Lenses For Portraiture

Though there’s no "perfect" lens for portraiture, it’s generally agreed that a moderate telephoto in the range of 85mm to 135mm (35mm equivalent) is a reliably good choice. For tight headshots, an even stronger telephoto in the 200mm or even 300mm range may be a better choice. A lot depends on the space in which you have to work, your composition and the look you’re after, and the background of the image.


One of the main advantages of telephoto lenses for portraiture is that they allow a comfortable working distance from your subject. Consider a tightly framed headshot, for example. Longer focal lengths allow you to work at greater distances from your subject without changing your overall composition. To keep a tight crop with a 50mm lens, you’d need to stand much closer to your subject than with a longer lens.

A working distance of approximately 10 to 20 feet is good. Within this range, you can "zoom with your feet," moving slightly closer to or farther from your subject to get the perfect crop without changing your focal length.

{loadposition content_ad} If you have a small studio space, you’ll likely be working with shorter telephoto lengths. For larger studios and outdoor portraiture, you’ll have more room to work with longer lenses. Zoom lenses like those featured later in this article give you the flexibility to handle a variety of situations and compositions.


Lens focal length affects the angle of view and magnification. Wide-angle lenses can create a lot of distortion, becoming more pronounced the closer you get to your subject (which a wide-angle will require if you’re trying to fill the frame with your subject). Your subject’s face will appear sharp and angular, with the facial features nearest the lens becoming overly pronounced and elongated.

The narrower angle of view of telephoto lenses, on the other hand, creates a mild flattening effect, with the facial features less pronounced, resulting in a look that’s more natural and attractive.

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