what lens is the right lens for portraits

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We’ve all heard the saying that a camera adds ten pounds, and to an extent that’s true. Choosing the right lens for your portrait photography really depends on the effect you want to give. The same portrait of a person shot with different lenses shows how much a lens, and the distance you are from the subject, affects the way the person looks in the photograph. 

 If you look at these series of portraits shot by Dan Vojtech, you can immediately tell the difference in the way the face becomes thinner and more distorted when the photographer is using wide angle lenses, and how it starts becoming more proportionate as the focal length increases. 

It is a common misconception that the distortion we are seeing in the wider-angle lens photos has to do with the lens itself, but interestingly, it has to do with the actual distance between the photographer and the subject. 

When photographing with a telephoto lens (above 50mm) the photographer has to step further away from the subject for two reasons: One is to fill the frame, and two, to allow the lens to focus. The bigger the focal length of the lens, the longer the focusing distance is for that lens (unless of course you are using a macro lens, but that’s for another story). 

So, naturally, the photographer is forced to step back when shooting with bigger lenses. But if you want to keep the same framing and use a wider-angle lens, then the photographer is forced to step closer and closer to the subject. And when that happens things that are closer to the lens appear larger than things that are further back, like for instance a person’s nose (especially mine). 

So there really is no general rule about using a particular lens for portraiture. As always learn at LSP, there are plenty of rules in photography, and they can all be broken. Photographers have been known to shoot portraits with wider-angle lenses. As a photojournalist, I prefer to use wider angle lenses for environmental portraits, where I have to give the viewer not a photo of someone’s face, but also a sense of place. What does this person do for a living for example? 

Of course, I have to use telephoto lenses on occasions where I physically cannot get close to my subject, like press conferences for example, where are usually kept at a distance from the person we want to photograph.  

So, the best way for you to find out what lens better suits your needs, have a look at portraits shot with wide angle and telephoto lenses and see what you like best. Just remember, don’t get too close with your wide angle lens, or you will end up with grotesquely distorted portraits, and potentially unhappy clients! 


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