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Best lens for portrait photography

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Mastering Portrait Photography: How Lens Selection Advances Your Craft


Are you looking for the best lens for portrait photography here you are on the correct path. In the complex field of photography, capturing the essence of a person in one frame is an art that requires both skill and finesse. Portrait photography is the medium through which we capture fleeting moments, convey stories, emotions and personalities with a single click. To truly excel in this art, one has to acknowledge the important role of lens selection. With a myriad of options available, finding the ideal lens for portrait photography is like choosing the right brushes for a masterpiece. In this journey, let’s explore the finer points of portrait photography and how lens choice can elevate your work from good to exceptional.

A man watching to the photographer with beautiful smile.
Ramesh Lama

Essence of portrait photography

Portrait photography is a complex dance between photographer, subject and lens. It goes beyond a mere snapshot and delves into the realm of feelings, relationships and personal narratives. The aim is to capture the unique spirit of the subject, creating an image that resonates on a deeper level. Achieving this requires an understanding of lighting, composition and perhaps most importantly the right choice of lens.

Lens as your creative partner

The lens you choose becomes your artistic partner, shaping the visual language of your images. Let’s take a look at how different lens characteristics affect the outcome of your portraits:

Focal Length and Perspective:

The focal length of a lens determines how much of a scene you can capture and how much perspective it provides. Shorter focal lengths, such as 35mm and 50mm, provide a wider field of view, making them suitable for environmental portraits that tell a story beyond the subject’s face. On the other hand, longer focal lengths, such as 85mm, 105mm, or 135mm, compress distances, resulting in a more flatter aspect ratio. This effect is especially beneficial for headshots and close-up portraits.

Background blur (bokeh) and aperture:

The interplay between the background and the subject is where the magic of portrait photography often happens. Lenses with wider apertures, denoted by lower f-stop numbers such as f/1.4 or f/2.8, create a shallower depth of field, producing the creamy background blurring known as bokeh. This separation between subject and background directs the viewer’s attention exactly where you want it: the subject’s expressions, emotions, and nuances.

Subject Isolation and Lens Type:

Prime lenses, such as the versatile 85mm or the classic “Nifty Fifty” 50mm, are coveted for their sharpness and wide apertures. They enable exceptional subject separation and are appreciated for their ability to produce impressive images with a distinct foreground-background separation. Zoom lenses, on the other hand, offer convenience and adaptability, although they can usually compromise a bit on bokeh due to the smaller maximum aperture.

Distortion and Compression:

The choice of focal length also determines the distortion and compression in your images. The wide-angle lens, when used up close, can distort facial features, while the long focal length minimizes distortion, ensuring a more eye-catching representation of your subject. The long lens also compresses the scene, creating a beautifully blurred background that enhances the visual impact of the picture.

Environment vs Close-up Portrait Photography:

The wide-angle lens excels at environmental portraits, showcasing subjects in their natural habitat. They emphasize context and setting, adding depth to the narrative. In contrast, telephoto lenses shine in close-up portraits, focusing on emotion, expression, and subtle details that tell a compelling story.

Top Best Lens for Portrait Photography;

85mm prime lens:

Ideal for: Headshots, close-up portraits and studio photography.

Features: Exceptional subject separation, pleasing compression, and creamy background blurring.

Notable models: Canon EF 85mm f/1.8, Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G, Sony FE 85mm f/1.8.

50mm prime lens (Nifty Fifty):

Ideal for: Environmental photography, storytelling and versatile use.

Features: Wide aperture, natural perspective and sharpness.

Notable models: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G, Sony FE 50mm f/1.8.

135mm prime lens:

Ideal for: Creating dreamlike images with stunning bokeh.

Features: Long focal length, compression, and beautiful background separation.

Prominent selections include the Canon EF 135mm f/2L, the Nikon AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D, and the Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM, each offering distinct qualities to consider.

70-200mm Zoom Lens:

Ideal for: Versatile portrait work, events and candid shots.

Features: Range of focal lengths, decent bokeh and adaptability.

Notable models: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS.


In the captivating field of portrait photography, every detail counts. Your choice of lens serves as your artistic tool, affecting the way you capture emotion, convey a narrative, and establish relationships. Whether you choose the intimacy of an 85mm prime, the versatility of a 50mm, the dreamlike quality of a 135mm prime, or the convenience of a zoom lens, remember that each lens imparts its own magic to your pictures.

Yet, we must not forget that while the lens is a powerful tool, the true essence of portrait photography lies in the photographer’s vision, understanding of light, composition and ability to connect with the subject. As you navigate the world of lenses and portraits, strive to create images that resonate, stories that last, and feelings that go beyond the frame.

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