My go to lenses for portrait photography

I wanted to take some time to talk through my favorite lenses and how I use them.

I don't really see my self a photographer, I think of myself as an artist, who's chosen media is photography, and as an artist, the tools I use can be instrumental to my desired outcome.

Don't hear me wrong, I'm certainly not saying that you need the most expensive gear to get good shots! I strongly believe that the best camera you can have is the one you are using. When you start to approach photography as a means of producing art you realize the only thing holding you back is yourself, not your gear.

Having said that, one thing I have learned is that one of the best investments you can make as a photographer is in good quality lenses. Buy the best you can afford. Good glass will outlive your camera body if you look after it.

The first lens I want to look at is probably my favorite lens of all time.

The Canon 85mm f1.2 L II

canon 85mm f1.2 L II

This is easily my favorite lens of all time, but it's rarely the first lens out of my bag. With a super wide aperture at F1.2, it's incredibly fast and has the most beautiful depth of field. Meaning the bokeh is incredibly soft and smooth. The reason it's not always on my camera is simply that at 85mm its not always the practical choice for portraits, depending on the location, 85mm is sometimes a bit too tight. The other reason is that it's so flipping heavy at 1.25kg its practically the same weight as a camera body!

canon 85mm f1.2 L II

I will often go for this lens when shooting in natural light, or on locations when the light is limited or dim, to take advantage of the wide aperture. however, I mostly use it when I want to get a nice tight head shot with a really soft background. In the examples below you can see how the shallow depth of field causes the subject to pop out and in the right conditions can create a really emotive and intimate shot. One of the best things about it is the slippery silkiness of the focus ring, it slides around like warm butter and is so easy to snap to where you need it.


The Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L II

canon 16-35mm f2.8 L II

Out of all of these lenses, this is my least used for portraits and lifestyle shoots.  I kept it in the list as its always in my bag for the odd occasions I want a wider shot. At F2.8 it has a nice depth of field but it is a lot slower and in low light situations it does lack a little. However, at 16mm it's super wide, perfect for establishing shots showing a location or for nice wide vistas of a subject in a location.

canon 16-35mm f2.8 L II

The below examples show the lens at 35mm (on the left) and 16mm (on the right). I will often take this lens on its own if I'm traveling super light for a day out. It's incredibly versatile, at 35mm it's a superb portrait lens, and at 16 its perfect for shots where you need to fit more in! Overall this lens is good for very occasional portraits in some situations. It certainly has a valuable place in a lifestyle portrait photographers bag, but where it really shines is in landscape photography, street photography and interior photography.


The Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

Last but by no means least is this beauty. Its nearly always on my camera and is easily the most used lens out of the bunch when it comes to Portraits. Sigma really knew what they were doing when they made this lens! Over the years I've had many 50mm lenses, and this one stands head and shoulders above them all. Its lightning fasts at F1.4 and has a gorgeous depth of field that is just perfect for portraits. 50mm is, in my eyes is the ideal focal length for portraits. For the way I shoot and my style of lifestyle photography, this is just a beautiful lens. whether your up close for a tight headshot or want a full body shot this lens is my go to.

sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

It's so sharp when shooting wide open at F1.4, and the clarity and depth are superb. It's not too big or bulky, the focus ring is smooth and easy to use, and it's not too heavy to carry around all day. This lens is nearly always the first out of my bag, I know there are not many shots I cant get with it and it just keeps delivering no matter what you throw at it.

So there you have it, a comprehensive list of my three favorite lenses for portrait photography. If you'd like more details about any of the lenses I've talked about, drop a comment below and ill try and answer to the best of my knowledge!