Portrait Photography Basics – Lenses

Portrait Photography Basics - Lenses

Good lenses are one of the best things you can spend your money on when it comes to photographic equipment. An entry-level camera with a high-quality lens can take amazing photos, but the opposite is not necessarily true. In other words, when you invest in a good lens, you get a quality portrait photos for your money than just a good camera body.

It is a tough decision to select a lens for portrait photography. But we are here to help make it easier. When selecting a lens for portrait photography, we’ll talk about some of the things to look for.

Overview: Portrait Photography Basics – Lenses

Focal Length
→For Portrait Photography
→Image Stabilization
→Sensor Size
Zoom vs. Prime
→Zoom Lenses
→Prime Lenses

Focal Length

Portrait Photography Basics Lenses 1 e1551221873253 - Portrait Photography Basics – Lenses
Focal Length Cheat Sheet

The Focal Length is a number representing the magnification of the lens. A lens with a short focal length, such as 18mm or 24mm, has a lower magnification and a wider viewing angle. These types of lenses are wide-angle lenses. A lens with a longer focal length, such as 85mm or 200mm, has a higher magnification and a narrower viewing angle. These types of lenses are telephoto lenses.

For Portrait Photography

In practical terms, you have to stand close to your subject to fill the frame if you use a wide-angle lens. However, standing close would lead to an exaggerated perspective that distorts facial features, resulting in a comically large nose and small ears. It is therefore often better to stand further away and use a longer focal length.

A focal length of 50-85mm produces the most flattering results in portrait photography. The disadvantage is that you need to distance your subject further, especially if you want a full-length shot or space around your subject. Sometimes it’s not always possible, especially when shooting indoors.

Image Stabilization

The longer the focal length, the more likely you will see the camera shaking, as any slight movement will be magnified while the exposure is made. Many lenses and cameras now have built-in image stabilization to help fight this.

Sensor Size

It should be noted that the size of the sensor in the camera may have an obvious impact on the focal length. Although the focal length never changes, a cropped or zoomed version of the same scene will be produced if you use the same lens on any camera with a smaller sensor.

Basically, the sensor records a smaller part of the lens-projected scene. In this way, a 28mm lens used on an APS-C DSLR camera would give a camera with a full-frame sensor approximately the same angle of view as a 45mm lens. Wide-angle lenses are therefore effectively less wide and telephoto lenses are longer.

Zoom vs. Prime

Zoom Lenses

Almost all DSLR cameras are equipped with a zoom lens. Typically, this lens offers a focal length range of 18–55mm, which allows you to take a wide-angle shot (18mm), then twist the zoom ring on the lens closer to crop without physically moving closer to the subject (55mm).

Prime Lenses

A prime lens has a fixed focal length and can not zoom in. This makes the design much simpler and the image quality must only be optimized at a single focal length. Therefore, prime lenses generally produce higher quality results than zoom lenses.


You need a lens with a wide aperture to get a blurred background on a portrait. The aperture is represented by f-numbers or f/stops, and the wider the aperture the background is blurred. The widest aperture in a DSLR kit lens is usually around f/3.5-f/4, while a primary 50mm enthusiast lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 or wider. This lens type is also not very expensive.

Before you go…

READ: Portrait Photography Basics – Cameras

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