My Favorite Focal Length for Studio Fashion

Studio Fashion

Everyone I know in the business have their preferences regarding focal lengths for different applications. I tend to work quite a bit shorter than most when it comes to working in closed quarters in a studio environment. I specify this for a reason. Studio work is a fixed space that you set up lights in and know what those dimensions are for the whole day of the shoot. Unlike interior location shoots where you often have to change settings and adapt your focal lengths to the circumstances.

Above Illustration by: Donna Karan

It is for this reason, that I often find myself using a wide angle zoom in non studio environments.  My focal length of choice in 75% of my studio shoots is around 60-75mm i.e. 40-50mm in the 1.5 ratio APS-C sensor cameras. But I tend to shoot closer to the former. I have read on several forums that the majority of shooters tend to shoot quite a bit longer i.e. 90-120mm i.e. 60-80mm 1.5 ration APS-C sensor cameras. I find that getting in closer to the model, allows you to communicate on a different level which in my opinion is more immediate. I am also not that fond of (at least at this juncture in time) of that compressed  long focal length look. All of the major brands have focal lengths that fill this criteria.

“Because the image sensors on digital cameras are usually smaller than a frame of traditional 35-mm film, when a lens is used with a DSRL, you need to account for that difference by figuring its effective focal length. For example, a 50-mm lens on a Canon Digital Rebel would have an effective (or “equivalent”) focal length of 80-mm lens when taking into account the camera’s 1.6x magnification. Such magnification factors vary from one brand of camera to another, and sometimes even among models within the same brand.” from Consumer Reports.

I find that getting in closer to the model, allows you to communicate on a different level which in my opinion is more immediate. I am also not that fond (at least at this juncture in time) with that compressed  long focal length look.  However, I may just decide to change my mind tomorrow and start shooting 135mm f2.8 stuff and longer because it looks great for a certain application, with that blown out “Bokeh” look.

I have on occasion shot shorter than the above at around 30mm (45mm) APS-C, with very pleasing results, but for this focal length I need to work in studio’s with very high ceilings, as I more often than not am sitting or lying on the floor when shooting. I also need the much larger seamless when using this wider focal length or just work off of a bare studio cyclo wall.

Shooting at these shorter focal lengths most certainly have a distinctively modern edgy look about them (at least for now)… So don’t be afraid to experiment with shorter than the recommended norm for fashion work. It may give you a bit of the edge to stand out from the rest of the very highly populated crowd.

Would love to get your feedback…PS: My choice for Studio Beauty Lenses

About Benjamin Kanarek
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Fashion and Beauty Photographer. Some of the magazines I have shot for include: VOGUE (China, Portugal, Brazil, Italia, Paris and South America & Mexico editions), RG VOGUE Brazil, Harper’s BAZAAR (China, en Español & Latin America, Hong Kong, Italy editions), L’Officiel Paris, ELLE (Spain, Portugal and Greece editions), Madame Figaro (France), Cosmopolitan (France and Italy editions), Glamour (France), Votre Beauté, Jardin des Modes, Dépêche Mode, New York Daily News, Fashion District News, New York Times Magazine, W (British edition), WWD, Fashion Magazine (Canada), Flare (Canada), Oyster, Tank, WestEast…
  • DarioToledo

    Looks like I’ve inherited my habit from you. In fact from the first time I’ve seen your photos, I started to appreciate and use wide angle a bit more for portraiture, and I usually shoot around 42mm (aps-c) in most cases when it comes to half-length. This could make the FA 43 limited… one of the most useful lenses for me.

  • MrSamD

    Generally do you try to avoid lens wide angle distortion or push it for editorial effect? I shoot a full frame sensor and find the distortion quite strong at the periphery of the images with my 16-35mm f/2.8L lens.

    What exactly is your intention working face to face with the model with a wide angle? Do you feel that getting inside her personal space creates greater intimacy or intimidation? I tend to give the model more personal space by using an 85mm and shooting f/5.6 – f/11. This allows me to get visually closer and convey intimacy inside her personal space without physically violating that space. Your thoughts?

    • I can’t really answer that question, as I use tools that are appropriate for me at a given instance. What works for me, may not work for you at all. It really comes down to; “Do I like what is happening here…?” It also depends on the environment I am shooting in and which focal length lends itself well (IMO) to that condition.

  • c.d.embrey

    I’m starting to use my Canon EF-S 10-22mm more and more. No distortion at the 22mm end if I’m sitting on an apple box .

    I did a product shot last year at 22mm f11, normally I’d have used a 90mm TS-E. Client is happy and it looks good on a full page ad. What more could you ask for?

  • Heinz Schmidt

    Hi,

    I tend to use the Canon 35mm F2 on a 5D. The 35mm F2 is a bit soft wide open, but from F5.6 it gets into it’s own.

    I also like using the 85mm on a FF body, but yes, it does mean less fruitful communication with the model (especially when the iPod is blasting in the background to get the mood right).

    I wouldn’t go wider than 35mm though as you would get that wide-angle look, especially if you were shooting down onto the model or upwards from floor level.

    Regards
    Heinz

  • anything focal length is usable as long as the end result works. Some magazines the photographers are using fish eyes.

    • Exactly..I cannot count all the times I have worked from 12-15mm for tight in your face images.

      • i just got a 28 2.8 that i’ve been wanting to break out. Just need to find some victims…or should i say volunteers.

  • ShadowLight

    When it comes to perspective distortions the following will not hold:

    “50-mm lens on a Canon Digital Rebel would have an effective focal length of 80-mm lens…”

    … when you put a 50mm FF on a crop sensor DSLR you get the same image as you would on a FF (it has the same perspective distortions, same DOF), but it is just cropped from the FF, and usually this (dof, perspercive distortions) has to be taken into account when doing portraits.

    What F-stop do you use?
    do you keep to the lens’ sweet-spot?
    or how do you decide on your DOF?

    • I am generally shooting at around f8.0-11.0 in studio. I would call that optimal.

      • ShadowLight

        as I mentioned most people choose 80-90mm (FF lens, no matter the crop sensor, as perception does not convert) to get a more “natural” perception distortion…

        30mm wide angle would definitely produce interesting results, but.. used for fashion? Do you have any of those posted somewhere? I’m curious to see the result.

        • Yes…all over my web site. Most shot with 40mm fixed in studio and 12-24 and 16-50 on location. http://www.benjaminkanarek.com

          • ShadowLight

            I see… it definitely works especially when you want to show some depth perception like here:

            thanks for the insight