Lens Guides

Studio Essentials for Creative Portraits: SIGMA 85mm, 50mm & 35mm DG DN Art Prime Lenses

Hello there – Brandi Nicole here, a creative portrait artist based in New York City. I like to introduce myself as a portrait artist these days, because although photography is the primary medium I create with – my work has evolved to include multiple mediums, including watercolor, ink, acrylic, pastels, and other mixed media.

In my 16+ year photography career – I’ve gone from film, to DSLR, to mirrorless – but one thing has stayed constant, and that is my love for portraits.

For the love of portraiture

I have been a portrait photographer since 2006 (I was 16 capturing my friend’s senior photos and my teacher’s weddings!) I am very fortunate to say I still capture portraits for a variety of clients – including portrait and self-portrait work for major brands like Microsoft, L’Oréal, CeraVe, B&H, Adorama, Elinchrom, etc.

I am drawn to portraits that have depth. Portraits that offer something a little different. Whether that depth is from a beautiful use of depth of field, complimentary colors, or even incorporating storytelling – I am a lover of a portrait that can set itself apart from a sea of sameness.

Why equipment is important

As photographers, we constantly anticipate moments and capture them naturally. It matters what we complement our camera systems with to get those magical in-the-moment portraits, and it is essential to have a quick-focusing, quality lens that you can trust. I still remember my college photography professor Dr. Mitchell telling us “Cameras are disposable, it’s the lenses that you need to invest in.”

No one wants to be held back by their equipment, especially if you’re a professional. It is clear that to be a working photographer – you need quality gear you can depend on. SIGMA’s Art line of lenses are some of the highest quality large-aperture prime lenses on the market, and the DG DN range makes it compatible with my current Sony mirrorless camera.

I need tools that I can trust, are affordable, high quality, and that can get the job done. But it is a total bonus that these SIGMA lenses also inspire me.

I was first mesmerized learning about SIGMA when an ambassador came to my school and shared a video on how they created their lenses with utmost care in their Japan factory. Talk about a brand committed to quality… every detail is carefully considered with the photographer in mind. Every SIGMA lens I use is quick to focus, has exceptional image quality, and is a joy to use. I am in awe at the level of detail SIGMA takes to ensure they create the highest quality lenses possible.

Deciding which lens to use fundamentally changes the pictures you take. Let’s dive into the specifics of my top 3 favorite portrait lenses from SIGMA. I’ll share what makes each so special and ideas to use them creatively in your next portrait shoot!

First up: SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art

The 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art is the perfect lens to take around with you anywhere – especially on a photo walk when you don’t know what you might shoot. It’s a classic width, wide enough to capture your subject and your surroundings. I especially love this focal length for images that tell more of a story.

Creative Tip: They say you shouldn’t shoot an up-close portrait with a 35mm lens because of the distortion that can happen. I say challenge all rules – it can be fun to play with distortion and embrace what happens when you shoot with a wider lens on an up-close portrait. Think of ways you can use it intentionally, maybe to highlight or create emphasis with a specific detail (a hand, a product shot, shoes, etc.)

Next: SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art

If you could only get one lens – let it be this one.

The SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art offers the most flexibility, you can easily move with a photoshoot shooting up close and full-length portraits without distortion and without having to change your lens.

This lens captures truly beautiful portraits – both because of its classic portrait focal length and because of SIGMA’s incredible dedication to quality glass.

Creative Tip: Especially if you are newer to photography, try to use this lens for absolutely everything you shoot for a while. Get very comfortable with it, shoot up close and far away from your subjects, experiment with shooting closer to the ground (“worm’s eye view”), or find something to stand on and shoot with it pointed down (“bird’s eye view”) With extensive time to play with this lens, you will understand even better what makes this lens special and how the 35mm and 85mm lenses differ.

Last but certainly not least: SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art

This lens is hands down the Queen of Portraits.

The SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art makes it practically impossible to take a bad photo of someone. Between the flattering no-distortion focal length and the ability to capture a portrait at F1.4 – this lens is unmatched in its portrait perfection and is truly a joy to use.

So if you want to be primarily a portrait photographer, I highly suggest adding this to your collection. The quality of imagery you can get from this lens is simply outstanding.

One thing to keep in mind is the fact that you will have to stand further back from your subject than a 50mm lens – but trust me that this might make for a more exceptional quality portrait.

Creative Idea: With this lens – I highly encourage you to play with incorporating foreground elements! For example, when you hold a colorful flower or have something between yourself and your subject, this lens can really melt shapes into beautiful bokeh that frames your subject.

Overview of my favorite SIGMA primes

One final specific detail that really makes all of these lenses a joy to shoot with is the built-in aperture ring. I love to use it while I am shooting – it reminds me of my old film lenses and has a really satisfying click when rotating the dial. Also it is beautiful to see through the viewfinder just how creamy you can get the background at F1.4.

Ultimately, between these 3 focal lengths, every portrait photographer is ready for anything. You can use them on every shoot and know you are going to get high-quality imagery.

The 35mm being my best bet for portraits that have a bit of surroundings, the 50mm for being the classic go to for a shoot that the needs may change between up close and pulled back shots, and the 85mm being my top choice for up close portraits overall.

So get out there and shoot and play as much as you can. Get so familiar with your camera, lens, and settings that you can confidently shoot in any scenario.

If you made it this far, I would love to connect with you! More of my work is over at brandinicolephoto.com and over on Instagram @BrandiNicolePhoto.

I also welcome you into my creative community “Exploring Creativity with Brandi Nicole” over on Facebook groups – so head on over and introduce yourself!

Comments (5)
  1. These are stunning! I have the 35mm and I can’t wait to purchase the 85 this year. My 35 is absolutely a favorite and l love the focus and sharpness of that lens!

  2. Thank you so much for your kind comment Juliana!! I hope you’ll love the 85 as much as you love the 35 🙂

  3. Troy Phillips says:

    Very nice work. I only have one Sony mount Art lens the 28mm f/1.4 . I also have that lens in Nikon F that I adapt to Z along with the 135mm and 40mm Art .
    In Sony E I have the 65mm f/2 I series and the 90mm f/2.8 .
    I take the tweener approach to my live music “portraits” and work to not have the same field of view as most photographers. Then work at telling a “back” story on stage or off it’s for band promo photos. But yes learn to create unique perspectives along with good solid shots also . Work to separate yourself from the pack .

  4. Bill Frahm says:

    Nice work in both the writing and portraits, Brandi. You added the 85mm DG DN as a new obsession I have to justify. I look forward to reading more!

  5. I can’t wait until there’s a DG DN version of my much loved Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG E-Mount. I already have the 35mm DG DN and the 85mm DG DN. 135mm would round that out nicely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *