For portrait photography you want to shoot the head and the shoulders. Prime lenses will produce perfect results, but some ﬁnd these hard to use as they’re ﬁxed in their focal range. However, the unique style this type of lens produces is highly popular with industry professionals and so is worth trying. Many prime lenses are able to open to a wide aperture and this can create a dreamy effect where the subject is sharp and the background is blurred. On some lenses the aperture will go as wide as f1.4, meaning it’s effective to use in low light and for street/documentary photography. It’s also available at an extremely reasonable price from Nikon, but if you have a bigger budget to spend, there are beautiful prime lenses on offer such as the 60mm f2.8.
Prime lenses are also generally a lot lighter than zoom lenses, so if you’re out and about they can make a considerable difference to your comfort. Again, your camera’s sensor will make a difference to which lens you should go for, and some people may prefer shooting portraits with a zoom lens. Something like a 1585mm can be most useful, as the versatile focal range is perfect for close-up portraits or if you want to get a wider angle. But remember that zoom lenses are not as fast as prime lenses, so you may need to up the ISO to compensate for the lack of light.
It’s best to set your camera to anything above 1/125sec if you want crisp results. Zoom lenses will also struggle to create the unique effects that prime lenses are capable of; however, they make up for any shortcomings with their versatile focal lengths.
Best Nikon Lenses for Portrait Photography
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f1.8 – The ultra-wide f1.8 aperture means this lens from Nikon will cope well in low light and with street photography. The 50mm angle will equate to something like an 80mm lens with a camera with a crop factor, which can be good if you want to get in close but need to keep some distance from your subject.
Nikon 35mm f2D AF NIKKOR – For those wanting a wider angle, this 35mm prime lens from Nikon is popular with street and portrait photographers. Like the NIKKOR 50mm lens, the Nikon 35mm has a wide aperture, but this one goes as shallow as f2. Make sure you keep the eyes in focus to get the best results.
AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G – A professional medium telephoto lens with a speedy f/1.4 aperture, this lens works well with Nikon’s FX format SLRs. A Nano Crystal coating on the lens itself reduces ghosting and ﬂ are, and the nine-blade rounded aperture gives you a soft and pleasing blur, great for a bokeh effect. This lens works well for both portrait and general studio use.
Best Canon Lenses for Portrait Photography
Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM – The ultra-wide f2.8 aperture means that this well-priced lens from Canon will cope well in low light and with street photography. The ultra slim design helps the photographer from scaring their subjects with a large lens, putting models at ease while also producing stunning, professional-looking results. The newly developed stopping motor is smooth and quiet, too.
Canon EF 35mm f2 IS USM– For those that are wanting a wider angle, this 35mm prime lens from Canon is popular with street and portrait photographers alike. Like the EF 40mm lens that we looked at above, the 35mm option has a wide aperture, but this one goes as shallow as f2. Keep the eyes in focus to get the best results.
Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L II USM – This standard zoom lens is a multi-purpose option that delivers fantastic image quality from the wide-angle 24mm to the telephoto 70mm. A nine-bladed circular aperture produces beautiful bokeh, creating the coveted blurred background in portraiture. It’s also well suited to low light conditions with its fast f2.8 maximum aperture.