Are you looking to take your portrait photography skills to the next level? If so, you may be wondering what the best focal length is for portraits.
In this blog post, we will explore the different focal lengths and how they can be used to create stunning portraits.
We’ll also provide some tips on how to choose the right focal length for your specific situation.
So, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced photographer, this blog post is sure to help you take your portrait photography skills to a whole new level!
What is the Best Focal Length for Portrait Photography?
You can technically use any lens for portrait, however, most professional portrait photographers use focal lengths of 50mm or 85mm.
So while this may be what many professional portrait photographers use, there are other factors you should take into consideration when choosing a focal length for portrait photography.
3 Factors That Affect Focal Length for Portraits
When it comes to portrait photography, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for the best focal length.
The focal length you choose will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your subject, the distance between you and your subject, and the look you are going for in your portraits.
1. Size of the Subject
The most important factor to consider when choosing a focal length for portraits is the size of your subject.
If you are photographing a very large person, for example, you will likely want to use a longer focal length in order to capture more detail and fill more of the frame with your subject.
On the other hand, if you are photographing a small child or pet, using a shorter focal length can help you capture more of the surrounding environment and give your portrait a more natural and candid feel.
2. Distance Between You and Your Subject
Another important factor to consider when choosing a focal length for portraits is the distance between you and your subject.
If you are very close to your subject, using a longer focal length will allow you to fill the frame with your subject and avoid capturing too much of the background.
On the other hand, if you are further away from your subject, using a shorter focal length will help you capture more of the background and give your portrait a more environmental feel.
But let’s also say that you are photographing in a very small room but you want to use the 85mm. Well, it might be hard to back up all the way without hitting a wall.
So when choosing a focal length for portraits, it’s also important to take note of where your portrait session will be taking place. Will it be in a wide open space for you to back up?
Or will it be in a small, confined environment that may only allow you to photograph with a 50mm.
3. The Look You Are Going For
Finally, the look you are going for in your portraits will also play a role in choosing the best focal length.
For example, using a longer focal length will give your portraits a more dramatic and flattering look. However, if you are looking for a more candid and natural feel, you may want to opt for a shorter focal length instead.
So, whether you’re just starting out with portrait photography or are an experienced professional, there is no one “right” focal length for portrait photography.
The best focal length for portraits will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your subject, the distance between you and your subject, and the look you are going for in your portraits.
By taking these factors into consideration, you can choose the best focal length for your specific photographing situation and create stunning portraits.
Which is Better for Portraits 50mm or 85mm?
Now that we’ve gone over the three main factors that affect focal length for portraits, you may be wondering which is better for portrait photography, 50mm or 85mm?
The answer to this question really depends on your personal photography style and the look you are going for in your portraits.
If you want to create more dramatic and flattering images, using an 85mm lens will give you the best results. However, if you are looking for a more candid and natural feel, using a 50mm lens may be a better option.
Personally, I prefer the 50mm lens over the 85mm because it allows me to get close to my subject and converse with them during their session, which helps them feel more comfortable and at ease, resulting in better final images.
What Focal Length is the Most Flattering?
The most flattering focal length for portraits is typically between 50mm and 85mm.
This range of focal lengths will give you the ability to fill the frame with your subject while still keeping them in proportion to their surroundings.
In addition, using a longer focal length will result in a more compressed perspective, which can help minimize imperfections and make your subject appear more flattering.
So, if you’re looking to create the most flattering portraits possible, using a focal length between 50mm and 85mm is your best bet.
What is the Best Focal Length for Environmental Portraits?
If you want to capture more of the background environment in your portraits, using a shorter focal length is your best bet.
For environmental portraits, I typically recommend using a focal length between 35mm and 50mm.
This range of focal lengths will allow you to capture more of the background while still keeping your subject in frame. In addition, using a shorter focal length can help give your portraits a more natural feel.
So, if you’re looking to create stunning environmental portraits, a shorter focal length is the way to go.
But be sure to keep your subject in proportion with their surroundings and avoid distracting background elements that may take away from your subject’s impact.
- Lens Selection
- Tripod (Optional)
- Portrait Subjects
- Image Review and Analysis Tools
- Understand the Focal Length Range: Familiarize yourself with different focal lengths commonly used for portraits. Wide-angle lenses (24-35mm) capture more of the surroundings and are suitable for environmental portraits. Standard lenses (50-85mm) offer a versatile and natural perspective, while telephoto lenses (85-200mm) provide flattering compression and background separation.
- Consider the Desired Perspective: Determine the look and feel you want to achieve in your portraits. Wide-angle lenses create a sense of depth and include more context, while longer focal lengths offer more compression and intimacy. Consider the style and purpose of your portraits to guide your choice.
- Assess Shooting Environment: Take into account the shooting environment and available space. In smaller or crowded areas, a wider focal length might be more practical, while a longer focal length can help isolate your subject in larger spaces and minimize distractions.
- Experiment and Practice: Borrow or rent lenses within the focal length range you're considering. Experiment with different lenses and focal lengths to understand their impact on perspective, depth of field, and subject-background separation. Practice shooting portraits at varying focal lengths to develop a better sense of what works best for you.
- Evaluate Your Preferred Style: Review and analyze your previous portraits to identify the focal lengths that consistently produce the desired results. Notice the visual impact, distortion, perspective, and overall aesthetics of your images. This analysis will help you determine the focal length range that aligns with your personal style and vision.
In conclusion, there is no one “right” focal length for portrait photography. The best focal length for portraits will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your subject, the distance between you and your subject, and the look you are going for in your portraits.
By taking these factors into consideration, you can choose the best focal length for your specific situation and create stunning portraits.
This article is a part of our Portrait Photography Hub, so be sure to check that out for more portrait photography tips!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is 50mm or 85mm better for portraits?
Both the 50mm and 85mm lenses are excellent choices for portraits, but they offer slightly different perspectives. The 50mm lens is more versatile and suitable for a wider range of portrait styles and shooting situations, while the 85mm lens provides more compression and background separation, resulting in a more flattering and intimate look. The choice ultimately depends on your personal preference, shooting style, and the desired aesthetic for your portraits.
Can a 35mm focal length be used for portraits?
Yes, a 35mm focal length can be used for portraits. While it captures a wider perspective compared to traditional portrait lenses, it allows you to include more of the surroundings and context in your portraits, making it suitable for environmental or storytelling portraits. However, it may require you to get closer to your subject to maintain a desirable level of intimacy.
Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business and photography blog called Nate Torres Photography. Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. He is also a photography speaker and author on Photofocus.