FOCUS ON: EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

February 28, 2011

Are great images a product of the photographer, or their camera equipment? This series (formerly known as "Lens of the Month") explores the idea that it's BOTH: Featuring a professional photographer and a single Canon lens, the Canon Digital Learning Center focuses on the relationship that artists can have with their gear.

Canon Digital Learning Center (CDLC):What type of photography do you do, professionally? What field(s) do you prefer, for personal projects/as a hobby?

Michael Timmons (MT):Professionally, I am mainly a portraiture photographer. I shoot corporate headshots, families, couples, children, actor headshots, album artwork for musicians and modeling portfolios. In college, my major was Photography and Cinema and my minor was Theatre. After I graduated from The Ohio State University, I moved to Los Angeles to break into the entertainment industry. I was fortunate enough to start working right away as Morean actor and model. I did commercials and appeared on many television shows and in films. One day, I was getting new headshots taken of myself by a woman that had a recurring role on The Young and the Restless. Suddenly, I realized that she was a working actor and a photographer and I should be doing the same thing. So, I rounded up all of my actor friends and started shooting their headshots for free. They were pleased with the results and the referrals started flowing in. In L.A. the line is blurred between actors and models, so I also began to shoot images for models to put on their comp cards and in their portfolios. Eventually, I was spending more time behind the camera than in front of it. I believe that my experience in front of the camera definitely helps me to translate to my clients what I want and need as a photographer. I also feel that when my clients know that I have been in their shoes, they are more trusting and open from the beginning of the session.

For personal projects, I'm always shooting random things for fun; architecture, gardens, abstract items, you name it. I just like to be creative and experiment. I wouldn't mind venturing out into travel photography.

Ultimately, I love photographing people because it allows me to know them in a more intimate way.

CDLC:What are the most important features you need in the lenses you use professionally? What about for personal work (if there is a difference)? What is your favorite Canon lens, and why?

MT:For portraiture, I need a lens that is tack sharp and one that can be quick if necessary. I would imagine that most people would think that portraits are very posed and still. Sometimes they are, but for me, the best shots are those that are captured when my subject has an "in-between" moment; those seconds when they are just being. I need the lens to provide crystal clear spots exactly where I intend them to be and it has to be fast or that unique pearl of a moment will be lost. When I began shooting portraits, I used a 50mm lens. It's a fine lens to use. However, once I started using the Canon 85mm, f1.8. I never looked back. For actor headshots especially, expressive eyes are the key to a winning shot. The 85mm allows me to focus clearly on the eyes and then isolate the subject from the surroundings creating a nice "pop" of the facial features.

I use the 85mm for personal work as well unless I'm going to be really far from a subject or I need to shoot really wide. It truly is my favorite lens because it's compact, easy to use and has allowed me to capture a variety of amazing shots.

CDLC:What types of assignments do you think this lens will really excel at, and why?

MT:This is, by far, the best lens for portrait work. It also produces fantastic nature shots. Additionally, if you're not too far from the participants, the 85mm f1.8 lens can capture stunning shots for indoor sports or theatrical events. Prints always look natural and dimensional. This lens excels at obtaining superb shots at even the lowest of light levels. Another notable feature is that its compact size doesn't overwhelm the weight of the camera.

CDLC:What, if any, challenges did you experience working with this lens?

MT:You must keep in mind that this is a prime lens and not a zoom lens. If you want to get closer to your subject, you must physically move toward it. I often find during a shoot that I am constantly moving back and forth to get a variety of shots. This could pose a challenge if you want to tightly photograph some types of animals in their natural environment.

I've occasionally had challenges when trying to photograph a group of people in a small or confined room. Sometimes to fit them all into frame, I've had back away from the group at quite a distance. There have been a few times that I have literally been backed into a corner, trying to squeeze everyone into a frame.

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