ARTICLE

Shooting creative, shallow-focus portraits with the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens

British photographer Rosie Hardy is known for her dreamy portrait style. She was one of the first to use the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/2 and ISO250. © Rosie Hardy

Canon Ambassador Rosie Hardy is known for romantic and highly creative portraits that combine beautiful models with offbeat and fantasy elements. Her unique style has brought her a successful career in celebrity portrait, fashion and wedding photography, and a huge social media following.

The British photographer usually works with her Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, but for her two latest location portrait shoots, she tried out one of Canon's revolutionary new RF lenses, the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM, on a Canon EOS R body.

She chose the lens because, as a large-aperture mid-telephoto prime lens, it is perfect for her kind of work. It's great in low light, has fast, razor-sharp autofocus, and its wide f/1.2 maximum aperture gives images an attractive shallow depth of field and a beautiful bokeh.

Here Rosie tells the story behind the shoots: what kind of images she wanted to achieve, how she chose the models, how she approached the shoot on a practical level, and how the RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens helped her realise her creative ambitions.

A brunette woman in a chiffon top sits by a pink camellia bush. Photo by Rosie Hardy with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
“The biggest challenge for me was probably the lighting on both days – hard, bright sunlight,” says Rosie. “I overcame this by seeking out shade wherever possible.” Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/1.2 and ISO100. © Rosie Hardy
A blonde woman in a yellow dress sits in a sunny field full of daffodils. Photo by Rosie Hardy with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
“Personally, I'm a sucker for wide-aperture lenses. I love something that can drop to f/1.2 – the creaminess and the bokeh are unreal,” says Rosie. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/3200 sec at f/2.2 and ISO250. © Rosie Hardy
Canon Professional Services

Do you own Canon kit?

Register your kit to access free expert advice, equipment servicing, inspirational events and exclusive special offers with Canon Professional Services

Tell us about your shoots with the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
"Our first shoot was set around Yorkshire in England with early-blooming camellias. We did it in mid-March, which usually offers little in the way of blooms, so I was definitely excited about the prospect of shooting with these flowers. The second shoot took place around the Goyt Valley in Buxton and at Winnat's Pass in the Peak District – an amazing location with incredible green tones to play with."

What was the concept behind the shoots?
"The concept was to shoot portraits in as many ways as possible. With the girls, we focused on ethereal/romantic portraits in the camellias, then on to headshots with a pop-up backdrop, and finished on something more commercial with the daffodils.

“With the boys, I wanted to capture their ages more in the portraits – the character and storytelling eyes of an older man, the struggles of youth, responsibility and growing up with Oliver (who's in his early 20s), and the idea of changing childhood and wonder with 13-year-old Harrison."

Photographer Rosie Hardy holds a Canon EOS R fitted with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
Rosie usually shoots with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens in her kitbag, so the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens had many familiar traits – as well as useful new EOS R System features such as eye tracking AF. © Rosie Hardy

What was your practical approach – what time of day did you do the shoots?
"We shot the girls during the morning and into the afternoon, with lots of ambient light for that shoot. When it came to the boys' shoot, we started at 11:30am, and by 7pm we were still shooting, long after the sun had gone down. The Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens’s f/1.2 aperture worked a treat with the low-light portraits, and the face/eye tracking worked insanely well – it captured the twilight magic perfectly, while still keeping all my shots in perfect focus."

Rosie Hardy leaps over a hilltop.

Rosie Hardy's tips for social media success

Canon Ambassador Rosie Hardy has built her business on her social media accounts. Here she reveals her 15 tips for growing and maintaining an audience.

Did the shoot present particular challenges, and if so how did you overcome them?
"The biggest challenge for me was probably the lighting on both days – hard, bright sunlight. I'm not really a fan of sunny days, which is why I love England so much. You can usually rely on dreariness and clouds, but on these two days we had nothing but sun. Nightmare!

“I overcame this by seeking out shade wherever possible, with the exception of Sophia's portraits in the daffodils. The portraits of her in the direct light were a good opportunity to play with shadows, and they actually came out really well.

“The sunlight also made for a beautiful twilight hour for Harrison's portraits, keeping the sky a lovely shade of vibrant, dark blue."

A young man carries a suitcase up a hill, papers flying out on the grass behind him. Photo by Rosie Hardy with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
“I've added in lots of pages flying in Oliver's portrait, like I'd normally do, but other than that, these photos are almost exactly left how they were shot in-camera,” says Rosie. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/2000 sec, f/1.2 and ISO125. © Rosie Hardy
A close-up of a young man with freckles, crying. Photo by Rosie Hardy with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
“With the boys, I wanted to capture their ages more in the portraits,” Rosie says, including exploring ideas of “responsibility and growing up with Oliver, who's in his early 20s.” Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/1250 sec, f/1.2 and ISO125. © Rosie Hardy

Was everything shot using ambient light, or did you use any artificial light? Did you use reflectors/diffusers?
"I use no artificial light at all in my shoots, and no reflectors/diffusers either. I like to keep everything as true to the scene as possible, and I like to think I can handle natural light quite well. I know what makes a flattering portrait (shade on sunny days!) and how to use walls and structures as natural reflectors for my portraits."

How did the two shoots differ?
"I'd say the main difference between the two shoots was my confidence with the Canon EOS R and the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens. On the first shoot, I was a little unsure of their capabilities, because it was my first time with them – but I was so impressed. I kept my concepts and setups quite safe and relied more on having an experienced model, Sophia, and natural beauty Immy.

“I wanted to challenge myself by using entirely real people on the second shoot, and using different times of the day (like the low light) really helped me push the images more."

A close-up of a bald man with a styled, curled moustache. Photo by Rosie Hardy with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
“Baldini has the most brilliant eyes and moustache – he really fitted the character I was looking for from my ‘older’ casting,” says Rosie. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/400 sec, f/1.8 and ISO100. © Rosie Hardy
The bald man wears a long, samurai-like skirt in mist. Photo by Rosie Hardy with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
Rosie wanted to use the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens to shoot portraits in as many different ways as possible on this shoot. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/4000 sec, f/1.2 and ISO100. © Rosie Hardy

How did you choose your models for the shoots?
"I chose Sophia and Immy initially because of their freckles. I really wanted to see how this lens would photograph beautiful details like that, and I think freckles make a face so interesting. Sophia is a model who I've worked with before, but Immy is a photography student who came on one of my workshops.

“I chose Harrison because he also has freckles, as well as a really beautiful gaze that I really loved to capture. Baldini has the most brilliant eyes and moustache – he really fitted the character I was looking for from my ‘older’ casting. And finally, Oliver is Immy's brother. I thought he had a really symmetrical face when I met him on Immy's shoot.

"It's so important to me not to rely on professional models, because sometimes I think that being over-practiced can distract from the true character of a person. I didn't want to make this shoot about generically pretty portraits of pretty models, more about capturing stories with real people."

A close-up portrait of an auburn-haired woman against a black backdrop. Photo by Rosie Hardy with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
As well as photographing the women amid flowers, Rosie shot flattering headshots of them using a pop-up backdrop. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/1.2 and ISO640. © Rosie Hardy

Which features on the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens and the Canon EOS R stood out for you?
"The eye-tracking feature on the Canon EOS R is a total godsend. Barely any of my shots came back soft with the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM lens, let alone out of focus – even with movement!

“Personally, I'm a sucker for wide-aperture lenses. I love something that can drop to f/1.2 – the creaminess and the bokeh are unreal, and something you'll just never achieve with an f/4 lens. I definitely think the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens was made for portraits – personally, I love the close-up ones so much, but it worked brilliantly for full length shots as well."

A boy holds a lantern by a lake at dusk. Photo by Rosie Hardy with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
With 13-year-old Harrison, Rosie wanted to explore “the idea of changing childhood and wonder,” she says. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/1.2 and ISO1600. © Rosie Hardy
A boy holds a sparkler. Golden circles of light appear in front of him. Photo by Rosie Hardy with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens.
“The Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens’s f/1.2 aperture worked a treat with the low-light portraits, and the face/eye tracking worked insanely well – it captured the twilight magic perfectly, while still keeping all my shots in perfect focus,” says Rosie. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/20 sec, f/1.2 and ISO320. © Rosie Hardy

What post-production work did you do on the images?
"I tend to manipulate quite heavily in my usual work, but these images were a little different. I've added in lots of pages flying in Oliver's portrait, like I'd normally do, but other than that, these photos are almost exactly left how they were shot in-camera.

“Retouch-wise, I did the usual – lessen any under-eye bags, take out any spots or anything non-permanent that might be lurking, but that's all that was really necessary. The tones and colouring I did with my usual presets."

Finally, are you happy with the shots? Did you achieve what you set out to do?
"I'm very happy with how they came out. I'm amazed at the pin-sharp focus, and I think they're some of the best-quality images I've ever produced at such a wide aperture. I would have loved to see what I could achieve without battling against the bright sun on both days, but I think the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens and Canon EOS R handled all conditions very well."

Written by David Clark


Rosie Hardy's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Rosie Hardy’s Canon EOS R with Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens, with flowers beside it.

Camera

Canon EOS R

A full-frame 30.3 Megapixel sensor with impressive detail, ISO performance and Dual Pixel CMOS AF. "The eye-tracking feature on the EOS R is a total godsend," says Rosie.

Lens

Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens

A large aperture mid-telephoto prime lens, offering the ultimate performance for advanced and professional portrait photographers. Rosie says, "I love something that can drop to f/1.2 – the creaminess and the bokeh are unreal."

Related articles

View All

Get the newsletter

Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro

Sign up now