TWiP Family 021: Q&A – Lenses for Family Photography

On this episode, I share two listener questions about lenses for family photography.

On episode 14 of TWiP Family, I talked to Sarah Wilkerson. She said when her 24-70mm lens wasn’t on her Nikon she traded it for a 45mm tilt-shift lens. Listener Christopher Masi, asked me to go back to Sarah and ask her how she was using a tilt-shift lens to photograph her family. I got in touch with Sarah and we talked about Christopher’s question.

In Christopher’s question, he acknowledges a tilt-shift isn’t something he needs but is something he wants. Sarah begins our conversation talking about wants and needs. We all just really need one lens to capture our family’s history – anything additional is a want.

Why does Sarah like a tilt-shift? Because it’s not made for her. It’s not made for a family photographer. It’s a technician’s lens made for architectural and product photography. Sarah says, “Anytime someone tells you what a technique is for, what a lens is for, what certain gear is for – I think it’s important to question it and say, “Well that’s great but what can I do with it.” Because, that’s when you start pushing your boundaries. Someone tells me – Don’t. I say, Do – if it’s safe.”

While I’d heard of tilt-shift lenses, I had never used one. Jonathan and Tiffany Cooper of Hot Metal Studios here in Pittsburgh let me borrow their tilt-shift lens. It was a challenge to use it and that’s what Sarah likes about it. And she has some tips if you want to try using a tilt-shift lens.

1. Don’t push the tilt to the extreme. Just go a quarter of the way on the dial.
2. The tilt effect is more interesting if you have depth in your photo.
3. Close down your f-stop more than you might usually use. Sarah uses hers around f/2.8 and f/5.6.

(By the way, Sarah loves the editing effect of the tilt-shift on an instagram photo.)

The next question was from Justus about what lenses I use with my own family.

First, Justus asks about manual focus vs. auto focus. I’m not good at manual focus. (“Not good” is an understatement. I’m terrible.) Auto focus is a must for me. If you are good at focusing manually and have a manual focus lens, by all means – use it. If you are like me, use auto focus. Read your manual (or Google) to learn how to best use your camera’s auto focus.

Justus also asks about what focal lenses I like for family photography. I use my 50mm and 35mm lenses. These are the lenses I use most often for photographing my own family. Both of these lenses let me capture our life in a very realistic way – which is what I love doing. The other lens I love is the 100mm macro. I use the 100mm for macro photography. Sometimes when life feels out chaotic, going outside and taking macro photos of my neighbors’ beautiful gardens is very calming to me. I go out, take some macro photos and then I can listen to my four kids’ questions and demands with more patience. I also use my 100mm for photographing water. It lets me stay at a safe distance when my little one is splashing water at me.

Next, I share a conversation with my friend, Bergita. I met Bergita at a Christmas a party. It wasn’t long before we started talking about photography. (You didn’t think I only talk about photography on the podcast, did you?) After talking to Bergita for a little while, I recommended she get a “nifty fifty.” (A 50mm f1.8 lens – Canon, Nikon, Sony)She took my advice. She got a 50mm lens and we talk about what she loved about it. She had no idea that a lens with a wide aperture could be so affordable. Bergita loves using the new lens and it has made a difference for her photography.

And now, our new challenge.

Beginner Challenge

Many of my guests have been recommending parents photograph their kids from a low angle. Get on the level of you child while they are playing.

You can see some examples of what a difference getting down lower can make here.

Advanced Challenge

Try many angles for the same photo. Walk all around your subject and see how it changes the photos.

Share your photos in the comments.

Do you have a question for our next Q&A show? Or a suggestion for a topic you’d like to hear about or a guest you’d like to hear from on this family photography podcast? Email me –

  • Hi jenny, great episode! Love the challenge – here are a couple of photos of my baby in his favourite places (dishwasher and recycling bin 🙂 )

  • Hi Carin,
    What perfect examples of how choosing your angle helps tell the story. It’s easy to see how curious your little one is, how busy life is with a baby “helping” out around the house and I always love seeing chubby hands. Thank you for sharing your photos. Beautifully done. ~Jenny

  • Angles? I love this shot of my granddaughter as shot from directly above–she walked up to me as I was snapping, and she stopped just at my feet, when I snapped this shot.

  • Hi Elliott,
    I love this angle – it’s how we often see them – looking right up at us with wide eyes! And, it’s great for getting those perfect catchlights.

    Thanks for sharing your photo. (She’s beautiful!)

  • Alex,
    Slow shutter speeds are so much fun. Kids are always in motion and it’s a great way to capture it. Thank you for sharing your photo. ~Jenny

  • Yes. You’re using both a low angle and a shallow depth of field to tell the cheerleading story. It does have a feeling of ending with the pom poms on the ground. ~ Jenny

  • Joe, This is a great angle for this one. He looks so big and proud. And, glide bikes are the best! Thanks for sharing your photo. ~ Jenny

  • Hi Jenny, love the show and the challenges. I usually take photo’s for the challenge but this is the first time I’m posting some.
    The first one should come with a public health warning, it cost me a black eye when my son landed on the lens… oops. The second one was a bit safer, out of reach.

  • Hi David,
    Thanks for posting some of your photos. You definitely used some dramatic angles. Sorry about your eye!
    I’m glad you’re enjoying the show and doing the challenges.

  • >