If you're getting into photography or portraiture, one of the essential things you'll need to grasp is the focal length. This will help your understanding and aid you significantly when choosing what lens to get.

Keep reading to learn the best focal lengths for portraits.

Are you interested in portraiture? Before getting focal lengths locked down, head over to portrait photography to find out more.

Things to consider when choosing a focal length

Zoom lenses vs prime lenses

In photography, there are two predominating lenses: Zoom and prime.

You’ll need to work out which works best for you or which lens will suit your needs before making a purchase, so it’s a good idea to try and rent some lenses and see which works for you.

Zoom lenses have variable focal lengths, which make them very versatile. Prime lenses have large maximum apertures, a fixed focal length, and few structural complications.

Amount of people in the frame

The wider the focal length, the more people you’ll be able to fit into the frame. If you’re photographing a big group of people, stick to a wide-angle lens.

Best focal lengths for portraits

24mm lenses

24mm lenses aren’t the go-to for portrait photographers as they often make subjects appear larger. They are sufficiently wide and sharp, making them great for shooting landscapes. But they can be equally as beautiful when shooting portraits too. They can be useful for:

  • Showing your subject in their surroundings.
  • Keep your subject central in a wide frame.
  • Experimenting with wide-angle shots.
  • Shooting in low-light conditions.

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G

  • Focal length and maximum aperture: 24mm, f/4.5
  • Minimum focus distance: 0.38m.
  • Filter size: 72mm

Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8S

  • Focal length and aperture: 24mm, f/2.8 (fixed)
  • Minimum focusing distance: 0.38m.
  • Filter size: 82mm.
nikon lens cap

35mm lenses

35mm lenses are pretty similar to 24mm. They are useful for:

  • Environmental portraits. Your subject will not fill up the entirety of the frame as the wide-angle will capture the background also.
  • They are also excellent for family portraits.
  • You can create some unique compositions because of the wide-angle lens.

Canon 35mm f/1.4L USM

  • Focal length and maximum aperture: 35mm, 1:1.4
  • Diagonal angle of view: 63 degrees.
  • Closest focusing distance: 0.3m/1ft.
  • Filter size: 72mm

AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G

  • Focal length and maximum aperture: 35mm, f/1.8
  • Comes with: super integrated coating, Autofocus, and Silent Wave Monitor.
  • Filter size: 52mm.
  • Minimum focus distance: 0.98ft.


50mm lenses

50mm lenses are a favorite of new photographers because they can be versatile and affordable. They are an excellent middle ground in portrait photography. Use a 50mm lens for:

  • Full-length portraits.
  • Portraits from the waist up.
  • To get a great shallow depth of field perspective.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

  • Focal length and maximum aperture: 50mm, f/1.2
  • Diagonal angle of view: 46 degrees.
  • Closest focusing distance: 48ft.
canon lens

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G

  • Focal length and maximum aperture: 50mm, f/1.8
  • Comes with: super integrated coating, Autofocus, and Silent Wave Monitor.
  • Minimum focus distance: 1.48ft
  • Filter size: 58mm.

85mm

These focal lengths are usually a portrait photographer's favorite, as they give a comfortable distance between you and your subject. If you shoot with an 85mm lens at f/1.8, you can get a fast shutter speed without increasing the ISO. These nifty lenses will help you get sharp pictures that aren’t too overcrowded. You can also use them for:

  • Shots in low-light conditions.
  • Achieving bokeh shots. (This is when the foreground or background is intentionally blurred around your subject.)

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

  • Focal length and maximum aperture: 85mm, 1:1.8
  • Diagonal angle of view: 28° 30'.
  • Closest focusing distance: 0.85m.

Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8S

  • Minimum focusing distance: 0.8m.
  • Filter diameter: 67mm
  • Maximum magnification ratio: 0.13


nikon lens

Final verdict: Which lens is best for portraits?

The short answer is that an 85mm lens on a full-frame camera is generally the most flattering lens for portrait photography. But that doesn’t mean that each lens doesn’t have its merits! You can get a unique look with each type of lens that you use.

Closing thoughts

Continue your journey in photography by reading our article to learn more.

Finally, remember that your lens is only one part of your kit. Check out our page on the camera equipment for portraiture to get started.

Focal length for portraits FAQ

What focal length is best for portraits?

The general consensus amongst portrait photographers is that an 85mm lens is perfect for portraits. Each lens has its own merits.

Is 50mm or 85mm best for portraits?

50mm is a great middle-ground for portraiture, and 85mm can be the most flattering on your subjects. It depends on what you’re going for.

What is the best focal length for family portraits?

A wider angle lens is best for family portraits. Try and choose either a 24mm or 35mm lens for capturing bigger groups.