Lenses for Portrait Photography

Lens recommendations for great Portrait photography Canon 5D camera and Canon 85mm f1.2 L series lens. Exposure Details: 1/2000 second @ f1.2 ISO 100.

It’s a simple enough recipe to make a great portrait, at least from a technical point of view. The ability to approach and successfully interact with the subject is also important, as is an understanding of the application of light and a good sense of design. We’ll keep today’s post to a few tips on technique.

Critical focusing on the subject’s eye (the one closest to the camera) and a shallow Depth of Field (DOF) will allow the subject to stand out from their surroundings and ensure they remain the primary point of interest within the frame. A wide aperture, such as f4 or wider (e.g. f2.8, f2 or f1.4), will achieve this shallow depth of field, particularly when made from a distance of less than 2 meters.

A short telephoto lens is considered ideal for rendering the average subject’s face in a flattering manner. On a full frame camera, where the sensor is the same size as a 35mm negative or slide, a lens focal length of around 90 mm is, to my mind, the best option. The Canon 1Ds and 5D series are full frame, as is the Nikon D3 and D3X and D700 cameras.

On the more common Nikon or Canon cameras their somewhat smaller sensors would require a different lens to arrive at an effective focal length of around 90mm. In the case of the average Canon, with its 1.6x cropping factor, a 50mm lens will produce the appearance of an 80mm lens used on a full frame camera, at least as far as the illusion of magnification is concerned. The average Nikon camera has a cropping factor of 1.5X. In this case a 50mm lens will produce the illusion of a 75mm lens.

This is why “so called” standard 50mm lenses are now commonly used for portrait photography. They may not produce the equivalent of a 90mm lens, but they come close. They also have the added advantage of being significantly faster (e.g. f1.4 or f1.8) allowing for handheld photography in low light and significantly shallower depth of field than would be the case with the same focal length, used from the same distance, with a common zoom lens.

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Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography
Glenn Guy