In order to be a great portrait photographer you need a set of decent tools in order to do your job. Whether you work in the studio or out in the field we take a look at five top lenses for portrait photography.Whether shooting Sony, Nikon, Canon or any other camera system, there are some mainstay lenses that every portrait photographer turns to for their work. Typically, they’re on the longer end of the focal length range, have wide apertures, and are well known for being razor sharp. From weddings to street photography, studio to location portraits, there’s a wide range of applications for portraits, so while not an exhaustive list, here are my top five.
1. 85mm f/1.4
The absolute golden staple for serious portrait photographers must be the 85mm f/1.4 lens. Its long focal length, and wide fixed aperture combine to create a portrait like no other. The image quality of pictures taken on this lens is instantly recognizable to those in the know. At 85mm the facial features are flattened a little which complements almost any subject. The glass is also incredibly sharp so crisp detail around the eyes is out of this world.
2. 70-200mm f/2.8
Telephoto lenses sure do flatter subjects due to their perspectival compression, and that’s what makes this lens such a big hitter in the world of portraits. The wide focal length range of the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is incredibly useful for photographers that shoot in medium to large spaces. They’re also ideal for outdoor shoots where that extra compression helps fill the background when zoomed in. A fixed f/2.8 aperture also lets a lot of light in, so it’s also good for live music/gig portraits too, without the need to ramp up ISO too high.
3. 35mm f/1.4
A perfect wide-angle prime that pairs well with another fixed focal length or even a telezoom is the 35mm f/1.4. With wide-angles, due to their inherent physical characteristics, it can be quite hard to get a shallow depth of field — we know that from our smartphones which are so wide they even need a depth of field algorithm to make portraits look cooler. However, the 35mm f/1.4 has such a wide aperture that it makes it easy to pick out a subject, and isolate them from the background. They’re usually sharp as a tack, too. A simple lens perfect for contextual portraits or street work.
4. 50mm f/1.8
Now this inclusion may throw some of you, but there’s a reason why this is an f/1.8 and not an f/1.4. The 50mm f/1.8 is the gateway to prime lenses with its fast aperture, and small form factor, they’re also pretty cheap by comparison with other lenses, especially if bought second-hand. It’s known as the nifty fifty because it fits snugly right in your pocket, if you need it to. A featherweight, this lens packs a portrait punch without breaking the bank.
The 18-55mm lens ships with many entry to mid-level camera system and for good reason. It’s light, it’s sharp, it has a helpful zoom range, and it’s flexible. I bet almost every photographer has owned or used one at some point in their lives. Different brands have different aperture ranges, ranging from f/3.5-5.6, and some boast image stabilization as well. You’ll be surprised just how good you can get your portraits with this little stunner.
Of course, there are many other lenses that are great for portraits, some wider, some faster or slower. But this top five round up covers the majority of both high, and low-end lenses that feature in almost every camera system lens line-up. If you’ve got a go-to portrait lens not listed here, share it with us below.