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Natural Light Portraits with the Tamron SP 35mm F1.4 for Canon

When it comes to portrait photography, a 35mm prime lens is the perfect focal length to achieve multiple different looks for your clients. This is a great focal length for so many types of photographers, from wedding pros to photojournalists, from beauty portraits to street photography. There’s just something about a 35mm prime lens that gives your images such a unique look and feel.

35mm allows me to get tight, middle, and wide with my subject for portraits– and all three give me completely different looks.

The 35mm has a very subtle slimming effect with portraits. Because of the nature of the wider angle of the lens, any part of the subject that is placed near the edges of the lens will be elongated by the slight distortion, thus creating that very subtle slimming effect. This is a perfect lens for photographing portraits, specifically of women.

For my photo shoot with Violet, I wanted to be able to run with a single lens the entire shoot. I knew I wanted to be able to showcase the environment as well as create some nice close-up beauty portraits for her as well. This shoot was originally supposed to be a golden hour portrait shoot, but when the clouds decided to hover throughout the entire sunset, I had to be able to pivot. This is why a prime lens with a fast aperture like the Tamron SP 35mm F1.4 is so crucial. When I ended up not having the bright sunlight I was expecting, I needed the ability to pivot, and fast glass is the only reason these natural light portraits worked without having to push my Canon 5D Mark IV to a high ISO that would have resulted in noisy final images.

Equipment Used:


Photographer: Alissa Cincotta 
Model: Violet Deardorff
Stylist: Alissa Cincotta
Assistant: Sal Cincotta
BTS Photo: Sal Cincotta 

To start, I used a walking path to create leading lines into a full body portrait where I could position Violet at the bottom of the frame to really elongate her legs. Remember, this is a subtle effect, not like with super wide-angle lenses where you have to be cautious of placing your subjects’ body parts too close to the edge and making their feet look like they are wearing clown shoes.

Pro tip: When photographing outdoors with trees and winding paths, look for natural breaks in the background of trees to place your subject. The last thing you want in a scene like this is bad subject placement where it looks like a tree is growing out of her head. Just move your body around a bit to make sure you find that natural gap in the background. You also want to be conscious of the lines of any kind of path you may be shooting on so that the lines of the path lead you into your subject properly.

Settings: f/1.4 @1/320, ISO 200
Settings: f/1.4 @1/800, ISO 200

Once I got Violet warmed up with the first scene, she was ready to jump into the field of flowers (let’s be honest, she was ready to dive into the flowers the minute we started, I think I was the one who needed to get warmed up).

For scene two, the main shot I wanted here was a mid-shot that looked like she was completely enveloped in these violet flowers. To achieve this in a field of waist-high flowers, you have to change the angle of both yourself and your subject. I had Violet squat down on her knees so they flowers were more above her head. I photographed through some of the flowers to create a more interesting foreground and really bring out the purple in the flowers (the purple just wasn’t popping in the images without shooting with a few of them directly in front of my lens).

Pro tip: Because it was cloudy, there wasn’t really any harsh light coming from a specific direction so I thought I would be able to position Violet in any direction. Well, even when the sky is full of clouds, you still need to have your subject’s face towards where the “light” is, because when I had her face away from where the sun was (even hiding behind the clouds), the shadows created underneath her eyes were not flattering at all. So when you’re working with natural light only, you always need to be mindful of getting flattering light on your subject’s face.

Settings: f/1.4 @ 1/250, ISO 200
Settings: f/1.4 @ 1/160, ISO 200

After we wrapped up in the field of flowers, I took Violet on to the bridge to do some more full-body shots that brought in the ivory tones in the beams that matched her dress. I wanted to have a little bit of architecture brought into the shoot to give a totally different feel than the softness of the florals.

Again, I could have put Violet on the opposite side of the bridge, but her face needed to be facing the light at all times to avoid the harsh and ugly shadows under her eyes.

Settings: f/1.4 @ 1/160, ISO 200

As we finished on the bridge, I thought we were going to be done for the shoot, but then I remembered walking past some really vibrant yellow flowers on our way up to the bridge. I wasn’t super thrilled with how muted the purple tones were from the first set of flower field images, so I wanted to do one last scene in the yellow flowers to have a more colorful set of images from this shoot. So, I used the same technique here shooting through the yellow flowers to create some vibrancy and interest in the foreground. In this scene, I was standing elevated up on the sidewalk and had more of a downward angle where I could photograph Violet in the field and not see the distractions of the rest of the park in the background. Again, I wanted her to look like she was engulfed in a field of yellow.

I shot this entire sequence of images wide open at 1.4 because I wanted to use the background as a secondary element in each scene. I wanted Violet to pop off the background and have the background compliment the scene, using trees and paths and flowers to frame the shots. Even with the bridge sequence, I wanted the bridge to compliment the shot, not distract from my actual subject. Shooting wide open at 1.4 allows your subject to pop in focus while the rest of the scene falls off and goes blurry– that is how to achieve a shallow depth of field. When I had Violet leaning right up against the bridge posts, both elements were on a similar focal plane, so my depth of field isn’t as shallow as some of the shots with her in the field or on the path. The more distance you create between your two elements, the stronger the blur will appear in the background.

Settings: f/1.4 @ 1/160, ISO 200
Settings: f/1.4 @ 1/125, ISO 200

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