Before we talk about the second best lens for boudoir I suppose it’s only fitting to mention the “best” lens for boudoir, just to put things into context.
The 50mm, by all accounts, is the most popular lens for shooting boudoir because its focal length sits right about at mid-range (not too close, not too far away). It’s the lens a lot of boudoir photographers use to capture a lot of their shots with and it’s extremely versatile.
The 50mm is the one lens that manufacturers hold up as a beacon of their standards. It’s kind of like going to an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor and ordering their ice-cream sundae.
Sure, they offer other types of ice-cream creations, but the sundae is their signature dish, the one people will judge them on.
So, the 50mm is kind of like the ice-cream sundae of lens manufacturers and it comes in two flavors — the inexpensive no-frills kind, and the more expensive fancy kind.
It’s because of its mid-range field of view, versatility, and low-cost / high-cost options that the 50mm has become the workhorse of the industry and is considered the “best”, or perhaps more appropriately, the most popular lens to shoot boudoir with.
Two Kinds of Best
I’m using quotes to describe “best” here because that word can have two different meanings.
One is that it’s the best optically. It will be the sharpest, have the best image fidelity, and perform well at low f-stops.
The other meaning is that its field of view is the most ideal or rather, the most aesthetically pleasing.
The problem with this second one is that, well… it depends on what you like. It depends on what style you shoot in. It may be the “best” for some but it certainly will not meet all your needs as a boudoir photographer.
There are other “best” lenses that do things a 50mm can’t.
I’m playing semantics here and I realize that but it’s to emphasize a point, and that is that “best” really depends on what you like when you’re looking through your viewfinder, and what your style is.
Admittedly, I use the 50mm a good amount of time, but when I want a wide environmental portrait type shot (which I do often), the fifty ain’t gonna’ cut it.
The 2nd “Best” Lens For Boudoir
The lens I go to when I’m done with the fifty is the 35mm.
Your’s might be an 85mm or 105mm if you like to capture more close-up portrait type shots but for me, it’s the wider field of view that the thirty-five provides that causes me to christen it the second “best” lens for boudoir.
Reasons the 35mm Rocks
The Big Picture
The main reason I rank the 35mm as the second “best” lens for boudoir is because shooting boudoir is all about capturing the female form in a boudoir setting and that’s exactly what this lens does.
It’s the perfect environmental portrait lens and is built to capture the entire woman, head to toe, as well as a good portion of her boudoir.
The 35mm Lens Provides An Artistic Flair
Another quality the 35mm gives us is its artistic flair… it gives us a look, a cinematic look because it resembles a movie still shot on 35mm film. It has a style.
This is something a fifty can’t quite achieve. Sure, you can get a shallow depth of field with a fifty, at f1.8 or f2, and that’s cinematic too… but it’s really that wider field of view that seems to be the key ingredient.
Big Drawback of the 50mm
Without its shallow depth of field, the fifty is rather mundane and utilitarian.
You see, the 50mm is the lens that most resembles the field of view of what the human eye sees, so it’s a perspective we’re used to seeing everyday… day in, day out.
Now, that has its pros and cons.
One of its pros is that since it is something we’re so familiar with, anything shot with a fifty will look familiar to us. In other words, it won’t be jarring or unsettling to our eye. Its purpose is to document rather than to accentuate.
One of its cons is that since it is something we’re so familiar with, anything shot with a fifty will look familiar to us. In other words, it won’t be jarring or unsettling to our eye. Its purpose is to document rather than to accentuate.
That’s not a mistake, I repeated myself on purpose.
Its positive attribute is also its negative attribute. It comes down to what you’re trying to achieve, what aesthetic you’re going for.
Images shot with a 50mm don’t add a whole lot of artistic flair, probably more so than with any other lens.
So, the thirty-five suits my ego more. Yes, you heard that right, my ego.
How Ego Plays A Part In Lens Choice
My ego is a contributing factor because I want my images to not only be about documenting my subject, but doing so with some artistic flair — you see, it’s also about me, the photographer… and that’s okay because that’s part of the joy I get from photography — putting my stamp, my look, my “I was here on this planet, and I lived, and I want people to remember that” seal of identity on my work.
Yes, most of us do.
He put his own unique artistic flair on his work.
I want to be Picasso… in a way.
The 50mm lens is best used when you want your ego to step aside and have the focus be your subject. Since nothing is distracting your attention away from her, like a different perspective (i.e. different field of view), the fifty is the least egotistical lens there is with regard to the photographer.
Hey, it’s a choice.
For me, the 35 checks a lot of boxes, and one of them is marked “EGO”.
Special Attributes of the 35mm
A Different Perspective
First off, its a different perspective, one your eye is not used to seeing on an everyday basis so it’s immediately interesting, it catches your attention.
Being wide angle, the 35 can easily capture your entire subject from head to toe, and for boudoir that’s both meaningful and beautiful.
You need at least a few shots of your subject, the whole woman from head to toe, because it’s the most honest representation of who she is. It’s her, baring her soul “naked” for all to see… for herself to see… and appreciate, and treasure.
I try to capture a woman’s honest essence with no pretense (sexual overtones) with a couple of shots because I find those to be the ones I’m most drawn to. There’s a vulnerability that exists in those images and I find them to be the most captivating and hauntingly beautiful and I’m hoping my client sees them that way as well.
Perhaps I’m really an environmental portrait photographer disguised as a boudoir photographer?
Hmm… interesting thought.
The 35mm Gives You Negative Space
I love negative space… in just about every type of art form. That’s why I’m drawn to Japanese rock gardens.
In music, it’s the well placed silences that can be so effective.
In photography it’s the perfect canvas to show the gradation of shadow to light that eventually guides your eye to your subject.
It’s the tranquility in your photograph.
Negative space allows your subject to stand out and can be most effectively used to show scale.
Negative space also allows for your subject’s shadow to play a part in the composition.
Thank you 35mm lens for giving us negative space.
The 35mm Tells A Story
The thirty-five is capable of capturing enough of the environment your subject is in to tell a story.
Where is she?
Why is she there?
What is her relationship with that environment?
What just happened that produced that expression on her face?
You can push an image to a deeper level with a thirty-five if you choose. I realize this is not for everyone, but it’s there if your fifty is starting to feel limiting and stale.
The 35mm Can Be Cinematic and Grand
The thirty-five can make a small room look big, and a big room look grand.
Just imagine a shot of a woman in lingerie near a window looking out, with the light flooding in trying to fill up this grandiose room but only half succeeding. The rest remains barely visible hidden in shadow.
That’s a shot worthy of enlarging and hanging on the wall.
What does the room say about her? What’s her story?
Only a 35mm can deliver that kind of context.
You could even have the faint outline of a man sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the room hidden in shadow — unnoticed, at first, until your eye spent some time exploring the digital canvas… and discovered him.
What a wonderful surprise.
It’s cinematic… even operatic.
That picture doesn’t exist yet… only in my head, but one day…
Now, I wouldn’t classify that as a boudoir shot but more an intimate couples shot. Reason being, well… you can read all about that here if you like. (warning: my opinion my offend you… hey, you’ve been warned)
By the way, while we’re the topic, I think couples shoots are more interesting when the two people aren’t touching each other because that creates anticipation, and with anticipation comes tension and an unfinished storyline… a cliff hanger, and that to me is more visually interesting and emotionally stimulating.
It’s an emotion that gets vastly overlooked and under utilized.
We usually see images of two people in love with each other… ad infinitum.
A look from someone’s eyes is much more powerful than two people fawning all over each other, in my opinion.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand…
One Pre-Caution With a 35mm
The one thing you have to watch out for when shooting with a thirty-five is if you get too close to your subject it will distort that part of their body that is closest to the lens. It will enlarge it disproportionately compared to the rest of them.
If you want a good laugh just take a look at a shot I took that demonstrates just that.
Notice the leg closest to camera. It’s gargantuan! Oh my god, that’s embarrassing, but at least we can all learn from it.
Needless to say, I didn’t show her that image.
So, is the 35mm really the second best lens for boudoir?
Personally for me, it ranks as the best lens for boudoir, but I still use the 50mm more… if only for utilitarian reasons.
Thanks for your time!
Founder / Lounge Boudoir