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You can shoot a portrait in many ways, using many lenses, depending on the subject and the type of photograph you want to capture. You can shoot it with almost any lens, but of course the results might be radically different depending on focal length. Here are the top 3 focal lengths for photographing portraits and why we chose them.
Some might be surprised to see this focal length on the list, but the truth is that 35mm offers the closest perspective to that of the human eye. That can be a tremendous advantage and it can help produce awesome eye candy, especially when it comes to environmental portraits, where the subject is connected to the surroundings. It’s wide enough to allow for good horizontal compositions, yet not too wide to distort like a dedicated wide angle lens would. Of course there is a bit of distortion on the corners, but it is a focal length that once you learn to master, it can help create some really powerful images.
No, the next one on the list is not the 50mm focal length, although it deserves our respect as being the most universal focal length in the history of photography. However, 85mm is far better at portraits. The fact is, anything above 70mm is a sure bet that nothing will get distorted in anyway. It is also an ideal focal length to combine with a fast aperture, such as f 1.4. It’s not too long so the bokeh/brightness relationship is really great with these lenses. The 85s are in fact designed to do mostly portraiture and they work just as well in a studio as they do outdoors. Keep in mind though, they only work at 85mm mounted on a full frame camera. If you use one of these lenses on an APS-C body, you will be getting the equivalent of a 135mm lens. To get this focal length on a camera with a crop sensor, just buy a regular 50mm lens. Even if the bokeh might not be as creamy, it will almost be the equivalent length.
This is considered by many photographers the ideal focal length for portraiture. It’s not quite telephoto, yet it’s long enough to allow for a comfortable distance between you and the subject. Some legendary lenses were made with this focal range, including Steve McCurry’s Nikkor 105 f2.5 lens which he used to photograph the iconic Afghan girl. It might not be the ideal lens for small spaces or crowded studios, but outside, with some soft, natural light, a fast 105mm can work magic. It’s also a great length for building macro lenses, and that just makes them all the more desirable.
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