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December 2008

The term ‘studio photographer’ defines a very broad range of specialities: fashion, beauty, portrait, product, automotive, still life and more. Even some location work gets classified as studio photography, by virtue of the location and lighting requirements. So what are typical lenses for shooting in the studio? CPN contacted Finland’s leading advertising studio, Potkastudios in Helsinki, and asked three of their top photographers for their thoughts and opinions on the best Canon lenses for studio work.

Vilma Pimenoff


Vilma Pimenoff.

Vilma Pimenoff graduated from Brighton University in the UK and assisted Joseph Ford and Steven Lyon in Paris, before starting to do her own commissioned portraits for magazines. She now shoots people and still life in the studio for advertising clients at Potkastudios.

Vilma’s normal camera of choice is an EOS-1Ds Mark II. She has three lenses that she prefers to use, but has most of the Canon EF range at her disposal when required. Much of her work is with flash, so she tends to shoot quite slowly. When the lighting allows, she will use occasionally use continuous drive mode for bursts of images, particularly with people.

© Vilma Pimenoff

Close portrait taken with the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM at 70mm end.

Vilma explains: “When shooting people, I find Canon’s EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM zoom is a really good ‘standard’ lens. It is especially good when shooting a moving subject where you have to be able to follow the subject quickly and make different compositions, such as close-up or wide view. Being an L-series, it gives quality images that are really sharp. It’s also a superb portrait lens when used zoomed out to 70mm at f/2.8.”

“For still life I use Canon’s TS-E90mm f/2.8 and the EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM. The 90mm lens assures you will not have distortion in products you’re shooting and the tilt-shift is impeccable when you want to vary the focus dynamics. For example, I often change the direction of depth-of-field, meaning that the area in the image that is in focus is running through the image in diagonal or vertical. I use this a lot when photographing food,” adds Vilma.

© Vilma Pimenoff

Product shot for S-market, captured with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and TS-E90mm f/2.8 tilt-shift lens.

Vilma notes that: “The 100mm macro is very sharp and useful when photographing small elements that you have to get close to and capture full frame (products, food). The 100mm macro lens is also a very good beauty lens, and has extremely good autofocus compared to medium format cameras and their lenses.”

We asked each of the photographers if they had any tips and tricks that they might like to share. Vilma thought about it and said: “You should test the possibilities of the 90mm tilt/shift in food photography or portraiture – you might be happily surprised!”

© Vilma Pimenoff

Portrait taken with the EOS-1Ds Mark II and the EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM.

Fabian Björk


Fabian Björk.

Fabian Björk trained in Finland and the UK, before assisting Kira Gluschkoff. After a period freelancing and then working for HBL/Volt, he joined Potkastudios. He specialises in editorial, fashion work and portraits.

Normally, Fabian will shoot with the EOS-1Ds Mark II, but occasionally he uses a medium format camera. He groups his choices of lenses according to the work he is doing: for editorial and fashion he will normally use wideangles, but for his portraits short telephotos tend to be the order of the day.

© Fabian Björk

Studio shot for Volt magazine using the EF50mm f/1.2L USM lens.

Fabian explains: “71% of my work is in the studio, 29% on location. For me location is more interesting because then I can mix ambient and flash light and get more variation for my lighting set ups. I like to underexpose ambient light to deepen colours and then fill-in with flash. I have never been satisfied with using just reflectors.”

© Fabian Björk

Outdoor shot for a Finnish fitness magazine using the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens.

“My favourite lenses are the EF35mm f/1.4L USM, the EF50mm f/1.2L USM and the EF135mm f/2L USM. With the 50mm and 135mm, I get perfect depth-of-field for all kinds of shoots,” adds Fabian. “The 50mm f/1.2 is great for hand-held shots, when I can move really close to models. The 135mm f/2 is perfect for shooting covers. I really like the sharpness, both at large and small apertures.”

Fabian tends to use his lenses at the extremes of aperture, either wide open, “when I’m close up, to give my images three dimensionality and to make them stand out from what naked eye sees,” or stopped right down for maximum depth of field. He occasionally uses extension tubes and convertors to bring the subject closer.

© Fabian Björk

Created in the studio using flash and a large piece of ice for the weekend edition of Volt magazine with the EF35mm f/1.4L USM.

Fabian’s tip for other photographers is: “Never follow the rules of photography, just your instincts. I do not feel that my genre in photography contains any technical tips and tricks - the magic is somewhere else. Shooting models is, for me, like seducing women, I need to create an emotional contact to get the perfect shot.”

Mikko Tikka


Mikko Tikka.

Mikko got his degree in photography and started out as an assistant with Potkastudios seven years ago. Now, he has graduated to shooting full time and has his own assistant.

Mikko reveals: “I shoot portraits, products, sports and interior shots. In the studio or for interior shoots, I use mainly Canon prime lenses. When shooting sports/action I usually pack one or two primes - the EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye and the EF50mm f/1.4 USM – plus the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM and the EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM.”

© Mikko Tikka

Shoot for a sports manufacturer in the studio, with mixed flash and ambient light using the EF50mm f/1.4 USM.

With a strong background in the outdoors, much of his work is on location, working sports and action projects. He is equally at home in the studio and does some good product work for household names such as Nokia and Samsung. He enjoys working with people and: “For portraits I like to use the EF85mm f/1.2L II USM lens. It’s heavy but it can produce razor sharp images.”

© Mikko Tikka

A montage of product images for a leading sports shoe manufacturer. Each shoe was shot at different angles using an EOS-1Ds Mark II and TS-E90mm f/2.8 before being montaged for publication.

“For normal product shots I use mainly the TS-E90mm f/2.8 lens because it’s really sharp and you can use the tilt and shift functions,” adds Mikko.

Mikko explains: “When I am shooting sports/action outside the studio, I like to use the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM or the EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens. When I have to carry a lot gear with me or I know that I have to be really mobile with my camera gear (moving with mountain bike or snowboard), I pack as lightly as possible. The EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM is a really good lens for that option. It weights half as much as the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, but image quality is almost the same. Shooting digital, you can easily increase ISO by one stop if you really need more speed than f/4 allows.”

© Mikko Tikka

Hi-fi products shot for Samsung Finland using the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM at the 35mm end of the zoom.

Other favourite Canon optics are the EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye and the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. Mikko adds: “I like to do some product shots with the 16-35mm. You can get a quite new and fresh angle with that lens.”

When asked if he ever used converters on his lenses, Mikko was very direct in his reply: “I don’t like converters. When you need them you are way too far... there have been few times that I have been hit in the face or my camera by a ski pole, snowboard or bike; that is being close enough!”

In the studio, much of the work is captured direct to the computer, with the camera tethered. EOS Utility and DPP are the applications of choice. “I normally work with flash, but on location I really like to mix flash with daylight,” says Mikko.

Mikko’s tip for other photographers is: “Get closer, but be careful using wideangle and fisheye lenses with fast moving subjects!”