Woman Portrait Photography

Lenses for Portrait Photography

Understanding Portrait

As a portrait photographer you'll encounter a multitude of requirements, from natural group shots of families to professional headshots. Ultimately, every shoot is different and style has an impact on what kit to consider.

To ensure that you are selecting the right lens for what you want to achieve, you should explore the different styles of portraits that you can take.

Man Portrait Photography

Classic portraits

A classic portrait is generally a head and shoulders composition, but can refer to a number of different situations, from professional head-shots to capturing your subject's personality. However, classical portraits are usually taken at a distance from the subject to ensure that they do not feel uncomfortable. An ideal lens for this type of photography would have a focal length in the region of 85mm with a wide aperture (f/l.2 to f/2.8). A lens of this focal length lets you work at a comfortable distance and provides a flattering perspective for your subject. A wide aperture also allows you to work in low light conditions, whilst separating your subject from the background by providing a shallow depth of field. Standard zoom lenses with a wide aperture can also achieve this.

Man Portrait Photography


When you want to capture people naturally in the moment, you need a lens that will allow you to shoot close-ups from a distance. The ideal lens would be a zoom lens in the 70-200mm range (shooting at telephoto), as this will get you closer while giving you the ability to capture your subject unaware in their natural environment.

Natural Moment Capture


Fashion photography is full of variety, so it's important to know what you want to shoot. If you went to capture the entire outfit of your model, while also needing the option for portraits, a zoom lens within the 24-70mm focal range would be an ideal choice for you. This type of lens has a long enough focal range for a portrait only shot, while also being wide enough to capture the subject in their environment. Lenses with longer focal lengths, e.g. 70-200mm, are good choice for catwalk shoots, while macro lenses can be utilised to capture intricate details of jewellery and clothing.

Fashion Woman Photography


Group shots can feature anything from three to three hundred people in a variety of settings. The amount of people you are trying to fit into the frame, will determine the lens you Il need. The larger the group of people, the wider the lens you will need. A wide-angle lens in the 16-35mm (full frame) range will help to fit everyone in the frame with ease. For smaller groups a standard fixed focal length portrait lens in the focal range of 30mm-85mrn, will be enough to fit everyone into frame.

Girls Group Photography

Environmental portraits

When you want to capture more of your subject's story by photographing them in their environment, you can use a wide-angle lens to increase the field of view and fit more of your subject's surroundings in frame. However, wide-angle lenses can distort the physical relationships between objects, but as long as you're aware of this and how it affects your shot, you can use it to stylistically create images that you simply couldn't capture any other way.

Environmental Portrait Photography

How your camera can influence your lens choice

Canon's EF-S lenses are designed exclusively for APS-C sensor cameras such as the EOS 760D and are not compatible with full-frame models such as the EOS 5D series of cameras.

EF lenses can be used with any EOS camera, but when an EF lens is used on an APS-C type EOS, it will give an angle view equivalent to a lens with a focal length 1.6x longer than on a full-frame camera. For example, an EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens used on an EOS 760D gives an angle of view equivalent to a 80mm lens on a full-frame camera.

Shot On A Full Frame Sensor

Shot at 100mm on a full frame sensor

Shot On An Aps-C Sensor

Shot at 100mm on a APS-C sensor

The importance of focal length

You can achieve stunning portraits, using either a zoom or prime lens within the telephoto range. Shooting at a longer focal length will allow you to create a more comfortable working distance for both you and your subject, while still filling the frame nicely.

EF lenses can be used with any EOS camera, but when an EF lens is used on an APS-C type EOS, it will give an angle view equivalent to a lens with a focal length 1.6x longer than on a full-frame camera. For example, an EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens used on an EOS 760D gives an angle of view equivalent to a 80mm lens on a full-frame camera.

Focal Length Photography


Focal Length Photography


The importance of aperture

Portrait photographs usually look best with a shallow depth of field as this will help separate your subject from the background. Using a lens with a wide aperture (a smaller f-stop number) achieves a shallow depth of field, so the background appears more blurred.

Notice below how the background in the image on the left is much softer which makes the features of the girl stand out more. Especially compared to the image on the right.

F/1.8 Aperture F/2.8 Aperture F/5.6 Aperture

Shooting portraits in low light conditions adds a stylistic element to your image and can bring out the personality of your subject. Whether using a prime or zoom lens, you need to choose a lens with the widest possible aperture to make the most of the available light to achieve the best results. The less available light there is, the wider the aperture you need. Where possible setting your lens to stop at f/1.8 actually lets in about 4 times more light than f/3.5, which is a huge difference.

Choosing the right lens

After taking these things into consideration, you need to think about what is important for your shoot.

  • Do you need the flexibility to change the composition of your shot at a moments notice? For this, a good recommendation would be a zoom lens.
  • Are you shooting in low light situations? It so you will need the widest available aperture to make the most of available light. Prime lenses often offer the widest apertures, however fixed aperture zoom lenses such as the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM can offer a good zoom lens equivalent, with added flexibility.
  • Do you want to achieve a soft textured, blurred background? Then you will need a wider aperture lens to achieve a shallow depth field, therefore making the background appear more blurred.

The art of capturing stunning portraits

The very best portraits look relaxed and effortless, regardless of their purpose. However, it's never just as simple as having a photogenic model or a great location. By considering the following combination of factors you can ensure you get great results every time.


Whether you are in a studio or on location, you can use different lighting styles to complement your model. This can span from shooting at different times of day, to using a reflector to highlight the features of your subject.

Lighting Photography


You need to plan how you want your subject to fill the frame. This doesn't limit you to only using one third of the frame, especially when capturing close ups. You should experiment to see how you could fill the frame in interesting ways.

Composition Photography


When planning a portrait shoot its important to consider the background of each set up. You want to use backgrounds with structures and colourings that will compliment your subject, but not draw the eye away.

Background Portrait
Girl Making Bubbles

The professional choice for portrait photography

EF 85mm f/1.2L Il USM

The professional's choice for portrait photography, this L series lens offers exceptional performance, especially in low light thanks to its f/ 1.2 aperture. This specialist portrait lens has a high precision aspherical lens element and 8-blade aperture, for incredibly sharp images with beautifully blurred backgrounds and extremely shallow depth of field - ideal for creative portraiture.

View Details

Ef 85Mm F/1.2L Ii Usm

You might also like…