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