« Depth of Field Hell—The Sequel | Main | Kodachrome Flat, Grosvenor Arch, and a Great New Book »

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Just to be clear, isn't this something that you agree with? Seems right up your alley (and mine).

I'm good up till 28mm. 21mm is WIDE. I'd give it a shot though.

I do agree with Jeff A.'s comments in his piece, but it gave me pause to consider whether I think his piece is good because it's good or because it echoes me and I it....

I do think a 70-200mm (or even longer, if you ever shoot longer) is the most sensible zoom to have, simply because the longer the lens, the less likely it is that you can choose your standpoint. Sports, like Geoff McCann shoots, and weddings, like Jeff Ascough shoots, are just two examples of that. It's conventional to say "zoom with your feet" but of course there are times and places when you can't.


A wedding normally consists of two parts: the ceremony and the reception. I have found that a telephoto zoom (and a fast one at that) is often essential during the ceremony because it helps the photographer avoid getting in the way or distracting anyone.

During the reception, however, especially if it's indoors, it's time to put away the telephoto and pull out the normal or wide angle. The idea is to be a part of the celebration, not a detached and distant observer. Also, the closer you are, the greater the effective light output of your flash and the better your ability to control how the light falls on the subject.

Jeff is one of the masters, so I'm sure he knows all this and more. I'm just pointing it out to those who may do a quick scan of the comments rather than visit his site.

Oh My! This man is incredible. This is not your typical cookie cutter wedding photography. What a great find. Thanks very much for posting this. His work puts me right at the wedding. His blog is interesting and informative.

Hi Mike,
I'm a practicing professional photographer shooting the odd wedding, and I have to say, there is a lot to be said for Jeff's approach. I try to use a 24 or 50mm or as much as possible. I was fortunate enough to attend a series of seminars that Jeff gave at Focus on imaging in Birminghan (UK) two years ago. The guy shoots a lot with primes and almost always with available light. I asked him if he missed the Leicas, having gone digital, his response was interesting. I'm of the view he'd probably still be using Leicas if the M8 had been full frame and with the speed & high ISO capabilities of the Canon & Nikon DSLRS..... So here we are in 2009 with no perfect Digital rangefinder yet, and actually, no compact stellar autofocus 50mm prime lenses either(?). It ain't easy. The longest lens I have is 105mm, and I havent missed a shot yet. For wedding albums you can crop a lot from a 16 or 21 MPix file...

In my somewhat limited experience shooting weddings, I've also found that shooting with short primes works well. Not having to work a zoom leaves my left hand free to hold a light up and out, makes the camera smaller and has the camera up to my face less of the time.


Jeff's blog is amongst those I regularly visit (as is TOP).

It should be noted for his wedding work:
two Canon 5DMKII camera bodies and three Canon prime lenses - 24 f1.4LII, 35 f1.4L, 50 f1.2L and a available 85 f1.2LII just for the speeches if he cannot get close enough.

His photography is intimate because it requires him to be intimate with the subjects...and not in that weird stilted intimacy of many wedding photographers. This in large part due to his background in photojournalism. We hired a photojournalist for our own wedding. The pictures feel like you are there...at the wedding.

He also uses a Cannon G10, a Leica M8, and his iPhone for landscape and other non-wedding shots.

Notice that all his work is very personal. You have a sense of his presence in the photograph (even in the wedding pictures) which is a good thing. At least in my playbook.

What I feel is a confident photographer, one who "sees" not shoots, and is very aware of how to work with existing light (or as I prefer to say found light) conditions.

Some of his work is a bit post-processed for my taste (aka "Photoshopped") but damn if he does not have a good eye and a defined sensibility.


Two years ago I had a group of workshop students photographing a market in Venice. One photographer, an amiable young guy from Jordan, was shooting with a Point & Shoot up close. Another photographer was lurking in the shadows with a 300mm. Everyone loved the young Jordanian guy and he got very nice pictures. The guy with the 300 mm lens? One of the fish sellers walked clear across the market to shove his 300mm lens in his face!

Don't be a spy!

Interesting ideas. I do think he's missed the effect of camera size, irrespective of lens. A rangefinder is quite unobtrusive with any lens - I bet a 90mm on an RF would get a better response than even a 24-70 on a pro DSLR. The trouble with good lenses on SLRs is the photographer turns into a scary cyclops regardless of focal length.

I saved your post some time ago about 40mm primes being an "ideal" all around focal length lens. Your comments in that post fit here as well. I have shot around 500 weddings over the years, not very many per year, but consistently... from the 6x6cm twin lens days thru 35mm film, and believe 35mm is actually my favorite. After reading this post with its links, and rereading your article on 40mm lenses I think my prime will be the main, if not the only lens used for my next wedding, and perhaps for everything! It will be more fun too! I also am returning to film for shots of people. No matter how much I or my lab works on the images in pp, the ones shot with film of people always look better to me... smooth, gracious skin tones and just all around believable, beautiful colors... and let's don't even talk about the difference in black and white!

Excellent work on his site. Thank you for the pointer.
I'm really, really, REALLY smitten with the borders he adds to his pictures. Can somebody nudge me in the right direction on how one might go about this in PS?

Jeff did a Q&A interview on the photo.net forums a couple of years ago. The whole thread is still preserved if you're interested in reading more about his mindset when it comes to photography:


It's true, for weddings you don't need telephoto lenses. I carried a 70-200 on the last wedding I shot (I usually don't shoot weddings) and never used it even once.
Even my 85/1.8 was too long, I would have rather had a 50mm prime (I had my 24-70 but that wasn't fast enough on occasion).
I wouldn't even want to shoot a wedding where you're required to stand so far back you have to use a telephoto.

Do I use a 70-200 at weddings - yes, often in UK churches you have little choice, and it's a splendid lens for B&G portrait work. It's big. heavy and obvious and I try to avoid it if possible.

Mostly, however I cover every wedding I shoot with a 24-70/2.8 on one body, and a 35/2 or 50/1.4 on the other. The 24-70 isn't that small but until Nikon decide to release a 24/1.4 prime (and a 35/1.4 please) I have little choice. Lucky the 24-70 is so good then :D

I recall Jeff A shooting with a 70-200/4 at one point last year but I don't know if that was at weddings.

I guess what you use to shoot with is personal preference. This all goes back to the article on DOF. I use an 85 1.8 at around 1.8 to 3.2 for nearly half of my wedding and portrait photos. Not because I am trying to pigeon-hole my self, but because I like the way the photos look. I like to isolate the subject from the background. I like to lead the eye. I like to tell the story with details, not just a general overview. My camera bag is my tool box. I am building a story and every tool is important. I might only use my 70-200 once or twice, but it can make for essential shot. It all depends on the day.

While I am an Ascough fan and a regular visitor to his blog I must disagree with his view on the zoom. I find I can get better candids with the zoom often as I just sit in the background observe and click.

Oh BTW his actions are just superb.I recommend them to anyone.

The 70-200 on a DX or FX body seems to be a standard around these parts. Personally I sold my 70-200VR after realizing I was using it for less than 10% of the wedding shots and hardly any of the keepers.

Personally I work with the bride and groom, up close and personal. Both eyes open and shooting wide so the bride, groom, and their family can all interact with me.

My back thanks me for getting rid of that boat anchor.

Great shots on that blog. But he's killing them with that heavy PS vignette - dial it down a bit Jeff. Aside from that, flawless.

It's just a lens, right? Something you have in your bag. And you're the official photographer?

Good-natured involvement makes its own discretion. If you ever occasionally happen to do anything so contrary to the laws of photography as shooting with a telephoto at a crowd scene in search of details, do it with the same rhythm and openness one employs for wide-to-normal lenses.

The guests will get the joke.

Even the 24-70-style high-end standard zoom is more like a stack of waffles than a pancake.

As a wedding photographer 90% of my images are made with a 35, 50, and 85 1.4, I never use a 70-200 in a reception. I would rather mingle with the folks and shoot from the hip so to speak. The 70-200 is on one of my D3 bodies during every ceremony, but it then heads back to the bag.

Dear Folks,

It's interesting to me how styles, and default approaches, change with time. I did wedding photography from the late 60's until the mid 70's, when I decided it wasn't my cup of tea. Having cut my professional teeth on then-contemporary photojournalism, I assiduously avoided flash, stuck a 300mm lens on my Pentax 6x7 and did almost everything with tight crops from a considerable distance (not counting the handful of obligatory establishing and mob photos and 'special moments'-- cake cutting etc).

People just loved the results, because instead of the usual crowd shots, they were getting elegant individual portraits of themselves and their companions. It was considered quite a radical and daring approach.

Now it's four decades later...

pax / Ctein

As usual there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to do this. It's the resulting images that count, how one gets'em is down to the individual, be they long or wide, fast or slow, flash or ambient. That's why photography is so great. As this forum - and any photography forum you might care to look at - neatly demonstrates, it's anarchy out there. Long may it reign.

Hi Mike,

This is slightly off topic but perhaps could be another in your series of Debunking Photographic Myths …

Jeff Ascough repeats the (very) common assertion that lenses alter perspective: ‘Our vision doesn't work with the same perspective as a telephoto’ etc. I’m happy to be corrected, but I think this is just plain wrong. The perspective in a photo is a function of the relative positions of the camera and subject, not the lens which take the photo.

As an example, if you take a picture with a 35mm on a tripod, and then another with a 300mm without moving the camera, the 300mm shot should be EXACTLY the same as a cropped version of the 35mm one (ignoring DOF). I’ve never actually tried this, but my first ever photography book showed good examples.

Similarly, my 35mm shift lens doesn’t actually control perspective, it enables me to do that by tilting the camera relative to the subject and cropping a larger image circle. (I’m not sure about proper tilt lenses …)

What Jeff is describing is the change in perspective resulting from being closer or further away from the subject. Of course, certain focal lengths (85-100mm) have fields of view that encourage portraits at a distance that has a pleasing perspective. But it’s the DISTANCE that matters, not the lens itself.


Thanks for that; good stuff.

The guy he links to - Joe Buissink - is something else again.

Top 10 in the world eh? You'd think if you were on that list you'd sort your website out so that it loaded (kk photo design) and played video (Jerry Ghionis) correctly....

I agree with Sam, above, about the heavy PS vignette. Jeff's photos are wonderful, but lately he seems to have a heavy hand in Photoshop. Dodging and burning are excellent tools. It's just a question of degree. At some point, it doesn't look filmic anymore. It starts to look overprocessed, especially when the vignette has a somewhat rectangular shape. I'm sure that Salgado's and Cartier-Bresson's prints were carefully dodged and burned, but I don't believe their printers used rectangular vignettes.

The same goes for the film rebate effect. Film negs usually appear to have square corners, except at high magnification; whereas a negative carrier can be filed to have rounded corners and sloppy edges. He's reversed it, so now the image has very rounded corners and sloppy edges, even at low magnification, and the "filed-out neg carrier" frame has the neat square corners. I love his work, but I sincerely wish he wouldn't style his photos with this unconvincing film effect.

I shoot weddings. A Canon shooter (it's a long story), I own most of the requisite "L" lenses including the 70-200. Problem is, I keep pulling out my cheap 1.4 50mm and dancing with the rest of the guests...and shooting. My best work is within a foot or two of my subjects (when the ceremony is over) and yet I regularly get complements on how 'unobtrusive' I am. Gee, I'm 6'2", 210# with flaming red hair. Unobtrusive, no...just part of the celebration. Jeff's one of my heros and I've watched videos of him shooting...he's the quintessential 'everyman' (short, a bit dumpy, almost sweet looking) except he's got a Leica and a great eye. You can buy one of those, the other is something I'm still searching for . . . DD

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007