How to choose the best aperture and focal length for portrait shooting?

If you are just starting out in portrait photography, you may be asking yourself what is the best aperture and focal length?

To help answer this question, I’ll show you how changing the aperture and focal length used can have a very different effect on your subject.

I’ll help you decide if you want your subject to be separate from or part of its surroundings, and then get the right focus for the style of portrait you plan to shoot.

The lens plays a crucial role in creating beautiful portraits. Not necessarily the right or wrong lens, but the lens that best suits the subject and location.

Sometimes, you might want to show more of the background around the subject for the environmental portrait, while in other cases, you might want to compress and blur it so that the subject becomes the center of attention.

Icelandic scenery at a best focal length

In addition to affecting the visibility of the background in a photo, different focal lengths also affect the shape and proportion of a subject’s face. If not used correctly, the wide focus can even produce a comic effect, while the long focus can produce a more flattering effect.

While using fast prime lenses is desirable, they do come at a cost, and it’s important to remember that amazing results can also be achieved using kit lenses and standard zoom.

It’s not just the focal length, the aperture you choose is also important. Read on to find out how to choose the aperture and focal length when photographing a portrait.

1. What’s the best aperture for a portrait?

(1) Blurred background

A large aperture, such as F/4 or F/2.8, will create a nice shallow depth of field. This means that the area before and after the focus will also appear sharp and will be very small. This is ideal if you want to blur the background and just keep the subject sharp. However, you need to make sure your focus is sharp because it is relentless. Focus on the eyes.

(2) Best of both worlds

The f/8’s aperture (or close enough to it) gives you the best of both worlds. There’s usually a narrow enough depth of field to create a sense of separation from the background, more forgiving focus, and you’re less likely to have to compromise on shutter speed or ISO. If you’re using a setup with studio lights, this medium aperture is a good place to start.

A wide-aperture lens captures the scenery of Mount Emei

(3) All sharp

Using a very small aperture is useful if you want other objects in the frame to be in focus, such as the model in the background of the shot. However, shooting at a small aperture means you need to use a slower shutter speed, which may require using a tripod to avoid blurring, or increasing ISO, which introduces noise.

2. What is the best focal length for a portrait?

(1) 24mm wide-angle lens

Wide-angle lenses are not usually portrait photographers’ “first choice” lenses. Even the best wide-angle lenses don’t attract their subjects very well, too close and the nose and forehead appear larger. Wide-angle lenses do have their uses in portrait photography. They are great for showing an environmental portrait of someone that you want to project to your surroundings and can keep them relatively small in the center of the picture.

(2) 85mm portrait lens

Short focal lengths are generally preferred by portrait photographers — about 56 mm on cameras with APS-C sensors or 85 mm on full-frame models is ideal. This is just as important as how close you end up to the subject and the perspective you gain. 85 mm usually provides a comfortable working distance for both the subject and the photographer.

natural scenery

(3) 200mm telephoto lens

Long focal length is a good choice for portrait photographers because it compresses the angle of view. This is usually more flattering to your subject. It’s also easier to create a blurry background with a telephoto lens, so if you also use a large aperture like F/2.8, you can get amazing results because the blurry parts of the image often look lovely as well.

3. How to choose the aperture and focal length when taking portraits?

In the creation of portrait photography, the subject content, character temperament, clothing collocation, environmental choice, application of light and shadow, and the use of camera lens are all important factors in the shooting of good people. So, the choice of aperture and focal length, how to choose in the shooting? Personally, we should consider it from the following aspects:

(1) From the category of portrait to consider

The category of portrait subject includes other sub-categories, such as humanistic documentary portrait, artistic portrait, wedding portrait, child portrait, tourist portrait, etc. According to the portrait category we shoot, we can choose a zoom lens or prime lens.

natural scenery

(2) Consider from the portrait scene

When we take portraits, according to the needs of the theme content, we need to take a group of photos from different landscapes. There are times when you need a long shot, times when you need a close-up, and times when you need a medium shot. Therefore, choose the aperture and focal length according to the field of view.

(3) Consider the shooting environment of portrait shooting

When taking portraits, we should consider the strength of the light. Under different light conditions, the aperture size is different. In low light, you need a larger aperture, and in good light, you need a smaller aperture.

(4) Consider from the way of expression of shooting

In portrait shooting, different scenes and different contents require different techniques of expression. For example, the background we shoot is very messy, which affects the visual presentation of the photographed characters on the screen and leads to the lack of prominence of the main body of the picture. Therefore, we need to use a large aperture or telephoto to moderately blur the background elements.

natural scenery

(5) Consider the camera lens

The choice of shooting tools is certainly to choose according to its characteristics, depending on the lens itself is good at shooting what kind of portrait. What apertures and focal lengths work best.

In short, different combinations of apertures and focal lengths can produce different images when photographing portraits. To make the foreground and background solid, select a small aperture. To make the foreground and background imaginary points, select a large aperture.

The choice of aperture and focal segment depends on the type of portrait we shoot, the performance needs, the shooting environment, and the characteristics of the lens itself. So when we’re shooting, we can try a little bit more, try to capture what you want to say.

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