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This post was most recently updated on June 26th, 2022

Photography requires both skill and practice, but it also requires a good deal of equipment and gear, especially if you want to get some professional results.

If you’ve ever seen a photographer on location, or at a photography studio, you will notice that one of the things they tend to always have on them, is a few different lenses. 

Lenses are attached to the end of the camera, and they determine the focus, so photographers will switch between one or another depending on the distance from which they are shooting, and whether they are doing landscapes or portraits, amongst many other things.

Focal Length Should Be Used For Portraits

Truth is, lenses affect the end result in many different ways! 

Now, if you want to get into professional portrait photography, it is vital that the focus is just right, so that the result is clear and flattering. But what focal length is best for this?

What should you be taking into consideration when choosing the right focal length for your portrait session? Allow us to help out! 

What Is The Best Lens For Portraits?

You might not initially think that it makes much of a difference, but using the right focal length is vital.

In fact, different lenses can make the same image look like two completely different pictures! Mainly because the focal length will affect how much of the background is in the frame, as well as the shape and proportions of the subject.

(So yeah, different lenses will make the subject’s face look different, and if you want the portrait picture to be flattering, you absolutely have to use the right lens for the job!)

The shorter the focal length is, the wider the field of view will be, and the more the middle part of the image will sort of balloon forward.

So essentially, it brings the center of the image forward, so that there is a wider view. This can make noses and foreheads seem a lot bigger than they actually are!

On the other hand, the longer the focal length, the narrower the field of view, and the flatter the middle center of the image will be. So in this case, a nose would appear smaller than what it actually is, which is usually the more flattering option.

The danger is that if the focal length is too short, the middle will flatten so much that the face will start to seem wider. 

As you can now imagine, using the wrong focal length during a portrait photography session can end up providing you with the most unflattering results, which will not make the client happy.

So using the right lens is vital in order to achieve desired end results and professional-looking portraits that are visually appealing and flattering. 

So…which lens is the best? 

Well, truth be told, it completely depends on your preferences, and the kind of end result that you are aiming for. The right lens can depend on many different factors, and no lens works perfectly for everybody. 

Nevertheless, the most popular and commonly used lenses for portrait photography sessions are the 50mm lens, and the 85mm lens. As a general rule, these are the two most highly recommended for portraits (but don’t forget to experiment and discover which one works for you!) 

The Most Popular Focal Lengths For Portraits

You can use many different focal lengths when shooting portrait pictures, and the one you choose will depend on your own preference, as well as the subject, the setting, the distance, and many more! Plus, you can always use two different lenses throughout a shoot, so that you have options!

But let’s talk a bit about some of the most popular lenses for portrait photography:

The 35mm Lens

The 35mm lens can be very good for portrait pictures, especially if you’re taking environmental portraits. So basically, it’s ideal for full-length portrait pictures, in which the subject doesn’t fill the entirety of the frame, and the background comes somewhat into play. 

This lens has a wider frame and angle, able to capture more of the background while keeping the subject as the main focus. 

However, it is important to make sure that the subject is not on the edge of the frame, when using this lens, or else they might become distorted! 

The 50mm Lens

The 50mm lens

The 50mm lens is perhaps one of the most popular focal length options for portrait pictures, as it is very versatile. It can be used perfectly for full-length portraits, but also for close-ups from the waist up.

This makes it great to combine different types of pictures so that the photographer doesn’t have to change the lens between one pose and another.

It is also quite an affordable lens, and as a general rule, it is considered to be easy to use and apt for beginners. 

The one thing to remember is that if you’re taking a close-up, you should ensure that the subject is in the middle of the frame, away from the edges, in order to avoid any distortion. And if anything, it will make faces appear thinner, but noses might seem bigger. 

The 85mm Lens

The 85mm lens is often regarded as the more professional option in regard to portrait photography sessions. When used on a full-frame camera, it is generally considered to be the ideal focal length for portraits, and it provides you with excellent and highly flattering results. 

However, when using the 85mm lens you will usually have to stand further away from the subject, in order to ensure the results are good, and this means that you need more space with which to work.

So you either have a spacious photography studio, or you take the portraits outdoors! 

Things To Consider When Choosing The Right Lens For Portrait Photography

Choosing the right lens for portrait photography is a bit of a journey, and it will take time and practice before you finally decide on the few lenses that you enjoy using.

At the end of the day, the right lens will depend on your own photography style and technique, as well as your preference, the subject that you are working with, and many more. 

There are a few lenses that are the recommended ones for portraits, and as a general rule, they will work better than others. But don’t let this limit your options. Try out different lenses, and decide for yourself which one works best! 

Nevertheless, to help you out throughout this journey of lens discovery, here are some important factors that should be taken into consideration when the focal length is being decided: 

  • Whether it’s a full-length portrait or a close-up 
  • Whether the background is relevant or not, or if you even want the background to be seen 
  • The distance from which you are shooting the portrait photo
  • The number of subjects in the frame
  • Whether you are using a full-frame camera or a crop sensor camera 

Final Thoughts

To sum it all up, different focal lengths will affect the portrait photograph in different ways and will alter the perception of the subject. This is why it is so important to use the right lens for the portrait in question. 

As a general rule, the most common lenses used in portrait photography are 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. The 50mm lens, in particular, is considered to be the most versatile, and the easiest one to use for portraits, although the 85mm lens is regarded as the more professional and advanced option.