Cosplay Photography at 85mm

June 11, 2013

In portrait and fashion photography, 85mm is probably my most used focal length when compression and the subject are the primary foci of the photographs. While some may shy away from such focal length at cosplay conventions due to limited shooting space, 85mm actually brings many benefits for such settings and is definitely worth considering for photographers at all levels.

Before we dive too much into details, why is the 85mm lens important? There are obvious advantages of this focal length, and they are more than sufficient reasons to make this a worthwhile topic. But in addition to the focal length itself, we hope to also provide a bit more insight into the “cheap DSLR combo” we touched on in our Cosplay Photography at 50mm article. The reality is, most consumer grade (a.k.a. lower priced) DSLRs are cropped sensor cameras with 1.5x – 1.6x magnification, and people actually get 75mm – 80mm when they shoot with a 50mm. This is where the 85mm comes in: to provide a close example of the image perspective people would get when they shoot with a 50mm + cropped sensor DSLR combo.

Now that we have that squared away, what are the benefits of the 85mm lens? There are many, but here are just a couple of my personal favorites:

  • Perspective: 85mm provides a very decent background compression without too much of an added distance from subject. Depending on what you are shooting, the limited perspective can help with reducing the included background; perfect for limiting the busyness that enters into the frame when doing convention hallway photography.
  • Distortion: For the most part, I like to photograph people without changing their body proportions too much, and the 85mm provides that happy medium between distance and that distortion-free look. This is most noticeable when doing headshots, where shorter focal lengths would not only require you to get even closer to your subject, but also introduce obvious distortion to the subject’s face.

Nothing is perfect, and the 85mm is of no exception. The needed distance to capture a full body shot is quite difficult to acquire at a busy convention, and the tight framing helps little in including the environment into the photograph. For one to really take advantage of this focal length, you need a very good understanding of its strengths and weaknesses, a lot of practicing, as well as figuring out what exactly it is that you are trying to capture in your shots.

But we all like a little challenge every now and then, right?


Dragon Age Hawke by rockinmonkeyninja. Shot with Canon 5D Mark II @ f/1.4, 1/320, ISO-200. Natural light.

Dragon Age Hawke by rockinmonkeyninja. Shot with Canon 5D Mark II @ f/1.4, 1/320, ISO-200. Natural light.


Black Vow Miku by Anastacia. Shot with Canon 5D Mark II @ f/3.2, 1/160, ISO-100. Octabox on right.


Original design Steampunk Poison Ivy by Lauren. Shot with Canon 5D Mark II @ f/3.2, 1/125, ISO-800. Shoot-through umbrella high right.


Love is War Miku by Anne. Shot with Canon 5D Mark II @ f/4.5, 1/160, ISO-200. Studio setup.


TTGL Yoko by Jessica. Shot with Canon 5D Mark II @ f/4.5, 1/125, ISO-160. Studio setup. 2 Strip boxes, left and right.


Original design Deep Freeze by Dan. Shot with Canon 5D Mark II @ f/4.5, 1/125, ISO-160. Diffused reflective umbrella high right.


85mm is an exceptional focal length for portraits. It is an ideal candidate for times when one wants to focus more on the subject without a care for the environment, and it provides an almost distortion-free look that is appropriate for many occasions. This is not to say 85mm is perfect, as it does come with certain limitations and can be a challenge to use. However, once you allow yourself to familiarize with its pros and cons, not only can you understand photography a bit better, but perhaps also figure out a focal length or range that suits your artistic visions better.

So do you shoot with a 50mm on a cropped sensor DSLR? What about long focal lengths for cosplay photography? We would love to hear about your experiences.

If you found this article interesting, be sure to join our Facebook group, Cosplay Photography Discussion Group. It is a place for cosplay photographers of all levels to learn from each other. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook as well!

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I am a Seattle, WA based lifestyle fashion photographer who has Cosplay to thank for his adventure into the photography world. In addition to fashion, I also maintain Costographer as my cosplay work outlet:

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