Tech-Talks | What Lenses I Use for Lifestyle Family Portraits

I get asked all the time what I carry with me to capture lifestyle family portraits. I use to have a ton of gear I carried with me to the homes of my clients. Including strobes, off camera flashes, stands, softboxes, and two bags worth of gear! I felt like the more stuff I brought and used the more people would see me as a "professional". Even though I am quite the tech-nerd and love playing around with lighting and different types of camera gadgets, when it comes to lifestyle family portraits I am now a minimalist, and I can't wait to share with you the gear I use.

I'll tell you what I recommend you splurge on, and what lens options I carry that are the cheaper sister.

That is it! These 4 lenses and leather bag is all I take with me to family portrait sessions now. I'll go into a little detail my gear.

The 50mm 1.2L – Splurge Worthy!

This lens is my baby. I usually always have it on my camera, and I will shoot entire sessions with just this lens. The reason why I invested in 50mm 1.2L lens, is because of the large aperture. With this lens I have so many stops, that if I am shooting in a house that doesn't get that much natural light I still feel comfortable and confident to produce great images, and after I bought this lens I stopped carrying around all my extra lighting equipment. This lens is also great for birth sessions, since hospitals tend to not have great natural light, and babies can be born in the middle of the night! 

Shooting with a wide aperture is my style. It takes some skill, but I feel very comfortable shooting at a 1.2! 

Here are some photos I got with this lens:

35mm 1.4L – Splurge Worthy

I debated for a LONG time purchasing this lens. I love to get really up close shots, and didn't know if I would want a wide angle lens for family portraits. Also my whole theory is that if I wanted more in the frame I would just back up with the 50mm. But this lens is a must for smaller rooms. I love being able to get the couple sitting on the floor, the crib, and the art work hung on the wall, all in one shot with this lens. It creates a great atmosphere that is still very in keeping with my style. 

I tend to use this lens OR the 50mm, so that is why I invested in the L series in both. I prefer using my 50mm, but if I am in a tight space where I cannot back up to get the wide shot I am looking for, then I use the 35mm. This is a great lens! And actually way more versatile than the 50mm! But I just LOVE my 50mm more, but if someone asked me if they had to buy one out of the two. I would recommend this one!

Here are some examples with the 35mm

Canon 85mm 1.8 – Cheaper Sister

Oh I can already hear you canon aficionados wondering why I am using this lens over the 85mm 1.2L. This was the first lens I've ever purchased, and the 85mm 1.2L cost about $1000 more than the 85mm 1.8. The 85mm 1.2L is a gorgeous lens, but so is this one! If you are looking for a great lens, but don't want to pay L-series price, I can't recommend this sister lens enough. It focuses faster than the L-series version and it isn't as heavy. When I use it I've never been disappointed with it. It also isn't as versatile as the lens mentioned above, but when I do shoot with it, I never regret, I mean the background blur is gorgeous on the 85mm!

70-200mm 4L – Cheaper Sister

For indoor family portraits a 70-200mm lens is a little overkill. I do not use this lens for indoor portraits, but when I do outdoor family portraits I'll use this lens. If you are debating on investing on the 2.8 or the 4.0 lens and you are not shooting indoor weddings I highly recommend the 4.0L over the 2.8L.  The 4.0 is a great lens, getting the fancy red ring around it like any L-series because that is how great of a lens it is. The reason why I use the 4.0 L-series one is price, the 2.8 lens is $1000 more than this lens. At 4.0 the 2.8 and 4.0 L-lenses are practically identical. I really can't notice a difference, maybe a pro lens reviewer could. But the lighter lens makes such a difference because I am usually running around chasing kids outside with it. I don't really need a wide aperture like a 2.8 for outdoor photos, and I can still get BEAUTIFUL bokeh with this lens. 

Here are some photos I took with this lens. It is so great to be really far away from your subjects as they play and can get really great moments I might have missed being very close.

Ona Capri Camera Bag

Lastly, I carry everything in this beautiful ona capri leather bag. I love being able to walk into a house with just this one bag and all my camera gear. It suits my brand so much more, and makes the visit seem so much more personal. Not to mention that this bag is absolutely gorgeous! I put my 50mm on the body of my 5D Mark III, and the bag has enough room for two other lenses, depending on if it is an indoor family session I will take the 35mm+85mm, if it is an outdoor session I take the 70-200mm+35mm.

Here is an example of my bag packed. It has more than enough room for my CF card case, iPad, cell phone, promo material, wallet, and a few other little things I like to carry with me on a shoot.

So I hope that you guys enjoyed reading about what I typically take with me to a shoot for lifestyle family portraits. I am not a pro lens reviewer, but after years of shooting and experimenting I just wanted to blog about what works well for me.

I would love to know your set up!