85mm Lens Uses: It's Not Just For Portraits | Light Stalking

85mm Lens Uses: It’s Not Just For Portraits

By Sheen Watkins / February 24, 2020

The 85mm prime lens is well known for capturing beautiful portraits. It's relatively light weight, fast speed and wide aperture also makes it a superb event lens.  However, the 85mm is often overlooked as an effective tool in the nature photography arsenal.

In the case of our west Texas cowboy crooner, the image illustrates the character and features we expect when using an 85mm prime lens. Camera and settings used: Nikon D600, 85mm ISO 250, f/10, 1/60 seconds, Nikon 910 Speedlight.

When photographers take it to the streets, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm prime lenses are out in full force. When venturing to the great outdoors for nature shoots, telephoto zooms, landscape and macro lenses become the norm. The 85mm prime lens is tucked safely and many times, sadly, away in the camera case.

85mm lens uses
Photo by ShareGrid

3 Advantages to Using an 85mm Lens In Outdoor Nature Photography

1. As a prime lens, the 85mm encourages a deliberate, creative mindset in composing images for outdoor and nature photography.

2. A huge benefit of an 85mm prime lens (or any prime lens, for that matter) is that it forces behaviors that will improve our overall photography skills, including nature photography, regardless of lens type.

3. Slowing down, savoring the moment. When working with telephotos zoom lenses on wildlife, image composition happens at a rapid rate. Subjects dart, jump, fly, hop and run quickly from sunlight to shade in a matter of seconds. This requires fast movement, quick thinking and quick setting adjustments to effectively capture our subjects. Instead of nature taking the lead, the photographer is in charge.

85mm lens nature photography
Photo by Dyson Nordwick Chan

3 Tips For Using An 85mm Lens Outdoor

1. Stop, Look, Listen And Breathe – What do you see from a bigger picture perspective? What is it about the image that captured your eye, your interest? The 85mm prime lens encourages us to look closely at the subject while still being aware of its surroundings.

85mm lens outdoors
Photo by Eugene Chystiakov

2. Step In, Step Out – Working with the fixed focal length, the feet become the zooming action. While framing the subject, walk closer to capture the initial detail or details that initially caught your eye. Walk further back and take in the whole scene. Don't forget the foreground and background and how they frame your subject!

85mm lens pet
Photo by Eugene Chystiakov

3. Move Higher Or Lower – When studying your subject, what angles are available? Is there a nearby hill to walk up, or down and view? Explore all the angles and surprise your viewer!

85mm lens architecture
Photo by Marcin Kempa

Best Outdoor Subjects For Your 85mm Lens

Anything is fair game when it comes to using your 85mm prime lens. While it's not going to be the lens of choice for birds and small animals, some of same approaches used with a ‘walk around lens' on the streets applies with nature photography.

Close-Up Photography

Even though the 85mm prime lens isn't a macro, it does allow a closeness to objects that create intimate, interesting perspectives of details. Focus in on an object that stands out from the rest, that's a different color, shape or size. It could be a flower that's a different color than the rest, ivy or bark that is scaling up a tree in an unusual pattern.

85mm lens close up
Photo by Maria Teneva

Landscape And Street Photography

The 85mm prime lens really shines with landscape and street scenes. While technically a portrait is defined as an depiction of a person, consider that there are other subject opportunities to capture a ‘portrait' of. Just look at this beautiful portrayal of an empty street in the late afternoon!

85mm lens street
Photo by Maria Teneva

Just-Get-Out-There Photography

This is the nature version of walking around with the lens on the street. For the avid bird and nature photographers, it is very hard to leave the telephoto behind.

A recommendation would be to go out with the 85mm prime lens on the back end of the trip or later in the day. This would be after the wildlife images have been captured. Revisiting the paths traveled or a nearby area with your 85mm can re-invigorate photography skills and senses!

85mm wildlife
Photo by Eugene Chystiakov

As a portrait lens, the 85mm prime lens captures a portrait of a face, an entire body without distortion. For outdoors and nature, this prime lens is a an effective tool in creatively capturing beauty and imagery with clarity.

Happy Shooting With 85mm Lens!

To learn more about this lens, check out the links below.

Further Reading:

  1. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens Given Best Ever Rating by DXOMark!
  2. What You Need To Know About Telephoto Lenses
  3. Be Shallow – A Guide to Wide Aperture Photography
  4. Why Everyone Needs An 85mm Lens!
  5. 5 Reasons Why You Need An 85mm Lens
  6. A Look At The Best 85mm Lenses
About the author

Sheen Watkins

Sheen Watkins is a conservationist, wildlife photographer, instructor, author and photography writer. You can follow her photography on Facebook, Instagram and her website.

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