What Lens Is Best? Choosing a Lens for Portrait Photography

There are so many options in the photography lens market, so figuring out what lens is best for portrait photography can be overwhelming. Today, I’m going to let you in on some insider knowledge, talking about the lenses that I love and how to choose the right one for taking portraits, specifically.

Lens for Perfect Portraiture - Craftsy.com

What lens is best for portrait photography?

In general, I find wide-angle lenses to be less flattering than lenses with more of a zoom. In addition, zooming in a bit with a wide aperture will allow the focus to be on your subject, while the background just melts away.

Portrait of Woman in Teal Sweater

Photo specs: 50mm f/1.4 1/1250sec ISO 100

50mm f/1.4 lens

My favorite lens is also my least expensive lens: a 50mm f/1.4. When friends buy a new camera and ask my advice, I always tell them to get one of these lenses. Often dubbed the “thrifty fifty,” I use this lens all the time and find that it does a great job on portraits.

Plus, I find it great for travel, as it is lightweight and works well even in low light situations. Using the 50mm and a speedlight, you’ll be able to deal with any type of lighting situation. 

I used this lens on the portrait below, placing my subject in a doorway, focusing on her eye closest to me and opening up the aperture as far as it can go, exposing for her face. It makes for beautiful, dramatic portraits.

Photographer’s note: I have her sitting on the floor, since taking photos from above is always more flattering.

Portrait of woman in garden

Photo specs: 85mm f/1.8 1/320sec ISO 125

85mm f/1.2 lens

My absolute favorite lens for portraits is my 85mm f/1.2 lens. It is heavy and slow, making it horrible for sports photography, but amazing for sharp, gorgeous portraits. Check out how it makes the background blurred and dreamy in the above photo.

Portrait of Woman at 3 Different Focal Lengths

From left: 35mm, 50mm, 85mm. All taken at f/2.0 1/2000sec ISO 400

Comparing lenses

To compare, I’ve posted three photos above using 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses. Both the photographer and the subject are standing in the same place for each photo.

As you can see, the wider the lens, the less flattering the picture, and the more busy the background seems.

Outdoor portrait of woman in black dress

Photo specs: 85mm f/1.2 1/2500sec ISO 400

Aim high to maximize your lens’ capabilities

And finally, to make portraits even better, try and get higher. For the photo above, I’ve gone from standing at the same level as the model to standing on a bench, giving me a better angle and a beautiful portrait.

13 Comments

Jim Boyd

Bought one of these last year – cheapest lens I’ve ever bought but certainly one of the very best. Unbeatable value.

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Eugene Tighe

I use a Canon 18-200mm 3.5, on my Canon T3i and 50mm 1.4 on my Canon T1i…I take both cameras every where I go…

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Mark Cullenane

I find my Canon 85mm f/f1.2 L on a full frame camera is a delight for portraiture.

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Mark Cullenane

I find my Canon 85mm f/f1.2 L on a full frame camera is a delight for portraiture.

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Mark Cullenane

I find my Canon 85mm f/f1.2 L on a full frame camera is a delight for portraiture.

Reply
Joe Knight

have got 50mm1.8 but the 40mm just gives that little bit sharper.

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Joe Knight

have got 50mm1.8 but the 40mm just gives that little bit sharper.

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Richard Jefferies

My favourite is my Canon 135mm f/2 L. It’s pin sharp and I like the perspective it gives on full frame. I also like the workng distance of a 135 for head and shoulder portraits. Though a heavy lens it focusses near instantaneously and the f2 allows me gooddifferdntial focus

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Joe Knight

have got 50mm1.8 but the 40mm just gives that little bit sharper.

Reply
Joe Knight

have got 50mm1.8 but the 40mm just gives that little bit sharper.

Reply
Nick

Can’t beat film. Olympus OM4Ti with either a 50mm or a 35 – 80 is my standard. I’ll often add a 2x adaptor rather than use a zoom or telephoto lens.

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