What Is the Right Focal Length for Portraits?

Focal length is by far one of the most important choices you can make when it comes to portraiture, as it makes a huge difference on how your subject is rendered. This helpful video will show you how five different common focal lengths render the same subject. 

Coming to you from Jessica Whitaker, this excellent video will show you how five different focal lengths render portraits differently, including 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, and 135mm. Traditionally, portrait photographers generally opt for a focal length around 85mm. This is because at wider focal lengths, perspective exaggerates the features in an unflattering way. On the other hand, as you get into longer focal lengths, compression takes over and begins to flatten the features. Photographers generally like a focal length around 85mm because it avoids creating unflattering renderings, but it preserves enough of a person's unique facial geometry to create an interesting image. That being said, you certainly do not have to stick to the most common choice; for example, a lot of photographers prefer a 135mm lens for their work or even a 200mm, though you will also start to run into difficulties with your working distance after a while. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Whitaker. 

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8 Comments

Alex Yakimov's picture

Thanks, Alex. At certain close distance it is important to understand relationship between facial geometry and focal length. At a certain longer distance there would be no difference in facial geometry regardless of focal length.

Adam Kencki's picture

there is no such thing as a right focal length for anything

peter matthews's picture

exactly , these articles especially the titles are self serving attention seeking, stating the bleeding' obvious

doug mcgoldrick's picture

100% correct. You need the right lens for the shot you want to make.

Mike Shwarts's picture

The focal length that gives you the look you want. That could be any of them.

kotlos kotlos's picture

Focal length has nothing to do with perspective and facial geometry. It is the distance between the subject and the lens that matters.

Lee Christiansen's picture

But it does play a part when considering what image size we want in a frame. So focal length does indeed play a part because it is part of a more complex combination of elements. Nothing is ever in isolation.

Jeff McCollough's picture

I sure am not gonna shoot a headshot with a 24mm.