Choosing the Right Camera Lens

Lesson 32/35 - The Portrait Lens


Choosing the Right Camera Lens


Lesson Info

The Portrait Lens

What is the best lens? Well, it depends on what you're doing. And a lot of people are shooting portraits. So let's talk about portrait lenses and what the best portrait lens for you might be. Now, as we talk about portrait lenses, one thing to remember is lenses do not have perspective. Some people will talk about their perspective that you see with a particular lens. That depends on where you're standing and what you're looking at. And perspective is determined by point of view. Where you are. And so, you can change your perspective. It doesn't matter what lens you have, by just changing where you are. And then the framing is going to be determined by which lens you choose to shoot at. And so, for shooting a portrait, I wanted to take an extreme example of shooting a portrait with a normal lens, all the way down to a wide angle lens, all the way up to the strongest telephoto lens that you can shoot. And I wanted the subject to be the same height in the frame. And so at 50 mm, you have...

to be pretty close to your subject in order to fill the frame. And so, what we're gonna do in this case is we're gonna move closer to our subject using a wider angle lens and you can see when we get down here to and especially down here at 11 mm why we don't we want to shoot with an 11 mm lens for portrait. It's gonna distort the face. It's also really uncomfortable cause you're about six inches from the nose of your subject. So let's move back using a little bit longer focal length and 50 mm for a lot of people is a little too close for shooting a headshot like this. Now there's a lot of 24 to 70's and I think they do an excellent job when zoomed out to 70 for a portrait. It's a very natural perspective. I think it looks very good. Now the classic portrait lens is the 85 mm lens. This is what most portrait photographers are going to have. The slightly longer version of it is the 100 mm lens. There's a lot of photographers who love the 135. It gives you a little bit more working distance, throws the background out of focus a little bit more. But you can use longer. You can use a 200. But one of the things that you'll notice here is because you're standing further back from your subject, you're able to see her ears and her cheeks. And as we move back a little bit, it looks like her face is a little bit wider and her eyes are little bit closer together as we get all the way back here to 800 mm. And so it's not a very normal perspective. We don't normally look at people and see their face this close at 800 mm. And so the 35 is definitely a little on the wide side for shooting portraits. 100 mm is quite nice. I think the 50 is still a little on the wide side for shooting portraits. And look at what happens when we go to 800. Notice how the shape of the face has really changed and it has to do with where we are standing on our subjects. You can look at her earrings. You can see them more easily with the cause you're standing further back. The shortest lens that I like doing portraits with is the 70. And I think a 24 to 70 does an excellent job at shooting portraits. The longest lens that I like to use in most cases would be a 135. But you do need to have a pretty good working distance. If you're shooting it in your living room, you're gonna need to have a big living room if you're shooting with a 135. But the classic has been the 85 for good reason. It's a natural perspective. It keeps you a good standard distance from your subject. But I think anything between 70 and 135 should do an excellent job for most people in most situations. So when you are looking for a portrait lens, what you are looking for is ... You're looking for an angle of view probably between 70 or a 135 or the equivalent. Cause I'm talking about full frame, of course. You want a comfortable working distance between you and your subject. You probably want to be able to shoot with shallow depth of field and that Bokeh, that background out of focus area, you would like to look nice. And that's something that they think about when they design these type of lenses. You want a lens that's sharp, of course, but these other factors are in many ways more important than pure sharpness. And then of course, something that's size and weight appropriate as price appropriate to what you want to do. And so, for people shooting photographs of other people. Yes, 70 to 135 is great but you know I might extend that a little bit to 50 to the 200 range for general purpose. So let's look at a few photographic examples shot with different lenses. Will I shoot photographs of people at 24 mm? Absolutely. If I want to do an environmental portrait, this is a good time to show your subject and the surrounding environment around them. So yes, you can shoot with 24's. You do have to be careful about how you use it. 35 mm lens certainly can be used. Even up fairly close. Portraits with a 50 mm lens. I think it's still a very good lens. Not what I would standard, not what I would use as a standard for portraits but sometimes I don't always have the luxury of having a portrait lens with me. 70 mm. As I say, I often have a 24 to 70 on me, with me. When I'm traveling, I don't necessarily travel with a portrait lens like an 85 1.8 lens, so a 24 to 70 will serve a very good portrait lens, in many, many different situations. If all I wanted to do is shoot portraits, I would probably have either an 85 or 100 mm lens. Especially one of the ones that were fairly fast, that can give you a nice shallow depth of field. That way you can blur out the background on your subjects. The 100 mm lens, just the slightly longer big brother, you might say to the 85 mm lens, gives you a little bit more working distance between your subject. The 135 is good when you can go down to the local park, give yourself a little bit more room between you and your subject throwing that background out of focus. And then up to 200 mm, for shooting tighter head shots, for having a little bit more distance, blurring that background out. Lot of different good choices when it comes to portrait lenses. All in that general, short, telephoto range. So I'm gonna quickly run by some of the lens choices that I would think about and these are mostly the lens choices that we talked about when it simply came to prime, basic lenses. The 85 1.8s or the 50 1.8s, depending on the size of the sensor you have, are gonna do an excellent job. And you don't need to shoot these wide open. You can stop them down to 2 or 2.8 or f/ to get a little more sharpness. You don't always have to have the background as blurred out as possible. The mirrorless cameras have, have have all of these holes filled in the lens line up because they know this is something that people like to do with this quite frequently. The premium lenses are gonna see some 1.4 options in here. And, so if you want to shoot wide open, we do have that option here with the 1.4 lenses. And so you will see plenty of these options available from pretty much all the manufacturers. Some of these at 1.2, allowing you to get that very, very shallow depth of field. Now portrait photography when it comes in the form of group shots, well, that's something a little bit different. And there's a whole way of shooting group shots and I thought it would be good to show what it looks like to shoot a group shoot with a 50 mm lens all the way down to an 11 mm lens. Because you want to figure out, what lens do I want to use to shoot a group shot? Do I shoot it with a portrait lens and I have to move way back or do I shoot with a wide angle lens so I can be right in close with everybody? Well, a 50 mm lens looks pretty good to me at this point? But let's see what happens as we zoom in closer. And you'll notice that those people on the edges start getting distorted more and more as we get closer and closer, filling the frame with the group and an 11 mm shot of a group shot is not gonna make everyone so happy there. And so what we want to do, is we want to move back a little bit and I really think that group shots should be done with the longest lens that they can practically be done with. And so I think probably a 35, 50 or 70 mm lens is the perfect lens to shoot a group shot with. And so, if you are doing group shots, that 24 to 70 basic zoom lens is gonna be perfect for it. And then just try to move back as far as you can.

Class Description

Once you’ve chosen the camera of your dreams, how do you know which lens will maximize your camera’s capabilities? Join camera expert John Greengo as he explains what the best lenses are to add to your camera bag. He’ll explain:

  • Which lens is best for specific areas of photography
  • The technology behind lenses
  • How to use specialty lenses including macro and fisheye
  • Tips on operating and maintaining your lenses

John will also talk about lens accessories including hoods, mounts, filters, and teleconverters. By the end of this class, you’ll understand exactly what lens you’ll need to take your best photos!


Boris Dimitrov

Excellent class packed with incredibly useful knowledge. John is an amazing lecturer. He has also developed really great materials to help explain all the concepts and technologies that are explored in the class. Looking forward to my next class with him!

a Creativelive Student

Great class. So informative. John Greengo is such a fantastic tutor and explains everything in such and easy-to-understand way. I would highly recommend this class. Prior to doing this class, I was so confused about which lenses are best for various photography. Now I understand lenses completely. Thanks John!

Lettie Turner

Another great JG class, my 4th. He gives a lot of individual attention to several popular lens brands. I really think after seeing this video series you could pick out three lenses that would fit your needs and your pocketbook. The class handout is spot on for what is covered in the video. Great job!! Thank you