Using the perfect lens for portrait photography

Which lenses should I use?

Many factors are decisive for a good portrait photo such as lighting, perspective, surroundings and the lens. Roland Voraberger from Linse2 explains on ifolor inspire which lenses you should use depending on the photo.

Lots of experienced photographers say that if you have learned to take good pictures with a normal lens you can also take good photos with other focal length lenses. This means a normal focal length of 50 millimetres, which corresponds to the normal visual perception of the human eye.

The advantage of fixed focal lengths lenses

Voraberger also recommends using fixed focal length lenses instead of low-light zoom lenses in camera starter kits. Even though lenses with fixed focal lengths of 35, 50 or 80 millimetres require more movement from the photographer, they train the eye immensely and create much more exciting image effects. Vorarberger also explains that once the photographer has mastered the interplay of focal length, distance and aperture then the photographer can focus the depth of field.

More freedom when shooting portraits

In portrait photography, fixed focal length lenses have the great advantage that they are more sensitive to light and thus offer more freedom in the composition of the picture. Generally, focal length lenses from 50 millimetres upwards are suitable. Anything less falls into the wide-angle range. Distortions of the portrayed face are not only caused by the focal length lens, but also by the distance from the subject.

Nevertheless, a lens under 50 millimetres is also great for portrait photography, but care needs to be taken, says the photographer. As always you need to know the rules and when you can consciously break them.

Portrait photography: using distance to get a great shot

Most photographers recommend a focal length lens of 80 to 120 millimetres for portrait photos. However, there are also those who prefer large zoom lenses with a focal length of 300 to 500 millimetres. When using such lenses, the photographer will need to stand further away from the model and at the same time have a particularly steady hand or a tripod. The Austrian photographer explains that different image effects and compression of foreground and background are a result of the same reproduction scale of the person.

The results from a study conducted by American psychologists at the California Institute of Technology tend to favour larger focal length lenses of 80 millimetres or more. The reason for that is the effect the portraits create. The faces of subjects photographed at close range were seen as less friendly and trusting in comparison to faces of subjects photographed with a longer focal length lens.

This can be explained through the personal space distance of 40 to 60 centimetres. We only allow close friends to enter this personal circle. According to the study, portraits taken at a close range give the impression that the person being portrayed is intruding in the viewer's personal space, thus making the viewer feel awkward or uncomfortable.

Distance with shy models

Long focal length lenses are not recommended for classic portraits such as passport or CV photos. However, they are great for taking shots of camera-shy people because with a long focal length lens the photographer can shoot them virtually unobserved and they feel comfortable in their personal space.

Voraberger explains that the result is generally very natural pictures that the person being photographed would not usually expect. This has often been the case when Voraberger and his partner Daniela have taken photos of camera-shy people. This is a great way to help people to relax whilst being photographed as you will get some great natural looking photos.

Distance with shy models

A bit about

Roland Voraberger and Daniela Pöll are the photographers from that will do a photo shoot with winners of the ifolor couple photo shooting.

Link: (link only available in German)

(The cover picture was taken with an 85mm lens)




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