My Most Used Lens In My Camera Bag

When it comes to shooting portraits, photographers almost always reach for an 85mm lens or even the 70 - 200 mm lens. As great as these two lenses are for portraits, they often fall short when trying to capture an environmental style photograph. In this video, I'm going to show you the most widely used lens in my camera bag and how shooting wide angle can sometimes create a better photograph than shooting telephoto. 

Recently I posted a video on Fstoppers about how useful the 70 - 200 telephoto lens can be for shooting portraits. I have probably created my favorite photos with this lens, and one of my favorite reasons for using this telephoto lens for portraits is that it gives you so much control when choosing your background. When you combine the narrow field of view with a fast 2.8 aperture, it's pretty easy to make professional looking images in almost any situation. 

The Tamron 24 - 70 2.8 VC G2 Lens

However, no matter how much I love the 70-200 lens, most of the images I take day in and day out are definitely shot within the 24-70 mm range. Having a wide angle to short telephoto zoom lens is super convenient when you need to shoot a variety of different types of photographs in a bunch of unique environments.

If you shoot weddings, you will often find yourself in tight spaces where any lens over 85mm is simply too telephoto to capture the scene. If you shoot headshots, 70mm is often a great focal length for removing distortion from the face while still allowing you to work in smaller studio spaces. If you plan on taking a single travel lens to shoot street photography or even landscapes, a good 24-70 lens will probably be your best bet as an overall walking around lens. Basically what I'm trying to say is that no matter what genre of photography you enjoy photographing, the tried and true 24-70 lens is usually the first lens you should include in your gear bag. 

The Environmental Portrait

I love taking portraits of people, and one of my favorite types of portraits to capture is people in their natural environment. A solid environmental portrait doesn't necessarily need to show every little detail within a scene but it should be wide enough to make the viewer feel like they are part of the image. For me, the Tamron 24-70mm VC G2 lens is one of the best lenses for finding that perfect balance between a composition that is too wide and one that is too telephoto. Many photographers like to use prime lenses to change their perspective but for me personally, I like the versatility and quickness a good zoom lens provides. 

For this particular photoshoot, I wanted to capture an environmental portrait of local kiteboarder Dan Liberty. The first decision to make with almost any photoshoot is how wide or tight do you want to photograph the scene. As you can see in the photo below, the image shot at 200mm is simply too tight. Although it compresses the background nicely, the background itself is not all that interesting. Sure, you can see the water, beach, and sky, but in my opinion, the overall background is pretty stale. 

By shooting a wider composition and moving closer to my subject, I was able to create a much more pleasing composition. By lowering the camera and exploiting the interesting sand formations, I think this final image looks much more heroic and powerful than the telephoto image above. This would never be possible if I were trying to stand further back and shoot telephoto. Also, because there were no clouds in the sky on this particular day, I was able to shift the attention from the sky to the sand which I think plays better in the final photograph. Finally, by shooting wide, I was able to capture the entire kite in the photograph which isn't possible in the above image.

The Lighting

As you can see in the two images above, the harsh sunlight wasn't the most flattering light for Dan, but it did provide some interesting light on the sand. Because the wind direction was a big factor in how I positioned Dan in the scene, I knew the setting sun would act more as a rim light than the main key light on Dan's face. Therefore to make this image really pop, I decided to light Dan's face and body with a Profoto B1 strobe. My goal was to light Dan with a light that emulated both the harshness of the sun as well as the overall direction the sun was casting light onto the scene. One technique I remember Clay Cook using a lot in his environmental portraits was he always places his lights on the same side as the natural light. The angle doesn't have to be perfectly the same, but the idea is to make the light look like it's coming from a natural position. So instead of placing the light directly over my camera or even to the left of the frame, I placed a single Profoto B1 with a reflector dish off to the left of the frame. This single light was perfect for lighting Dan with harsh, hard light that wasn't too different from the light created by the setting sun. 

Single light, camera right

After reviewing the above image, I decided that since the kite took up so much space in the frame, it might be nice to throw a little more light on the kite itself. I positioned a second Profoto B1 light just behind my camera but I faced it towards the left side of the frame just like the main keylight was positioned. To make the effect a little more subtle and highlight just a small portion of the kite, I placed a Profoto 10 degree grid on the light and aimed it at the 12' lettering on the Cabrinha kite. As you can see in the image below, this extra pop of light really brought some life to the kite itself. 

Second light added to left side of the kite

Finally, after reviewing the image above, I felt like the entire scene was a little too dark and it looked too heavily flashed. I wound up dragging my shutter a little longer so that the scene was exposed a little more with the ambient sunlight. This allowed me to mix my strobe light with the natural light in a more pleasing way so that the final image didn't look too unnatural. The final step was to coach Dan into a bunch of interesting body positions so we could capture the strongest image possible. My favorite frame from this photoshoot is the image below with Dan holding the board towards the camera and looking directly towards the Profoto light. 

Final photo, 2 lights


The main take away I want you to leave with is that different shooting situations call for different tools. Many photographers are taught that all portraits are most flattering when shot with a telephoto lens. While this is true in many cases, I have found that many times, some of the most interesting photos I have taken are with lenses that are much wider than 70mm. It's no secret that my favorite lens is the Tamron 70 - 200 VC G2 lens, but when it comes to the most useful lens in my bag, the Tamron 24-70 2.8 VC G2 is probably my most used lens of all time (although I've recently upgraded to this lens after owning the first generation lens for years). 

If you find yourself shooting fast-paced jobs that require a bunch of different focal lengths, I highly recommend adding a 24-70mm lens to your camera kit first and foremost. Having a mid ranged zoom has made my life much easier when shooting weddings, family portraits, environmental portraits, editorial work, and other genres of photography that require a bunch of different focal lengths. No matter what your favorite lens is in your camera bag, it's always a good idea to think outside the box and use the focal length that offers you the most interesting results.

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Alexander Petrenko's picture

Oh, cool, 24mm add this beautiful flash effect! ;)

Mr Blonde's picture

ahaha this was too big to be true... wtf..
i didn't even read the article when i saw this image..... pathetic

Patrick Hall's picture

What are you guys referring too? I can't decipher your code language

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Next time I will definitely use big bold and brave tags "sarcasm" and "pun intended" where applicable not to make other seriously serious photographers spend their time writing long comments. These days adding smiley is just not enough...

Kawika Lopez's picture

My comment wasn't directed toward you. The sarcasm definitely translated and made me giggle.

Kawika Lopez's picture

Pathetic is a little harsh. Yes, he lit the 24mm shot and not the 200mm.

Experienced photographers will (and should) know the difference and understand the point he's making. Producing content like this is a lot of work and comparing two widely different focal lengths while the sun is rapidly falling is pretty stressful and takes time.

With less experienced photographers, they will immediately see a difference in 200mm vs 24mm and want to know why. Result, more views and higher watch time, and the viewer actually get some in depth education.

If you just skim over the thumbnail and immediately need to assert that you know the difference between natural light and a strobe, thats unfortunate. If you actually watch the content, he explains the lighting in full and why it was used.

Patrick Hall's picture

I mean, there is a non lit version of both images in this post....I didn't put them in the video but you can clearly see an "apples to apples" comparison with just a few flicks of the scroll wheel.

Glad you mentioned the stress of having to teach a lesson as the sun falls....that was definitely an issue for me plus it was freezing out there. You don't have time to stumble over your words or spend too much time tweaking all your lights either.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Yesterday evening we went with my daughter to grocery shop. So, we turned over a corner and told her - "look, what a beautiful setting Sun right over the horizon". Then we walked down the street around 2 minutes and the Sun just disappeared behind a mountain. So, I feel your pain.

Vincent Alongi's picture

Golden hour photography is gorgeous, but you need to have all your ducks in a row and be ready for it for that reason- the minutes can fly by, the impact of the sun for the way you want to use it changes by the moment. Especially with portraiture and the nature of setting up models and scenes.

Ariel Martini's picture

Oh cool, 24mm adds this beautiful BARE BREAST effect

Patrick Hall's picture

I'm always trying to share more bare breasts with this community :)

Anonymous's picture

For some reason I am turned off by too much depth-of-field when people are in an image. Probably because smartphones take so many of the pictures we see online and they're generally wide-angle lenses.

Patrick Hall's picture

It's definitely an artistic decision. I've been shooting more and more with a large depth of field because I feel like the shallow depth of field look is too in vogue at the moment. The trouble with wide angle lenses is even at 2.8, the depth of field is often pretty large esp if you look at the image small on a screen.

Deleted Account's picture

There are several ways to isolate a subject, DOF being only one. In a lot of cases, that's not your first priority in an environmental portrait anyway.

Anonymous's picture

What other technique would you use outdoors?

Deleted Account's picture

Lighting, color and perspective along with various things you can do in post.

Deleted Account's picture

A great article ruined by your plug for a mediocre lens. Any 24-70 would be fine. Was this sponsored?

Alexander Petrenko's picture

What's wrong with this lens and why others are superior?

Deleted Account's picture

There's nothing wrong with it but it's not significantly better than any others. I prefer a different one for reasons that aren't important to my point. Again, any 24-70 f/2.8 could have been used to illustrate his thesis.

Patrick Hall's picture

This Tamron lens is the only 24-70 lens we have in the office. We sold all our Nikkor 24 - 70 lenses because they didn't have VR and we use it for video.

Deleted Account's picture

And again, there was no reason to call out any particular manufacturer's lens. If you had addressed something specific to the Tamron, that would be understandable but you didn't. Though you didn't say it, it would be easy to infer the advantages of shooting wide environmental portraits is best achieved with this specific lens.
I'm not mad or anything. I just think you diverted attention from your point by calling out the specific lens in the body of the text. It would have been perfectly fine to credit it in the captions.

Patrick Hall's picture

Our site does meet operational costs through affiliate programs so that's why we link to the gear we use. I decided to link to a few websites that help us pay the bills :)

Deleted Account's picture

You mean I'm the only one paying $99 annually to access your site!? :-)

Jason Levine's picture

Did you just get triggered by him showing the lens name in the video? or saying Tamron a couple of times? In no way was this video a "buy tamron" advertisement.

Deleted Account's picture

Triggered? No. I stated the reasoning behind my comment. My work here is done.

Konrad Sarnowski's picture

I love shooting portraits with wider angle - it shows environment and is more intimate, as you place viewer closer to the subject ;-)

Jorge Cevallos's picture

Right now, I can`t decide whether to go for an 85mm or a 24mm lens. Either one I choose will make me think why I did not choose one over the other.

Patrick Hall's picture

Sounds like a 24-70 zoom is perfect for you then. One lens, 46 different focal lengths :)

Vincent Alongi's picture

I've just added this particular lens to my arsenal, the Tamron stated here. It was inevitable, given the practicality of the zoom and the quality of image the newer lenses are yielding. I picked it up last week for an indoor function I was hired for (it performed admirably for me), now I can't wait to kick its tires for environmental portraiture. Otherwise, the 70-200 is a stellar lens as well.

And I was priding myself on sticking to primes... lol

Franklin Vásquez's picture

Hi, Patrick.

Would you recommend this lens to a DX body or just to get a 17-50 or 17-55 2.8 for the purposes you mentioned? Which would you recommend?

Thanks beforehand!

Patrick Hall's picture

That's a tough question to answer. I love the 17-55 lenses for crop cameras but I never bought one because even when I shooting DX cameras, I knew I was going to make the jump to FX sooner than later. I actually did own the first Tamron 17-50 2.8 lens, it was my first lens ever and it got me through my first two years of weddings before I eventually bought the nikkor 24-70 and then the Tamron 24-70 because it had VC and Nikon didn't have VR yet.

If you shoot weddings I'd try to get a full frame camera (you need two cameras for weddings) and therefore I'd buy a 24-70 over the DX equivalent.

Ariel Martini's picture

When I use wide angle and the subject is not centered, I usually add a bit of negative distortion to straighten things out a little bit. This have to be done before any cropping so I used the second to last picture to show what you could achieve:

Pawel Witkowski's picture

This is quite important especially in portrait photography with wide angles. Unfortunately usually it's not that simple when faces goes into the frame. Distortion can be corrected but perspective not that much, for that sometimes I trying to use liquify but don't have that great results there that I would love to see huh. Maybe someday in future we could "teach" photoshop how person looks on few photos and then use that knowledge to semi-automatic correct distortion on wide angle lenses, but that sound like a non-trival work for now on. Something like a deepfake ;)

Patrick Hall's picture

Great advice and example! I actually did this exact process on the final image i wound up using.

Sergio Miranda's picture

The images used to illustrate the article are deceiving. Trying to sell a 24mm as a better looking lens, by adding some flashes. And putting down the 200mm as if the two lenses could compete. They are two different lenses for two different purposes. I just feel someone here doesn't know how to use a 200mm creatively...

Sergio Miranda's picture

Maybe this article gives you ideas on how to use your 200mm.

Patrick Hall's picture

The main example in this article show both mm images without flash...