If you’re a boudoir photographer that’s limited to shooting in a small bedroom, bathroom, or space in general, where there’s not a whole lot of distance between you and your subject, what’s the best lens for boudoir shoots in small spaces? In short, a 24-70mm, 50mm, or 35mm will get the job done. If money wasn’t an issue you could buy all three! But in most cases it is.
So, if you’re just starting out as a boudoir photographer and your rich uncle hasn’t died yet and left you millions, and you’re working with limited funds, what’s a budding boudoir photog to do?
Well, I’ve been in your shoes before and this article will help guide you in making that very strategic decision so you can start gaining experience shooting and earning money fast.
Angle of View
What is “angle of view” and why is it a concept you need to know?
Angle of view is the scope or range a lens can capture, and it’s measured in degrees.
For those of you who were sitting in your high school geometry class thinking, “When am I ever gonna’ use this stuff in the real world?” Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but now’s that time.
But don’t push the EJECT button yet!
It’s really not that hard and I’ll explain the concept in two ways. One will be for those of you who were sitting in your high school geometry class saying to yourself, “Boy, this stuff is neat! I can’t wait to apply what I’m learning here to my adult life!”
And the other is if you love pie… or cheesecake, makes no difference.
Okay, let’s get started.
A lens like Nikon’s 35mm f/1.8 has a wide angle of view of 63 degrees (on a camera with a full-frame sensor).
In pie language that’s a big slice of pie, or to put it another way, the 35mm has a wide range from left to right, top to bottom. It “sees” a wide view, hence the description “wide angle” lens.
So, if you’re shooting a woman in a small space with a camera that has a full-size sensor, you’ll most likely be able to get her whole body, head to toe, in frame.
Beware of Distortion
The one thing you’ll have to watch out for, though, is distortion.
Be aware that if you’re working in a really tight space, whatever is closest to the lens of your camera runs the risk getting exaggerated (distorted), to appear larger than it is in relation to the rest of her body. So, how you pose your subject is important.
If her body is relatively all on the same plane in relation to your camera, then you should be okay. For example, if she’s standing against the wall. There’s no part of her that is sticking out that is closer to your camera. All parts of her are relatively the same distance from your lens.
However, let’s say she’s lying on a bed, and you’re shooting her at an angle where her feet are close to camera and her head is further from camera, then you might have a problem with her feet appearing much larger than they are in real life because there’s not enough distance between them and your camera.
So, the 35mm is somewhat limited in its use depending on just how small your room is. But I use it all the time when I want to capture a woman’s entire body plus the surrounding space (in a larger room). It’s a great lens if you’re shooting a boudoir environmental-portrait with or you want negative space in the image as well — which I happen to love. But that’s part of my style, your style may differ and coming in around $119 used, $199 new, it offers great value for the price.
A lens like Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 with an angle of view of 46 degrees (on a camera with a full-size sensor) has what’s been described as an angle of view that most closely resembles the human eye’s angle of view. In the language of pie, that’s a medium size wedge, or medium range left to right, top to bottom of what it can capture.
So, when shooting a subject in a tight space with a 50mm lens you may be able to get the subject’s entire body in frame from head to toe, but you may not. If not, then at least 3/4ths to 2/3rds of her. Moving in any closer than that, like say a headshot type framing, you’ll want to avoid due to the distortion factor of shooting too close with this lens.
Remember, we’re operating on the premise that you’re shooting in a tight space with not a lot of room between you and the subject. Like the 35mm, the 50mm also has its limitations when shooting in tight quarters.
The great thing about this lens is that it’s a prime lens and both Canon and Nikon offer models that are quite affordable. We’re talkin’ in the $125 – $199 range. (Note: That’s the f/1.8 version, not the f/1.4)
A third option, Canon’s 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens, will give you the most versatility for that tight space you’re working in. Since it’s a zoom lens, it offers you a range of angles of view from 84 to 34 degrees (on a camera with a full size sensor). In the pie word, that’s like a buffet of pie wedges to choose from! Some wide, some medium, and some more narrow.
The 24-70mm gives you everything a 35mm lens will (and more) along with everything a 50mm lens will (and more), but… (there’s always a “but”)… it’s gonna’ cost ya’. Not the cheapest lens at around $1,700 brand new. Yikes!
Another factor to consider is its weight — just over 2lbs. It’s a hefty lens, unlike the 35mm or 50mm which weigh much less in comparison (just under half a pound). Shooting hand-held with a hefty lens can get tiring real fast and can affect the sharpness of your images if you’re shooting at a slow shutter speed.
Another great mid-range zoom lens is Tokina’s 24-70mm f/2.8.
This lens ranked higher on DXOMark.com than Nikon’s, Sigma’s, and Tamron’s (I don’t think they tested Canon’s), and it’s the lens I ended up buying.
You see, I too have a bit of a space problem. I shoot these wide environmental boudoir shots and even though the space I shoot in is fairly large… it’s not quite deep enough for a 35mm prime.
Plus, I’m on the floor a lot on my stomach, and inching forwards and backwards to get some variation had me feeling like G.I. Joe in Basic Training crawlin’ under barbed wire all day. So, even though Tamron’s 35mm 1.4 is an awesome lens and sharp as a tack… I went with Tokina’s mid-range zoom lens (that’s also pretty sharp, I must say) because it gives me that extra space a prime 35mm can’t.
Now, I get to position myself in one spot and let the lens do the crawlin’.
I got mine in excellent condition from KEH and saved a ton of money buying it used.
A Less Expensive Alternative (if you’re a Nikon full size sensor shooter)
The Nikkor 28 – 85mm f/3.5 – 4.5
“The what? Never heard of it.”
This auto-focus zoom lens is an older model from the ‘90s that’s not made anymore but don’t let that dissuade you from grabbing one used from KEH or Used Photo Pro for around $40 – $99. Yup, it’s that cheap and is a great bang for the buck.
This is a mid-range zoom lens with an angle of view of 28 to 74 degrees and is built like a tank, so there’s a little weight to it (just over 1lb.), but not like the 24-70mm (just over 2 lbs.).
It produces good quality images. Is it the sharpest lens in the shed? No, but is its sharpness pretty darn good? Yes, and for the price it just can’t be beat. And with the ability to go up to 85mm you can also shoot portrait style boudoir images without encountering the distortion you’d get from a 50mm or a 35mm.
One Thing You Must Know!
If you’re interested in acquiring one of these (the Nikkor 28-85mm f3.5-4.5) you have to be aware of one thing. In order to allow your camera body to control the auto-focus you must first dial the aperture setting on the lens all the way to f/22. Then flip the little switch (also on the lens) to the orange colored dot position.
If that’s not done then you’ll have to focus manually — which you may want to do anyway.
Another bonus of this lens is that it has a micro-mode. Yes, you can also get up close and personal with your neighborhood insects! This mode is manual focus only though.
One caveat to getting this lens is that it’s probably not the best choice if you’re shooting in low light situations. For that, you’ll want to stick with one that’s f/1.8 or 2.8., but if you’re shooting with bright sunlight, in a tight space, this may just be your ticket to ride.
That’s Great but I’m a Canon Shooter!
Canon does have an equivalent lens, the 24 – 85mm f/3.5 – 4.5 that’s a bit wider than the Nikkor. It’s a decent lens but does not get nearly as good a report card as the Nikkor version above. Is it a good value for the price? And lightweight? Yes… and if you’re on a budget this lens will serve you well for around $120.
If shooting in low light, I’d seriously look at the Canon 40mm F/2.8 This lens is super sharp and super duper lightweight, in fact it’s referred to as a “pancake” lens because of its ultra low profile. It’s almost like shooting with no lens at all, seriously, and for under $200 it’s a great buy.
It does have a fixed focal length of 40mm with an angle of view of 57 degrees which is between the 35mm and the 50mm and is probably closer to the human eye’s angle of view than either of those two.
Another Thing You Should Know!
If you’re looking for that shallow depth of field, where the background falls out of focus, shooting with the Nikkor or the Canon at f/3.5 isn’t going to get you the result you’re looking for.
So, beware of that if you’re thinking of acquiring any one of these last three lenses I just talked about.
If you want your background falling out of focus then you’ll need to invest in a lens with an f-stop of at least f/2.8. Ideally, f1.8 or f1.4 but as your f-stops get lower, your prices go up dramatically.
Recommendation For a Crop Sensor Canon Body
If you own a crop sensor Canon camera, the lens I would recommend that’s affordable and versatile enough to work in tight spaces would be the Canon 18 – 55mm f/3.5 – f/5.6 coming in around $200 brand spankin’ new.
It has an angle of view of 74 – 27 degrees which will give you plenty of room to work with in a tight space but also allow you to get somewhat up close and personal with your subject.
As you can see, there are plenty of options for shooting boudoir in a tight space without breaking the bank. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. The main thing you’ll have to determine first is how much light you’ll be working with, and if you want that shallow depth of field look.
With lots of light, you can get away with f/3.5 lenses, but with low light stick to something in the f2.8 – 1.4 range. Also, to get that shallow depth of field look stick to something f/2.8 or lower.
As you progress as a photographer and gain more experience shooting, you’ll find out soon enough which lens (or lenses) will be just right for your style and level of comfort to use.
On a side note, as my journey as a photographer continues, I’m drawn more towards lighter and lighter gear both in camera body and in lenses. Shooting boudoir is mostly a hand-held experience and I’ve found that I just enjoy shooting more with a lighter set up.
The above lens reviews were written primarily for camera bodies with full frame sensors. Please check to see if the lens you’re considering will be compatible with your camera type, especially those with crop sensors.
(Warning! Reading the following paragraph could label you as a Photo Nerd. Proceed with caution.)
Angle of View vs. Field of View
Angle of view is what the lens body itself is capable of.
Field of view is when that lens is attached to a camera body (either full or crop sensor).
Sometimes the angle of view and the field of view are the same… but sometimes they’re not.
For example, when you attach a 35mm lens made for a full-size sensor onto a camera body with a full-size sensor, your angle of view and field of view will be the same.
But when you put a lens made for a full-size sensor onto a camera with a crop sensor, because of the smaller sensor size, the field of view of that lens/camera combination will be less than the inherent angle of view of that (stand alone) lens.
Traveling deeper down the nerd wormhole…
Sometimes certain view finders show less than your field of view. So, what you’re looking at through the viewfinder may only be 96% of what your lens/camera combination is capturing. It’s not a big deal unless the extreme edges of your frame are critical.
To find out if the viewfinder on your camera is capturing 100% of your field of view, check the technical specs on your manufacturer’s website… or just Google it.
If you found this article helpful, please forward it to someone it may also benefit.
Founder / Lounge Boudoir
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