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The portrait lenses you choose to use during a session will determine what your photos will look like.
I know that sounds like a no brainer but for newer photographers starting out, they probably started with a kit lens. Usually a high aperture that varies with a wide focal range, these lenses are perfect for beginners because they allow you to just get out and shoot! You can do a variety of different things. However, as you narrow down your interests and are ready to level up your gear, you may be stuck on which lenses will work the best for you. There are a lot of different portrait lenses out there, almost too many when you think about it.
Ask yourself these things before deciding which type of lenses you want to purchase:
- What do I want to capture? Are you a portrait photographer? Or do you take mostly landscapes? Do you love macro photography or shoot mostly wildlife? Answering these questions will narrow down what you choose significantly.
- How much money do I have to spend? Gear is EXPENSIVE, especially high quality gear. You may not have the budget for a prime, but there may be a zoom lens that has the focal length that you can purchase instead. What about third party lenses? All things to consider.
- What do I need out of my next lens? Let's think about why you have come to this point of needing a new lens. Are you searching for a lower aperture to grab more light? Or is the focal length just a little too short? Putting these filters into what you want your next lens to do will slim the pool considerably and make the decision easier at checkout.
From a portrait photographer perspective,
I have been shooting for quite some time now and I will tell you a lot of the technology out there is top tier. I shoot Sony and honestly every single YouTube review of any new lens is pretty much 5 stars all around. So it can become extremely overwhelming when picking out something new. Luckily, I have developed a specific style and know what portrait lenses will achieve it.
Here are my top favorite portrait lenses:
The 35mm is such a versatile focal length. It gives just the right amount of space around my subjects without any distortion. You can also get pretty close to a subject without much distortion as well. 95% of my portrait work was done with a 35mm and there are plenty of them on the market. As a Sony shooter, I would highly recommend the Sony 35mm 1.4 GM.. YES it is really expensive. BUT, trust me when I say its 100% worth it. It has close to perfect eye tracking and my photos are always tack sharp.
I have a love/hate relationship with the 50mm focal range. When I shot Canon I loved having my little nifty fifty. Now, I have found that I only grab it when I am in specific scenarios where my brain actually says, "Hey a 50mm would look great here". Truth be told that is not often. However, I still recommend it because 50mms are usually cheaper than 85mms and are easier to shoot with for creamy bokeh without needing to be a significant distance away from your subject like the 85mm. Way easier to get full body shots as well.
When I got my first 85mm, my whole world stopped. I just could not believe what my images were missing out on with this type of lens. It is like the background melts away..with a typically cheaper option. In my opinion, 85's are your gateway into the big boys. It was the first lens I shot with where I actually felt my photos looked professional. (Mind you, that is still subjective. Your gear does not determine whether you are a professional or not.) But yeah, that's just how I felt.
This is probably not usually on anyones portrait photography list and it wasn't on mine initially either BUT, hear me out. the 90mm 2.8 by Sony is a macro photography lens and because of the compression and detail it takes beautiful portrait photos! You do have to stand quite a distance away to get full body shots, but I think it's worth it.
This may shock some people to be on here but the 24-70 has become one of my favorite lenses to take portraits with! It allows me to add distortion to make a portrait a lot more interesting! The majority of the time I am using this lens is for studio work. This gives me the ability to work in smaller spaces and zoom in and out without physically moving! If you do not like the distorted look then you can shoot at the 35, 50, or 70mm!
I had this lens for about 2 weeks, and then decided it wasn't for me. It greatly depends on what kind of photography you like to do. For instance, this lens may be extremely useful for photoshoots that are in full sun. You can still get nice, crisp images with the depth, without getting in the way of the shot! Other than that, I didn't produce any images I didn't think I could get with my 85.
Now please keep in mind this is MY top list.
This list could look vastly different for other people. There are so many different lens manufacturers and brands that there are some portrait lenses that exist that I have never had the pleasure of working with. Also, please test out lenses before purchasing them! Locally, we have a store called Digital Lens Rental that has a good amount of gear. But if you are reading this without a solution nearby, I had a wonderful experience with renting from Borrow Lenses! I rented the new Sony 50mm 1.2 GM because I was DYING to test it out. I am a sucker for a good 1.2! The process was easy and I was able to try it out with a $100 commitment instead of a $1999 commitment. Utilize the option of renting gear to save yourself some money!
I hope this was helpful if you were looking for suggestions! I only linked Sony lenses because that's what I use. If you shoot a different brand, you can just put in the focal length and your brand name in the search bar and it should come up!
Are you a portrait photographer? What are your favorite portrait lenses? I'd love to hear down in the comments!
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