Choosing a lens and deciding the best focal length for portrait photography has to do with a unique view. It is more about how you perceive it rather than being the best. My best shot does not equal your best shot.
The portrait taste of a photographer differs from one another, which is why there is not the best portrait shot. However, there are preferred focal lengths by famous photographers that make a difference in portrait shooting games.
As the famous American photographer Robert Capa says, “If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough.”
In this article, I will widely explain the focal length in portrait shots, so you can decide which one looks better to your eyes.
Focal Length for Portrait Photography
24mm Lens for Portraits
24mm camera lenses are not commonly used in portrait photography. The main reason behind it is that the subject that comes up close defines every insecurity a person might have. Plus, the 24mm camera lens distorts facial characteristics ending up with an unnecessary big nose and small eyes and mouth.
28mm Lens for Portraits
A typical 28mm lens is way too wide to take portrait photography. At times it can be functional with crop sensors. In case you have a full-frame camera, the needed focal length is a 35mm lens.
35mm Lens for Portraits
35mm lens puts the winner crown on most occasions, including portrait shootings. If you want to use the 35mm lens, you have come closer to your chosen subject. At this distance, the subject gets to the modeling height and takes a pleasing or gratifying angle.
For your portrait to come out as you idealize it, use a wide camera angle lens if your subject is tall. This will make the subject look slimmer.
The versatility that the 35mm lens provides you is not compared to any other lens. That is why the 35mm is so popular and widely used by many professional photographers.
Family portrait lenses range from 24mm to 135mm, depending on what you need from your lens.
85mm Lens for Portraits
Worldly-known photographers use an 85mm focal length because it is considered the best focal length for portrait shoots.
First and foremost, you don’t have an extreme background angle, and by narrowing your angle, the subject gets isolated and helps you focus more on the subject’s characteristics. Isn’t this something you wanted to do in the first place?
If you take portraits with an 85mm lens, it will look way more natural because the facial features of the chosen model won’t be distorted.
85mm focal length is a perfect choice for capturing portrait views. Using an 85mm focal length, you don’t have to come uncomfortably close for a perfect shot. You can shoot your model from an acceptable distance.
135mm Lens for Portraits
With a long lens compared to 85mm, the 135mm focal length is widely used. However, it is not the best idea because it compresses your subject.
135mm lens got a small field of view, so you have to move the model back and forth to get the shot in your head.
Is Prime Lens or Zoom Lens Better for Portrait Shots?
There is an interesting fact about the prime and zoom lenses. A condition or circumstance that puts the zoom lens in a favorable position is changing the focal length without changing the entire lens. This costs way less and broadens the use of zoom lenses.
On the other side, prime lenses are far preferable for portrait photography. When a focal length is fixed and has a large aperture, it creates or originates perfectly sharp pictures with fewer aberrations.
What is the Perfect Focal Length for Family Portraits and Group Portraits?
The whole portrait photography turns over when too many people are involved in the picture.
For family portraits and group portraits of friends, it is better to have a 35mm lens with a full-frame camera. This lets more people take part in the picture.
If the group is even more significant, you can go for a 24mm lens, so only a few steps back will be enough to capture the best shot.
3 Types of Portraits and the Used Focal Length
There are many types of portraits, but only 3 of them are the most important and worth mentioning.
The Standard Portrait
This is the most standard posing portrait type. It usually happens when the chosen subject looks directly into the lens and is aware that he/she is taking the picture.
This type of portrait catches the head and the shoulders only. Eye contact is maintained all the time.
The preferred focal length is typically between 35 mm and 70 mm. This will help you capture the portrait without distortion.
Candid Portraits are also known as anonymous portraits. As the name presents, this portrait type is when the subject is unaware that somebody is taking his/her picture.
The best focal length to shoot these kinds of photography is 28mm. This will let you infiltrate your targeted person as much as you want.
Creative portraits, or let’s call them conceptual portraits, set you free from the photography chains. With this type of photography, you can create the art you always wanted.
The focal length in creative or conceptual photography is between 85- 105mm lens. The reason is that they are lighter, rounded, and shoot great scenic photography.
Which lens is best for portraits (prime or zoom)?
A zoom lens has the advantage of changing the focal length without changing lenses. However, prime lenses are usually better for portraits. A fixed focal lens with a large aperture produces sharper images with fewer aberrations (e.g., purple color fringing) than its zoom counterparts. In addition, fixed focal lengths with a large aperture are usually much cheaper than their zoom counterparts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is 50mm or 85mm better for portraits?
An 85mm lens offers a more comprehensive telephoto range. Some photographers choose 50mm when shooting portraits up close, while others prefer to shoot subjects from a distance of 85mm.
Which focal length is most flattering?
The most flattering focal length for portraits is 85mm on a full-frame camera (50mm on an APS-C camera). 85mm is the best focal length for showing facial features without distortion.
What’s the best focal length for family portraits?
I recommend a 35mm lens (on a full-frame camera) for family portraits, which allows you to frame more people. For an even larger group, you may need to go further with a 24mm lens, or you can take a few steps back with a 35mm lens.
What’s the best focal length for portraits with the iPhone?
You don’t need to worry about the best focal lengths for the iPhone. First, mobile phones are already optimized to take perfect portraits. Second, you can’t change the lens on your iPhone, so there’s nothing you can do.
What’s the best focal length for portraits with APS-C cameras?
The same principles apply to APS-C cameras as to full-frame cameras. You’ve to take care of the focal length conversion. To get the focal length, divide it by your camera’s crop factor (usually 1.6x) to know which lens to use. For example, to get an 85mm focal length on an APS-C camera with a 1.6x crop factor, 85mm/1.6 = 53mm. Thus, a 50mm or 55mm lens is used for portraits on an APS-C camera.
What’s the best aperture and focal length for portraits?
The focal length of 85 mm is best for portraits and goes well with large apertures such as f/1.8, f/1.4, or even f/1.2. A wide-open aperture blurs the background and creates a beautiful bokeh that’s very desirable for portraits.
Which lens is best for portraits and the zoom 55 250mm or 50mm?
If you need a zoom lens for portraits, choose the 18–135mm or the 55–250mm. Zoom portrait lenses are better suited to beginners who want to experiment. Professional portrait photographers choose fixed focal lengths to guarantee the best image quality.
What kind of lens do professional portrait photographers use?
Most professional portrait photographers swear by an 85mm f/1.4 or 85mm f/1.2 lens. It’s the best focal length combination and wide aperture, producing beautiful bokeh. The f/1.2 option is much more expensive than the f/1.4 option.
Is 150 mm suitable for portraits?
150 mm is too narrow for portraits because you must go far to get the whole person in the picture. So, 150 mm is best for extreme close-ups focusing on details and headshots.
Is 55 mm better than 50 mm?
150 mm is too little for portraiture since you must zoom in exceptionally far to capture the entire subject. Therefore, 150 mm is ideal for head photos and close-up views emphasizing details.
Is 55 mm preferable to 50 mm?
The difference between 55 mm and 50 mm is negligibly slight. Therefore, any choice is acceptable.
Is a 24-70mm lens suitable for portraiture?
Although you can also use a 24-70mm lens for macro and portrait photography, it is excellent for landscape and vacation photography. An 85mm f/1.4 lens performs best as a pure portrait lens.
The focal length for portrait photography varies from the individual perspective of the photographer. However, some photography tips help the taken portrait look stunning. Prime lenses are preferable for some reason, but you can use zoom lenses, too; it’s not much of a big deal.
The most preferred focal length for portraits is 85mm because the model is isolated, and you don’t get to catch nonsense background in the back.
The whole story changes when the family or group photo portraits are questioned. This happens because you can fit everyone in the same frame unless the camera is not too zoomed.