Ideal lenses for portraits?

Discussion in 'Photography Techniques' started by Armanius, Mar 11, 2015.

  1. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    What is the ideal focal length of lenses for portraits - head only, head and shoulders, and full body?

    For the purposes of subject isolation, is focal length more important or aperture?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    Generally I see people using 35mm - 50mm for full body shots and 75-105mm for head or head and shoulders shots. If you have room to work and back-up, even longer ones can be used. I've seen a lot of great work done with a fast 70-200.

    Regarding the second part of the question, I'm not sure that one is more important than the other. They both affect the subject isolation, but the distance of your subject to the focal plane may be an even greater variable (as well as the distance between your subject and the background). But all 3 variables will combine to determine the DOF.

    I thought there was one or two online DOF calculators that used actual photos to visually display what you are looking for. I'll have a quick Google
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2015
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  3. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I'd say anything from around 85mm up to 150 or so. Classic portrait lengths are 90. 120, and 135. I've had really good luck with 150 too, with the Olympus 75mm. And, of course, if you get in relatively close, a lot of nice portraits are done in the 50-55mm range also. And even wider for some types of environmental portraits.

    Kind of a matter of taste, how far you want to be from the subject, how tight you want to be on the head, etc. In terms of subject isolation, it's always a combination of aperture and focal length (real focal length more than equivalent focal length). I find that my 85 f1.8 on full frame is really really narrow for a tight head shot - tough to keep more than a sliver of face in focus - the same would be even more true with an 85 1.4. I do better farther from the subject but then you're getting into half body shots. The Olympus 75 at f1.8 seems pretty good at the distance I tended to shoot it - I could usually keep a whole face in focus but still blow out the background pretty well, even on sort of tight head shots because its equivalent focal length of 150. On my Nikon full frame, I do a lot of candid portrait shooting with the 24-120 f4 and f4 seems wonderful with that lens - again narrow enough to blow out the background but deep enough to keep a face in focus. And with the Df's crazy high ISO capability, f4 works fine in anything but the very lowest light. I have an old manual focus 135 f2.8 and I rarely shoot that wide open for head shots because it's really narrow...

    So it depends on sensor size, focal length, and aperture. Generally the larger the sensor and the longer the focal length, the narrower the depth of field. And vice versa. Just how little DOF you want and how close you want the shot to be all influences what will work right for you...

    -Ray
     
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  4. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    The most important aspect of subject isolation is the relative distances between camera, subject and background, and also what the background is made up of. At a certain point, narrowing the depth-of-field too much by using a larger aperture means that the edges of the subject become more indistinct (out-of-focus) and you start to chase a moving target as far as subject isolation is concerned.
     
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  5. ean10775

    ean10775 SC Regular

    159
    Feb 25, 2013
    Cleveland, Ohio
    Eric
    I tend to favor anything from 85mm-200mm for portraits leaning to the longer side for head and shoulder compositions, but I agree with Nic as far as subject isolation goes: relative distances between camera, subject and background can make the most difference when utilized effectively.
     
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  6. serhan

    serhan SC All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    NYC
    All of the above... That was easy:)

    The longer lens, bigger aperture and sensor will give you more separation... Then the min focus distance also comes into play too... Robin Wong uses close focus a lot to drop the background with m43.

    Usually 35-50 is better with body portrait and then you can go up for the others as tele lenses squeezes the subject with tighter view vs 35mm will give you a bigger nose, but sometimes it doesn't matter:)

    25mm f2.8
    original.

    50mm f2
    original.

    100mm f2
    original.

    Here are some people shots, mostly not posed:

    m43 25mm 1.8 ~ 50mm 3.5 equiv
    original.

    5D + 50mm 1.4
    original.


    original.

    55mm 1.8
    original.

    m43 45mm 1.8 equiv 90mm 3.5
    original.

    m43 42.5mm 1.2 ~ 85mm 2.5
    original.

    85mm 1.4 where the dof gets tight with 2-3 people shots
    original.

    135mm f2
    original.

    original.

    original.

    original.

    original.

    m43 75mm 1.8 ~ 150mm 3.5
    original.

    original.

    apsc 135mm ~ 216mm 3.2
    original.

    Tighter shots
    apsc 85mm 1.8 ~ 136mm 2.8
    original.

    135mm apsc ~ 216mm f3.2
    original.

    It was a very long post, but it is best to illustrate it w/ photos. I see some pros use 70-200 2.8 full frame as it gives you range and enough dof to work with, but I prefer the smaller primes... I replaced 85mm/135mm with 100mm when I started to use mirrorless, but 135mm f2 has a lot going on. Sony 135mm 1.8 is even heavier at 2.2lbs~1kg... Oly 75mm is the only one close to FF equivalent... So pick your poison:)

    Here is a pro specialized in a studio as a headshot photographer:
    http://www.popphoto.com/how-to/2015...1&spJobID=641075090&spReportId=NjQxMDc1MDkwS0
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2015
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  7. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    Thanks for all the good information folks! And thanks for putting all those photos up Serhan. Love how the 135/2 totally melted away the background!
     
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  8. serhan

    serhan SC All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    NYC