Street Portraits With The Sony FE 85mm F1.4 GM

Finally, the warm weather is here.

The Sun is shining, the birds are singing, and The Hills are alive with the sound of lawn mowers! I really should get out and enjoy the nice weather. But what to do??  Hmmm….

I know! How about hanging out at ‘Times Square North’ (Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto) with some friends and playing around with the new Sony FE 85mm f1.4 GM lens? That could be fun.

A word of disclaimer – I am not a street photographer.  And I do not… usually…shoot street portraits (or portraits at all, for that matter) – that was the point of the outing that day – to “work on a weakness”.

Shots were taken in ‘3-seconds fashion’ (settings being pre-set) out of consideration for my ‘amateur models’ who were all too kind in taking a pause from their busy schedule to allow me to photograph them and in order to place more emphasis on the time spent speaking with them (and this also helped to keep the look ‘fresh’).  I took only one or occasionally two shots of each subject.

As there were no backgrounds to my liking in the open, crowd-filled area, most shots were taken at, or near, wide open (to blur the background). I used the ‘Flexible Spot (Medium)’ focus area.  I did not check critical focus, and any focus errors are certainly due to my technique and not the lens.

All images taken with the Sony A7 and FE 85mm f1.4 GM

HOYDS – Humans Of Yonge-Dundas Square
(inspiration by Brian Stanton)

(ISO100 f1.4 1/1000 +.3ev)

above: a beautiful smile (ISO100 f1.4 1/1000 +.3ev)


ISO100 f1.7 1/400th ev+1.7

above: this very distinguished looking gentleman was mild-mannered and quiet, yet possessed an obvious inner strength and calm. He was all too gracious in posing for me. (ISO100 f1.7 1/400th ev+1.7)


ISO100 f1.7 1/500th ev+1.7

I had to get a 2nd shot in this case – his face so rich of character, yet his style of dress also very much part of the story (ISO100 f1.7 1/500th ev+1.5)


ISO100 f1.4 1/1000 ev+1

Above: this gentleman served three Tours of Duty. It wasn’t the war however that put him in the wheel-chair but rather street violence – the victim of a beating by four men in Manitoba (ISO100 f1.4 1/1000 ev+1)


Approaching a complete stranger in the street and asking to take their photo can be an unnerving task – especially for someone like me who is fairly shy… quiet… introverted, even.  But being in ‘photo mode’ somehow emboldens me a little. I also found that with practice it becomes easier. The first one is the hardest.

ISO 100 f1.7 1/2000

above: “I’m from London” she said. “though I just flew in from Newfoundland. (ISO 100 f1.7 1/2000)


ISO100 f2.5 1/500th ev-1

above: Giggly-girls. The adventurous girl at far left was happy to pose, but wanted her friends in the photo with her. It’s not surprising I guess that many teen girls are very self-conscious. Still, it was a fun shot that I think captured the moment well (ISO100 f2.5 1/500th ev-1)


I had heard that getting a subject to agree to pose in the street can be difficult with far-and-away more ‘no’s than ‘yesses’.   I had prepared myself, ‘steeled myself,’ for rejection!  Today however… today, I was on fire – getting a hit rate of about 70%!

Perhaps it was my… charming smile??

I’d love to say that was the case – and I think approaching someone with a smile and good eye contact… making that genuine connection in the first few seconds… while difficult, is essential. People can sense when you’re not sincere, and whether you truly have in interest in them as a person or are simply looking at them as ‘a mark’ and want something from them. Yes, I’d love to say it was my smile and genuine nature but alas, I have to admit, that I felt the 85mm lens actually played a key role.

The 85mm f1.4 is a relatively large looking lens (though lighter than I anticipated).  It is a professional-grade lens – and it very much looks the part. There’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in the past – people (even professional models) are more willing to be in front of a professional looking photographer with a professional looking camera than someone who looks like a GWC (‘Guy With a Camera’) ie. ‘Cousin Fred’.  I’m not saying it’s right, or wrong (equipment shouldn’t matter),  it’s just what I’ve noticed…

ISO100 f1.7 1/3200

above: “Sure, I’ll pose – but just for a second” (ISO100 f1.7 1/3200)


Speaking of the FE 85mm – I’m sure at least some people reading this are curious about my impression of the lens.

I like it.

I don’t own it and this was the first time I’ve used it (Sony was nice enough to lend it to me for a couple hours), but I really, really like it.

I’m not the best person to speak to the technical aspects of the lens, but in my brief time with it I fell in love with how beautifully it renders.

I think the $2400 Cdn price may put it out-of-reach for many casual shooters (unless you shoot a lot of portraits) but for serious portrait enthusiasts and professional photographers the FE 85 1.4 GM will undoubtedly be a ‘must-have’ in their gear bag.


ISO100 f2.5 1/160th +ev.7

above: “His name is Grizz… short for Grizzley” (ISO100 f2.5 1/160th +ev.7)


ISO100 f2.5 1/400th

above: “What does Earth Day mean to you?” (ISO100 f2.5 1/400th)


It’s a well known fact that photographer are more comfortable behind the camera, rather than in front. So I didn’t ask these gentlemen to pose in Yonge-Dundas Square for me, but below are a couple captures of people you might recognize.

Award-winning conflict photographer and photojournalist Ben Lowy

Award-winning conflict photographer and photojournalist Ben Lowy

CP Director of News Photography and Instagram sensation Graeme Roy

CP Director of News Photography and Instagram sensation Graeme Roy

As noted, all images in this post were taken with the Sony A7 and the FE 85mm f1.4.  I also brought along my RX1 (one of Ben’s favourite cameras – and note Greame has the RX1R M2 in-hand in the above photo) and while I didn’t take street portraits with it, I did use it to take a number of candids. I’ll post those next time.



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