What focal length should you use for portrait photography?

To create great portraits, you need a lot of great components: lighting, composition, as well as camera and lens selection. Deciding which focal length to use for portraiture can be difficult, so in this article I will give a few pointers on which lens to use for your next portrait shoot. mine.

Before going any further, I need to emphasize that I only own 3 zoom lenses: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II, Canon 24-7mm f/2.8 and Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS. They allow me to take photos from 16-200mm. Honestly, the live lens on my camera is the 24-70 lens, about 90% of my work is done with it. I mostly shoot around 45-55mm. The second most used lens is the 70-200, which is mostly a good close-up lens when I need a shallow depth of field. Most of my beauty work is also done with 24-70. The 16-35 is the least used lens, and honestly, it’s more like a BTS lens than anything else. Honestly, if I sold 16-35 and 70-200 less, I wouldn’t lose too much. Needless to say, though, let’s see which focal length is used for which portraits.


This is the widest portrait I want to take in most cases. Sure, there’s a place for wider angles, but the set will have to justify such a use. Even then 24mm too wide for close-ups. At this focal length, there is a lot of distortion, making elements near the camera look huge, while elements farther away appear disproportionately smaller. If you want to take portraits with this lens, use it for full-body and commercial compositions. Try to avoid using this lens for close-ups right now. It can be an interesting choice later on, but the pose and mood of the photo should match. The depth of field is so great at 24mm, you’ll need an extremely wide aperture (f/1.4) to get any kind of background blur.


Classic focal length for full-body and bust portraits. At this focal length, there is less distortion and a relatively shallow depth of field. It’s unlikely that you’ll get anything interesting unless you use f/1.4, but there are certainly plenty of ways to use it. 35mm in portrait photography. For starters, this is the ideal choice for displaying both people and their environment. Since 35mm is considered a relatively wide lens, getting up close and personal might not be a good idea as you will still see distortion.


Fifty convenient: One lens I sold, only to buy one later 24-70mm and use it at 50mm. It seems to be the most boring focal length since it sits right between the wide 35mm lens and the 85mm bokeh king. Honestly, if you’re just starting out, it’s hard to understand the hype surrounding “fifty-nine”. The simple reason is that for a “boring” focal length like 50mm, you need a really interesting subject. The purity with which the 50mm lens captures the scene is both friend and foe. If you’re just starting out, stay away from the 50mm, opt for the 85mm instead.


The iconic focal length is loved and recognized for the depth of field it can produce. It’s the “holy grail” of portrait lenses. You won’t have any problems getting up close and personal with this lens. The only thing to keep in mind is that the closer you get, the smaller your depth of field, the harder it will be to keep the subject in focus. This is why I personally advise against shooting at f/1.2. Just because your lens can do f/1.2, doesn’t mean you should shoot everything at that aperture. Stop down to f/4 or f/8 and take a picture where the subject’s nose, as well as the eyes, are in focus.

If you’re using a DSLR, then you may have more trouble accurately focusing the 85mm lens, since it doesn’t have features like eye and face tracking. If you like the look of f/1.2 on portraits, you should consider buying a mirrorless camera or learning how to properly focus your lens. Judging from my experience with Canon lenses, EF 85mm Quite slow and inaccurate at times, while their RF 85mm is incredibly sharp, accurate and overall better than its EF counterpart. That said, I don’t own either of those lenses and I personally wouldn’t buy them.


You may be wondering, 100mm what are you doing here? And for good reason, the 100mm is known to the general public as a macro lens. It’s a great macro lens, but also a great portrait lens. It’s pretty unfair to crown the 100nm as a macro lens, as it automatically suggests that it can’t do anything else. Too much for that We did an article about this! I recommend that you read that article for a true understanding of using a 100mm Macro lens for portraiture.


This is already in the telephoto range. This means that the lens will have a shallow depth of field, making focusing a challenge at times, but there will also be a wonderful background blur effect – bokeh. Depending on the aperture you use, you will get different levels of background blur. One thing to watch out for for such a focal length is actually the depth of field. The closer you are to the subject, the shallower it is. The shallower it is, the harder it is to focus. However, if you go quite far from your subject, you can get interesting results when shooting a bust portrait. Just be careful not to lose contact with the subject. I’ve found that bust and full body photography is best done at 35, not at 135mm. There was a time when I had to blur the background as much as I could with my kit, so I shot the whole body with 200mm at f/2.8. It sure looks weird, and my shouting didn’t help either.

Stop thinking

So to answer the question asked in the title, choosing which lens to use for portrait photography really depends on how you look. If you want to capture environmental compositions with less bokeh, you should choose a wider angle. Also, if you need more bokeh and a compressed background with less perspective distortion, choose a mid-range focal length, such as 50mm. If all you need is optimal bokeh and background blur, choose an 85mm or 135mm lens. There are several options, be it prime or zoom. In short, if you need a more budget-friendly option, choose a zoom lens. However, it will be a sacrifice in terms of “fastness” of the lens. Let us know in the comments if you’d like to see an article discussing prime numbers or zooming for portraits in more detail!

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