How to choose the best lens for portraits and headshots

May 18, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to choose the best lens for portraits and headshots

May 18, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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best_portrait_lens

One question that I see coming up daily in various photography groups on Facebook is “What’s the best portrait lens?”, and the simple truth is that there isn’t one.  It depends on the camera system you’re using, the look you’re trying to achieve, and a bunch of other factors.

In this video, Joe Edelman shares his wisdom and offers some advice on choosing a lens that will give you the look you want in your portraits.

YouTube video

Taking us through a range of focal lengths, Joe shows examples on how each will affect your subject when framed to fill the shot, as well as the effect it has on the background.

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While 24mm with your subject a little further back might actually work out great for an environmental portrait, it certainly doesn’t do headshots any favours, and very noticeably distorts the facial features.

best_portrait_lens_85mm

So, pulling back and using a longer focal length generally offers a more flattering and pleasing result, and your subject’s face is going to be prominent in the frame.

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Joe’s personal favourite portrait lens is the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Pro D Macro Lens, and I can certainly understand the logic behind that.  While I’m not huge Tokina fan myself, I also regularly choose to go with a similar focal length macro lens for portraits, with the Nikon 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor.

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Why the D over the newer G version with vibration reduction?  Well, VR offers me no advantage (I’m always using it with flash or in very bright conditions) and the D version is just as sharp, but it also has an aperture ring, meaning I can use it on my old Nikon & Nikkormat film bodies, too.

What’s your favourite portrait lens?  And on which body do you shoot it?  Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “How to choose the best lens for portraits and headshots”

  1. Frank Nazario Avatar
    Frank Nazario

    i have a crop sensor and use Nikon the 55-200mm AF-S vr and even though it is not a fast lense i use it mostly with speedlights so speed is not important or not as important… “bokeh” i control by placement of subject in relation to background and a touch of post in PS CC.
    The results are very pleasing with a sharp but “soft” effect SOOC. I have gotten used to this lens and its “signature” Love how it works for portraiture and closeups.

  2. Michael Avatar
    Michael

    I like the Nikon 135mm f/2 DC on a full frame D800