Choose the right lens for great portrait photography!
60mm and above as a general guideline for relatively close up portraits. Wide angle lenses can distort features and no-one likes looking bigger than they are unless you are going for a freaky effect. Cheaper wide angle lenses can also produce a “barrel distortion” effect which distorts an image outwards in the shape of a cushion.
Side note: Barrel Distortion
In the next two images, I have used two different lenses to try and illustrate barrel distortion. The first image is from a very expensive 16mm lens and the second is from a much cheaper 15mm semi fisheye lens.
Even though the difference in focal lengths is just 1mm, look at the difference it makes…
You can clearly see that with the expensive 16mm lens, the edges of the building are pretty much dead straight which is why I use this lens for all my property and architecture shots.
Whereas in the second image, the building is totally distorted and unnatural looking.
Now I must point out here that a semi fisheye lens is almost designed to give that effect so this isn’t really a true likeness of a cheaper lens, but take my word for it, even a cheap 16mm lens would have some barrel distortion.
But the main point here is that for portraits, wide angle lenses are generally no good due to distortion…I find that anything between 85mm and 200mm works best.
For the bridal portraiture when she is getting ready at a wedding, I love the 70-200 f2.8 as it kills the background and is perfect for moody, flattering portraits. The wide aperture gives an amazing bokeh and focuses just on the face…great stuff.
Of course, if the portrait you are shooting is to portray the subject in their working/playing “environment” such as an office, stables, pit crew etc, you may want to utilise a wider lens to get more of the surroundings in and include the person as simply a “part” of the overall scene.
A portrait doesn’t have to be a close up of the face, some of the best portraits I have seen are the “urban style” portraits where the subject is but a mere element of the shot and not the main point of interest.
In this first example, we used a 200mm lens for a typical style portrait where the face fills the frame and the background is blurred…
Remember though, focussing is critical with shallow depth of field…go for the eyes!
For these next two shots, we have used a 50mm standard lens and taken the subjects out of the typical portrait scenario to add a story to the image…
Then for these next two shots, the model was actually taken from inside the studio where we were shooting to make the most of the most amazing sky that suddenly appeared…
So, when you think of portraits, you needn’t stick to the standard settings and environments or even a good portrait lens such as the 85mm. Think a little outside the box and put the subject into a different environment that suits their character or the moment and use whatever lens suits that particular shot.
Next Page – Lenses – Close Up