideal for portraiture, rather than sports and quick moving subjects. In fact, take a look at our last video, the first two lenses you need to buy, because as a wedding or event journalist, over 90% of your images will come from zooms.

That said, nothing can beat primes in terms of their overall aesthetics. Obviously, they can shoot at very wide apertures which gives us a nice bokeh aesthetic, but beyond that, they are great for shooting in low-light scenes, they are extremely sharp, and they often sell at a lower price point since there are less moving parts. Let’s group these lenses into categories and breakdown that characteristics and benefits of having certain focal lengths and why I have my favorites.

[REWIND: The 24-70 And 70-200 Creative Reference Guide: The First Two Lenses You Should Buy]

24/35mm Focal Length

If you are looking to purchase a wider prime lens choose between the 24mm or 35mm focal length. They will give you similar results and it isn’t necessary to have both considering the images produced aren’t going to look that varied. Here are some of the characteristics you’ll achieve with a wider prime lens:

  • Wide w/ Shallow DoF
  • “In-the-Action” Focal Length
  • Foreground Elements + Special FX
  • Watch distortion! (Center Compositions)

24/35mm Prime Lens Recommendations

50mm Focal Length

  • Versatile Portrait/Anything Lens
  • Good DoF/Bokeh Aesthetic
  • Wide Shots Require Working Space
  • Favorite for Detail/Storytelling Elements
  • Great with Foreground Special FX
  • Distortion with Close-Ups/Headshots

50mm Prime Lens Recommendations

85mm/+ Focal Length

  • Great for Portraits, but Least Versatile
  • Exaggerated DoF/Bokeh Aesthetic
  • Great for Close Up Portraits
  • Ideal for Background Control
  • Requires Working Space
  • Slow to Focus

85mm/+ Prime Lens Recommendations

What are you favorite primes to use and why? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Aram Langhans

    So, if the choice is between a 24 or 35, why not a 28?  What are your feelings about this focal length that excludes it from your choices?

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  2. Pam Longenecker

    [Pam Longenecker has deleted this comment]

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  3. Angelica Criscuolo

    Lately I’ve been doing a combo of the 35 1.4L, 50 1.2 L and 135L all day,  along with the other lenses, but these I’ve been using more than the 24-70/70-200 2.8 but still use the 16-35L for most of the crazy dance floor photos.

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    • Pye Jirsa

      yeah, wide zooms on the dance floor are critical. I’m curious if you’ll keep shooting that way, keep me posted. I went from zooms to primes back to zooms. 

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  4. Byron Robb

    35 mm. 

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