March 31, 2009

Pancake Session: Lenses

Oooooh we are mixin’ up the batter and TODAY’S batch are these jam filled pancakes from Williams Sonoma. See, we picked these because we are hoping this post is FILLED with good advice! Get it?? wink wink :) Oh who am I kidding….it’s because they look DELICIOUS and I really want one of these pans! Anybody out there want to buy me one?! AND make me pancakes while you’re at it? Anybody, anybody….Bueller?

Alright…down to business: Lenses.

What kind? How to shoot em? What’s important?

Let me first start off by saying that Justin & I prefer to shoot only with all prime lenses (aka fixed lenses like an 85, as opposed to a zoom). As of now, we only work with one zoom lens and that’s our 70-200mm 2.8. The reason that we prefer all prime lenses is because we’ve just found them to be sharper and produce those crispy-creme images that we all love to get. They also tend to be faster (open up to a wider aperture, ie. 1.4, 1.8 ), and Justin & I like to shoot wide open 99.9% of the time. Those two things, the crispness and the low depth of field from shooting wide-open, are a HUGE part of the look of our images. We’re going to do another pancake session soon on post-processing, but really a lot of what those questions are asking about starts in camera with some good lenses. So let’s start there!

NAVY SOU: Jimminy freakin’ Christmas!!! How in the world do you get such creamy complected skin??? Inquiring minds wants to know!!!

The answer to this question really has three parts: sharpness/shallow depth of field, lighting/exposure, and post-processing. So I’ll come back to it in those pancake sessions too. But for now, the first step for us is shooting wide open and using single point focus on the eye. Because of the quick fall off with the fast lenses, the eye is really sharp and the rest of the face & body just naturally smoothes out a bit with the shallow depth of field. The other two steps of lighting/exposure & post-processing are probably more important, but this is the base we always start with so i just wanted to touch on it here!

KIM: Ok…lets say you were going to a shoot and you could only take one lens..which one would it be? And why?

Ooooh HANDS DOWN it would have to be the 85mm 1.4. We are both IN LOVE with this lens and fight over it often. It did take me a while to get used to how spot on you have to be with your focusing, but once I did it was so worth it. It produces the creamiest, dreamiest shots ever. Seriously. One more thing…as one sort of rule we always like to put out there to people: if you are going to invest in a fast lens like a 1.4 or 1.2, spend the time learning how to nail your focus so you actually shoot it that wide open when it counts. I’ve seen so many people drop a ton of money on a 1.2 lens and then shoot it all the time at 2.8 or higher because they’re scared of the focus. That’s no fun at all!

ANA REBECA: I have a quick question…I want to buy a wide angle lens (not a fisheye) but have no idea what to get :(
Any suggestions??

BETSY JO: The veil – oh. my. Was that one with the new Zeiss lens? I am amazed by that shot- gor. GEOUS. I literally said, “Wow.” out loud. (And I rarely talk to my computer screen, so that’s saying something!)

Well as you guys know, we’ve been LOVIN our 25 2.8 Carl Zeiss lens. That lil’ guy is TACK SHARP. And it has the focusing capabilities of a macro, so it’s really a duel-threat lens. The only hitch is that it is a manual focus lens, but we actually like that because who among us HASN’T been trying to shoot something with an auto-focus macro and it just keeps making that dreaded “zzhhhhhht zzhhhhhht” sound (that’s my impression of the focusing sound….can you hear it? :) And everybody in the room is looking at you and you’re like “I swear, I’m a professional!” Yea….we’ve all been there. For more info on the 25mm 2.8 we did a post HERE and it was also responsible for most of the shots you see HERE.

Other than that, for Nikon we also love the 14mm 2.8 which has very little distortion for a super-wide and the 24mm 1.4 for Canon which is just a SWEET fast lens!

Happy Pancake Day!!!

PS: Don’t forget, if you have any pancake questions you can leave them in the comment box or email us at

  1. Betsy Jo

    Why, thank you for answering that question! So kind of you to give back. And the written ‘sound’ of the lens hunting for focus is perfect! :)

  2. Katie Jo

    I love my prime lens! I will never go back! Hoping to get an 85mm…eventually… Pancakes sound delish!

  3. Kelli M

    Prime lenses rock my face off!!!!

  4. candice

    you guys are ultra-fab! thanks for sharing your ‘lense secrets!’

  5. Sarah McCoy

    Oh my gosh! My mom has that waffle thingy and before my body went all wonky with gluten, I loved those little dough balls of delight.

    Thanks for the info too :)

  6. Dennis Bullock

    Good stuff as always guys!

    Mary, do you ever let Justin write on the blog? Maybe he is a silent partner….=)

  7. Jackie Beale

    ooooooooh I love posts like these! They are always so helpful. Thank you guys! :)

  8. Tira J

    I am madly in love with our 85 1.2. I don’t think David has ever used it. He is a zoom guy. And I completely agree, in that it takes a LOT of practice to shoot wide open. But, once you get it, it is rather FUN! Love you guys! Can I have some syrup from Vermont with that?

  9. Dawn B

    I have a 40D, one lens, and am still learning about this baby! What advice would you give to someone who is still learning the camera, but wants desperately (and I emphasize the "desperately" part) to one day do photography full time? Any advice I would welcome, treasure, squeel, whatever! Up till now I’ve been reading books, checking out blogs. I know that practice is the biggest thing, so can you "throw down" some ideas on practicing so I can get the most out of it? It might sound corny (even did to me after reading this back!), but I thought there might be some good hints about practicing.

  10. Christa

    Ooohh I can’t wait to try out my manual lense now for close ups….auto focus drives me crazy sometimes! Thanks for the tip :)

  11. imthiaz houseman

    Great post. I love hearing other people say when their in love with their 85mm 1.4, because hands down that is my favorite lens and I’m sooo in love with it!

  12. Dawn B

    ok, you know from my other questions I asked (yeah, I get all excited when I get to ask awesome photogs questions!) that I am really, REALLY new to photography, so, when you say "shoot wide open", what does that mean? I have an idea, but wanted to make sure!

  13. Velia

    Great post, thank you for sharing. I am completely in love with PRIME. I recently had to let go of the 85 1.8 a friend let me use and seriously I wanted to cry. Such a beautiful lens. Thanks for sharing

  14. Mary Marantz

    @Dawn: no worries at all! i didn’t know that either when i was getting started. And it made NO sense at all to me that a smaller number meant a wider opening. But yea, by "wide open" I just mean shooting at the lowest number/widest aperture a lens can go like 1.4 or 1.2. Does that make sense?

  15. Alison

    Thanks for sharing this! My 50mm 1.8 is on my camera 90% of the time and I love it. There is a lot more control of my results with the prime lense. I have been pondering my next purchase and I am leaning toward another prime.
    Love the pancake sessions and I am going home to cook a huge batch of chocolate chip tonight for the freezer!

  16. Sara Gray

    Great info Mary! And I want one of those pans too – where I went to college, there was a breakfast place that served stuffed aebelskivers and they were awesome!

  17. Catie Ronquillo

    Thanks for sharing all the info! You guys rock. I’ve gotten so used to shooting wide open that I can’t go back. And I totally want a 85 1.4! :) What camera bodies do you shoot with? (Did I miss that answer from another post?) :)

  18. Dawn B

    got it! I thought wide open had something to do with aperture. You guys rock! Thanks so much!

  19. The Apprentice ;)

    Thanks for another great post! Yay for learning … and pancakes!!!

  20. Ashley Rose

    I love these PANCAKE sessions =) they are sooo helpful! Thank you guys again for being awesome, its wonderful! xoxo

  21. Val McCormick

    YES, YES, YES!!!! Shoot wide open with fast lenses! I love that! I finally got an 85 1.4 and its ALWAYS with me along with my 50 1.4 and 70-200. I bust out the 100mm macro for ring shots but I’ve shot some portraits with it too. I still remember when Justin asked me how I shot and when I told you two the smiles and nods were so encouraging. Thanks for everything guys. These pancake sessions are awesome.
    -Val xoxo

  22. Last Forty Percent

    I’ve sucked up my blog reading so bad lately – I’ve missed so much. Great posts lately!!
    – Bri

  23. beth

    Yep…you guys rock. The end. :)

  24. Emily Beaty

    Yes, you DO rock! That zzhhht zzhhtt sound is very dreaded. lol

  25. Ana Rebeca Contreras

    Thanks for posting my question…….I feel honored to be on you blog…….You guys are AMAZING!!

  26. Sarah Wellmeier

    Great advice….I am in the market for a wide angle…so THANK YOU!!! :)

  27. Feuza

    Wow- this is the awesomest pancake session yet! making me hungry not only for food but hungry for my passion,
    I will wait for the post processing session to ask which actions do you think one must start with? do you prefer Kubata or RAD? I want to purchase a RAD one but not sure which one I should do first, I can not afford many at this time.

  28. Mary Marantz

    @"The Apprentice": I LOVE it!!! :) That’s perfect!

  29. Adrienne Gunde

    This post is definitely filled with good stuff from beginning to end! I was totally cracking up about the "zzhhhhhht zzhhhhhht" part – best impression EVER!!

  30. erica velasco

    These are great posts…keep them coming!

  31. Erik Souza

    The 85mm is my favorite as well! Thanks for such a great post you two :)

  32. Roxie

    I love posts like this! Especially for a girl like me who is just starting out. I would love to know as to when you shoot wide open (1.4 per say), and you’re shooting 2 people – to make sure both of their heads are crisp and sharp. When I shoot wide open, the spot where I focus on is only sharp??? Hope that made sense.

  33. Shannon

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE your pancake posts! First of all I totally want that William Sonoma pancake pan thing!!! How freaking cool does that look! I actually saw an imitation at target for cheap so check it out there lol. Secondly… you guys rock! These posts you do are SO informative! I love them and get so excited when I read them! You guys are truly an inspiration!!! :-) Keep rockin’!

  34. Navy Sou

    Ha! Thank you for answering my question guys! Ya’ll rock!

  35. Kellan

    I totally made your zooming sound out loud as I read it. Hilarious! That would be my impression too. You forgot to add about the pit sweat that develops as you are waiting for that bad boy to lock in and it is during THE kiss….horrible feeling….AMATEUR! Great advice as always, even if you do shoot Nikon…..oh no I didn’t!!!!!

  36. Amy Clifton

    I just bought the 85 1.4, but I’m a little nervous to use it in a "real" situation yet because of the focus. (My other lenses are 2.8, and I shoot wide open with them with no problems.) Any tips on how to nail the focus on the 85? Looooove these pancake posts!

comments & responses

Add a Comment