Whether you want to shoot a portrait or a landscape or a documentary-style photo, you’ll want to choose the best lens for the job!
With an array of lenses to choose from, it can be hard to know which one to pick, and which will suit your photo best, and give you the best results.
As I have waaaay too many lenses to choose from, I thought i’d go through my thought process when picking out a lens for a particular photo. Of course, there may be other reasons why I pick a lens (versatility for going away on vacation, or weight if were going on a trek) but the two MAIN reasons are always the focal length, and the aperture.
Let’s go into the four questions I ask myself (which you can totally steal!) for choosing the best lens for the job.
What is the subject of my photo?
Different lenses are ideal for different subjects. For example, when shooting portraits, you want to avoid a wide angle (as that tends to widen the face and nose, and generally considered unflattering for portraits) and instead choose a longer focal length which slims the face down ever so slightly.
If you are shooting more lifestyle / documentary / street photography, then you’re probably going to want a lens that fits in more of the environment, so a slightly wider focal length is ideal.
Here’s a quick guide to some different photography subjects, and an idea of which focal length would suit that photo.
Street Photography - 24mm - 50mm
Landscape / Architecture - 16mm - 35mm
Portraits - 85mm - 200mm
Sports - 70 - 200mm
LIfestyle / Documentary - 35mm or 50mm
Everyday Macro - 100mm
Wildlife Macro - 200mm
Wildlife Photos - 200 - 400mm
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can't shoot architecture with a 200mm lens, or that you can't use your 100mm for shooting portraits - far from it! It can be fun to mix it up. But start by choosing a focal length that best suits what you’re photographing.
You can also download this handy dandy “Which Lens KickStarter Guide” which goes beyond waaaay beyond this blog post, and gives you example images from different lenses, and details which focal lengths you should use for different types of lifestyle, portrait and documentary photos, so you know exactly which lenses might suit the job AND see them in action.
How far away is my subject going to be?
The other consideration with regard to focal length is obviously how far away you are going to be! Although a 200mm can be uber flattering for portraits, you do have to stand pretty far back to get everything in the frame.
For that reason, it may not be the best choice when it comes to photographing children, as you might want to have them a bit closer so you can talk to them and get the expressions you want. Of course, for getting a more candid photo, then the 200mm might be ideal, so do think about how close or far away you want to be (or will forced to be) from the action.
What minimum aperture do I need?
Another consideration for choosing the best lens for the job is to think about the amount of light you have to work with, and whether a lens with a wider maximum aperture is needed.
All lenses have different minimum or maximum aperture sizes, for example, a 50mm prime lens may allow you use a really wide aperture like F1.4, but a 24 - 70mm zoom will only allow F2.8 .
I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but it can make quite a difference to the shutter speed and ISO you need to use - for example, by allowing a full stop of light more in via your aperture, you could shoot with a faster shutter speed, or use a lower ISO indoors.
Do I want dreamy background blur or a more inclusive feel?
One final thing we’re going to consider for choosing the best lens for the job, and that’s what you want the image to feel like. (I know, we’re going deep with this one!!)
A wide angle lens has the effect of making an image feel more inclusive , almost like the viewer is right here in the scene.. It spreads everything out, pushing the elements further apart so also gives you a sense of space.
Now if I stick on a telephoto lens, depth of field appears much shallower, blurring out the background and helping isolate your subject. As a result, the image feels more exclusive, like we are peeping in, and much smaller.
If this a new concept to you, let me just show you the difference a lens choice can make. I’ve shot the same beautiful model (Dave, he’s a regular here on the blog) framing him in the same way, but using two different focal lengths.
It’s definitely not that one is better than the other, more that each has a different "look" and it will largely depend on what you are photographing as to which lens you want to choose!
Generally speaking, if you want to include more of the background and have a more “inclusive” feeling to the photo (where you feel you could be right there in amongst the photo) choose a wide angle. If you want the image to have a more dreamy feel, then use a longer length lens.
That’s it for today! I hope you found this post useful - and if you did, I’d be grateful if you could share it! A quick pin to your Pinterest boards is all it will take, but if you are feeling extra generous, then share on Facebook or other social media of choice. Muchas gracias!
Finally, don’t forget to grab that Which Lens Quick Guide as you will find it uber-helpful in deciding which lens might suit which job! Click on the image below, enter your email address, and I’ll send it direct to your inbox!