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What’s The Best Focal Length For Portraits?

Choosing a lens and deciding the best focal length for portrait photography has to do with an individual view. It is more about how you perceive it rather than being the best. My best shot does not equal your best shot.

The portrait taste of a photographer differs from one another, that is why there is not the best portrait shot. However, there are preferred focal lengths by famous photographers that really make a difference in portrait shooting games.

Just as the famous American photographer Robert Capa says “If your pictures are not good enough you are not close enough.”

In this article, I will widely explain the focal length in portrait shots, so you can decide which one looks better to your eyes.

Focal Length for Portrait Photography

24mm Lens for Portraits

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To be honest, 24mm camera lenses are not quite common to use in portrait photography. The main reason behind it is that the subject that comes very up-close is defining every insecurity a person might have. Plus, the 24mm camera lens distorts out facial characteristics ending up with an unnecessary big nose and small eyes and mouth.

28mm Lens for Portraits

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A typical 28mm lens is way too wide to take portrait photography. At times it can be functional with crop sensors. In case you have a full-frame camera, the needed focal length is a 35mm lens.

35mm Lens for Portraits

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35mm lens puts the winner crown on the most occasions including portrait shootings too. If you want to use the 35mm lens, you have come closer to your chosen subject. At this distance, the subject gets to the modeling height and takes a pleasing or gratifying angle.

In order for your portrait to come out as you idealize it, then use a wide camera angle lens if your subject is tall. This will make the subject look slimmer.

The versatility that the 35mm lens provides you is not compared to any other lens. That is why the 35mm is so popular and widely used by many professional photographers.

Family portrait lenses range from 24mm to 135mm, so it all depends on what you need from your lens.

85mm Lens for Portraits

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Worldly-known photographers use 85mm focal length because it is considered the best focal length for portrait shootings.

First and foremost, you don’t have an unnecessary background angle and by narrowing your angle, the subject gets isolated and helps you focus more on the characteristics of the subject. Isn’t this something you wanted to do in the first place?

If you take portraits with an 85mm lens, it will look way more natural because the facial features of the chosen model won’t be distorted.

85mm focal length is a very good choice for capturing portrait views. By using an 85mm focal length, you don’t have to come uncomfortably close for a perfect shot. You can shoot your model from an acceptable distance.

135mm Lens for Portraits

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Being a way longer lens in comparison with 85mm, the 135mm focal length is widely used. However, it is not the best idea because it compresses your subject.

135mm lens got a small field of view, and for that reason, you have to move around the model back and forth to get the shot that is in your head.

Is Prime Lens or Zoom Lens Better for Portrait Shots?

Zoom Lenses

There is an interesting fact about the prime and zoom lenses. A condition or circumstance that puts the zoom lens in a favorable position is changing the focal length without the need to change the entire lens. This costs way less and broadens the use of zoom lenses.

Prime Lenses

On the other side, prime lenses are far more preferable for portrait photography. When a focal length is fixed and has a large aperture, it creates or originates perfectly sharped pictures with less aberrations.

What is the Perfect Focal Length for Family Portraits and Group Portraits?

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The whole portrait photography turns over when too many people are involved in the picture.

For family portraits and group portraits of friends, it is better to have a 35mm lens with a full-frame camera. This lets more people take part in the picture.

If the group is even larger, you can go for a 24mm lens, so only a few steps back will be enough to capture the best shot.

3 Types of Portraits and the Used Focal Length

There are many types of portraits but only 3 of them are the most important and worth mentioning.

The Standard Portrait

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This is basically the most standard posing portrait type. It usually happens when the chosen subject looks directly into the lens and is well aware that he/she is taking the picture.

This type of portrait catches the head and the shoulders only. Eye contact is maintained all the time.

The preferred focal length is typically between 35 mm and 70 mm. This will help you capture the portrait without distortion.

Candid Portraits

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Candid Portraits are also known as anonymous portraits. As the name presents itself, this portrait type is when the subject is not aware that somebody is taking his/her picture.

The best focal length to shoot these kinds of photography is 28mm. This will let you infiltrate your targeted person as much as you would want to.

Creative Portraits

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Creative portraits or let’s call them conceptual portraits, set you free from the photography chains. With this type of photography, you get the full freedom to create the art you always wanted.

The focal length in creative or conceptual photography is between 85- 105mm lens. The reason relies on that they are lighter, rounded, and shoot great scenic photography. 

Final Thoughts

The focal length for portrait photography varies from the individual perspective of the photographer. However, there some photography tips that help the taken portrait look stunning. Prime lenses are more preferable for some reason, but you can use zoom lenses too, it’s not such of a big deal.

The most preferred focal length for portraits is 85mm because the model is isolated and you don’t get to catch nonsense background in the back.

The whole story changes when the family portraits or group photo portraits are in question. This happens because you can fit everyone in the same frame unless the camera is not too zoomed.

Michael Fortin