Two Lenses You Should Own for Portrait Photography

In many of the photography groups I am part of, I constantly come across the question of which lens should someone get as a portrait photographer. We all have different styles, and depending on what type of portraits and what other genres of photography we usually shoot in, we could all recommend you a different lens or pair of lenses.

However, there are a few usual suspects that many photographers will recommend out of all the available choices. Manny Ortiz shares what his two favorite portraits lenses are and why he likes them. Ortiz isn’t alone, one of the most common focal length lens I see many photographers use is the 85mm, and it’s a great lens hence why so many people use it. With everyone's different taste and style, the 50mm may not be as much of a popular choice, but if you like getting environmental portraits you may want to check it out. Personally, I use the 85mm for some natural light portraits as well as some studio portraits mixed with my 24-105mm. These are subjective opinions, so you do not have to stick with the 85mm and the 50mm, but it's worth trying out and seeing if it fits your taste and style. A 35mm lens might be another good choice for environmental portraits but you have to be careful with distortion that may occur; I have seen some photographers use this focal length with excellent results.

What are your two favorite lenses to use when shooting portraits?

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18 Comments

I think 35/85 is more challenging and diverse. 50 has never excited me much. My go-to lenses are 85 & 135 for portraiture with select shots at 35.

Jon Wolding's picture

I’ve also almost abandoned 50mm in favor of 35mm. In fact, my two-lens “go bag” is a 35mm F2 IS and a 70-200mm OR 85mm. I like 135mm, but I, personally, need IS when shooting handheld above 85mm as I tend to shoot a lot of lowish light and I like to have DOF options while keeping the ISO as low as possible.

I agree, 35 is a better choice if you only have two lenses. Helps capturing more of the environment and has more character. As for the longer lens, I really like my Samyang 135mm f/2.

35, 85, and 70-200f/2.8@200mm

70-200. That’s it.

Anonymous's picture

Really? 24-105? Of course it works but I'm surprised it would be one of two.

Yes, I use my 24-105mm L for a lot of my strobed work as it wasn't HSS and I didn't need a fast lens. However, the recommended lens from the video and the article is the 85mm and the 50mm.

Anonymous's picture

While interesting to hear what others use, and why, I probably wouldn't change what I bring to portrait sessions.

Dass Alamillo's picture

35 and 105 and no more!

Allen Freeman's picture

85 1.8, then 24-70 2.8. Trying to keep the zoom in the 50-70 zone if there is room to backup. For a while I was using just the 35 2.8 and 85 1.8 with two cameras so no lense swapping. If you don’t want to swap lenses and only want to carry one camera then the 24-70 2.8 is the way to roll. This is when shooting a model as in the video.

my studio is small so I find myself always putting on the 24-70 2.8. I have an 85 which is gorgeous but even outside, I am comfortable in just a little closer. The look of my 85 Zeiss is gorgeous, but I always wind up switching back to the zoom.

Nissor Abdourazakov's picture

My portrait lenses: Nikkor 28 1,4E; 58 1,4; 105 1,4 and 200 f2 VRII

I use 85 f/1.8 and 70-200 f/2.8

I am really happy to see a lot fo photogs mentioning the 35mm. I got drilled by a youtube photographer for using a 35mm for my fashion/catalog photos. With a D800 and a tamron 35mm 1.8 I was able to get ultra sharp images which I can crop later without losing any details. Plus, clients didn't seem to care what lens I used. He Kinda made me second guess myself. I know better know thou.

I recently picked up a 35mm lens, hoping to give it a good and see how I fare with one for portraits.

Dirk Christiaens's picture

I'm using a Nikon 85mm 1.4 in 80% of the cases, for the other 20% I use the 70-200 2.8. But I am also considering a 35mm 1.4 in favour of a 105mm 1.4 because of small setups.

Y'all do realise that discussions about favorite portrait lens in regards to focal lengths, is meaningless without discussions on frame format sizes —your F-type 50mm is my D-type 35mm, while my D-type 50mm is your f-type 75mm, etc.— and subject framing —head-shot, bust, full body, close-up, environmental, extreme closeup, half body, and all points in between.

Not to mention perspective preferences.

The worst thing to do when someone asks you what is a good portrait lens to use, is to give them a focal length.

That being said, 55-200mm (a 55-135mm would do since I rarely go above 135mm) or 50mm 1:1.7, perspective of 3-4m away, all framings (Environmental to extreme closeups), D-type (APS-C), typically. Subject to change without notice.

Manzur Fahim's picture

I use Nikon 105mm F/1.4E and the 200mm F2/G VRII. They are both awesome, but 105mm gets most use, at it is very sharp at F/1.4 and the background rendering is amazing.