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The lens fashion's Javier Cortés couldn’t work without

Fashion short Meet the Swinton Sisters, commissioned by Vogue España. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Javier Cortés

In our Couldn't Work Without series, we ask leading photographers and filmmakers to reveal their essential kit, and Javier Cortés is a fashion photographer unafraid to declare his love in a very public way.

When he left his last permanent job, working for a large studio in his home city of Madrid, the Canon Ambassador posted an image on his Instagram page of the lens he holds above all others. "I will always love you!" he wrote alongside the image of his beloved Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens, on 29 May 2012. It’s a tribute to the lens that remains a staple in his kitbag to this day. The optic belonged to the studio where he was working, but he was so taken with it that he bought his own soon after.

"The lens cost more than my camera," laughs Javier, who works as a fashion and advertising photographer and filmmaker. "But I bought it and I’ve had it all this time. The only item that is always with me is this lens. I really love it."

A women sits down on a carpet, looking directly into the camera, her left hand resting on the carpet in front of her.
A still from Meet the Swinton Sisters, captured with Javier's "perfect lens". Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Javier Cortés
Two young models are poised to kiss, a shadow cast in between them.
Taken from a recent fashion editorial for Spanish magazine VEIN, in which Javier used an almost "documentary approach". Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Javier Cortés

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A long-time Canon user – his first camera was a Canon AE-1, a popular SLR model that was manufactured between 1976 and 1984 – Javier credits the two-time World Press Photo Award winner Isabel Muñoz with fuelling his passion for making portraits. From 2012 to 2013, Javier worked as Isabel’s assistant, and during this time she encouraged him to use one lens for a day (he ended up using the 50mm from Canon's professional lens range exclusively for an entire week) as a way of making him focus his attention, and move to get the shots he wanted. "It was a really great exercise and I found that I made very good images and developed a new style," says Javier. "I love to see things as they are, and although I’m a fashion and advertising photographer, and that’s synonymous with creating and capturing make-believe worlds, in a way I work around reality."

For Javier, who currently uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, the 50mm continues to be his preferred focal length. Whether he’s photographing fashion editorials for Vogue España or Esquire, or campaigns for brands including Zara and Estée Lauder, Javier says it is the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM he reaches for first. "I almost always start every shoot with this lens because, for me, it’s the nearest to what I see," says Javier, who describes his photographic style as encompassing a deep love of travelling, light, and "searching for naturalness".

Two women hang out of a dark blue car, one in the driver's seat and one in the back seat.
From Meet the Swinton Sisters for Vogue España. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Javier Cortés

The lens proved indispensable in his recent commission for Vogue España, Your Christmas is Unique. Javier, who has a background in cinematography (having directed commercials for Toyota Spain, fashion films for Zara, and other video projects), took the helm of the stills and moving image story about strong, creative females. His subjects – free-spirited artists, singers, writers and dancers – were between five and 72 years old, and from various parts of the world, including Saharan Africa, Russia, and the US.

A woman stands in the front garden of a single-storey clapboard house, casting a long shadow as she faces a sunset.
Taken from the fashion short Your Christmas is Unique, commissioned by Vogue España, this still was taken in Los Feliz, Los Angeles. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Javier Cortés
Resting her head on her left arm, balanced on the back of a light tan leather chair, a woman stares ahead.
An image captured during a shoot for VEIN magazine. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Javier Cortés

He shot wide open in low light, and created crisp images of his subjects at close range – they pop amidst a smooth, soft background made possible by the lens’ circular aperture diaphragm. And when shooting outside in bright Los Angeles sunshine, he wasn't met with colour balance and contrast problems – The EF 50mm f/1.2L USM's anti-reflection Super Spectra coating cuts down flare and ghosting commonly caused when light reflects off the camera's sensor.

A black and white shot is composed with a young man mostly out of frame, his jaw and ear in shot, as a woman leans close to whisper to him.
For the VEIN shoot, Javier mixed intimate close-up portraits and striking ambient photographs. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Javier Cortés
Dressed in a red hat, sunglasses and dress, a woman holds her hands together as if to pray.
For Your Christmas is Unique, Javier shot 10 women from all over the world, including Spain, Portugal, France, Russia and the United States. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. © Javier Cortés

Javier's "documentary approach" is also apparent in a fashion editorial he recently captured for the Spanish magazine VEIN. The shoot includes images ranging from intimate close-ups to striking environmental portraits. This intuitive and varied way of working is typical of Javier, and is aided by the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM's autofocus, which gives him the fine control necessary to work quietly and steadily or fast and energetically.

Three people are captured around a winter tree, two standing together to the right, and another sitting on one of the branches to the left of the shot.
When the photographer first bought his trusty 50mm lens, it "cost more than my camera". Taken for VEIN magazine on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Javier Cortés
A man holds a ping pong bat and ball, looking intently down as if to start playing, and in the background a woman stands in a yellow dress, bat in hand.
Taken for VEIN magazine on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Javier Cortés

While he applies an almost maniacal focus to his work, Javier is a personable and relaxed individual, which stands him in good stead in an industry that requires a certain amount of confidence and ability to get on with people, as well as artistic vision. "My team and I always try to find something different, something special – with the location, the styling, the colours, the story," he says. "When we shoot, we are like a small family, and try to make what we’re doing as good as it can be."

Írta: Gemma Padley


Javier Cortés's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Javier Cortés's kitbag

Cameras

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This full-frame 30.4MP DSLR captures incredible detail, even in extreme contrast. Continuous 7fps shooting helps when chasing the perfect moment, while 4K video delivers ultra-high definition footage to the DCI standard (4096x2160).

Lens

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