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Thread: Best focal length for portrait in photography

  1. #1
    PhotographerR
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    Cool Best focal length for portrait in photography

    Hello photographers ,

    i was checking some posts about photography , and i saw something strange , and i want to ask about it.

    while i was reading this post ( Photography Backdrops ) , i saw that the best focal length to take portraits is 85-100 , is that true , and if it was true , why is that ?


    Thanks alot

  2. #2
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    Re: Best focal length for portrait in photography

    85-135 is a relatively popular range ("best" is a relative term) for portraits for a few reasons...

    -it gives you enough working distance to slightly flatten facial features (like uncle bob's big nose, or aunt milly's protruding mole) which is flattering, but without making people's heads look wide and flat (good only for celery-fed fashion models).

    -they're not so long that large apertures are unwieldy or excessively expensive (that definition may vary...as nikon and canon's top 85s brush up against $2000...but reasonable alternatives can be had at 1/5 that price)

    -they compress the background slightly, and give your subject a certain separation. they're also capable of drastically softening backgrounds, to the point where there aren't any distractions, and you just have a wash of color, with strong focus on the subject, unlike how we normally see.

    i'm sure there are other reasons that escape me at this hour. but these are a good start.

  3. #3
    ianbrother
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    Re: Best focal length for portrait in photography

    bokeh is so creamy at this range

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    Re: Best focal length for portrait in photography

    Any lens can be used for portrait for impact, creativity and informative. However, the popular one is the 85mm focal length. I especially like the 1.4/85 D.

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    Re: Best focal length for portrait in photography

    Mostly it has to do with camera to subject matter distance. 6-10 feet roughly 2-3 meters is the more preferred distance. It has to do with the length of the human nose. The distance from the eyes to the nose in a ratio to the eyes to camera distance. At a closer distance the nose tends to loom and at a further distance it tends to flatten out. So it isn't the focal length it is the correct lens for the format that will allow you to photograph at this 6-10 feet distance. For my 8x10 view camera that is a 600mm lens, for my micro sensor it is roughly a 40mm lens. For a 35mm or a full frame sensor that would be as you had asked a 85mm-105mm lens. Medium format it would be 120mm-180mm lens. I hope that clears it up. Joe

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    Re: Best focal length for portrait in photography

    I used 85mm on Nikon crop bodies and therefore would prefer something around 130 on full frame. But that's my style, I've shot portraits at 200mm on a crop body.
    What I'm saying is it's a personal thing. I switched to the 85 because the 70-200 was too big and heavy and somewhat intimidating to the sitter on location shoots. Again this is what my head told me and may not be fact in the "Clear light of reality" David

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    Re: Best focal length for portrait in photography

    Quote Originally Posted by ianbrother View Post
    bokeh is so creamy at this range
    Bokeh depends on the lens construction itself, not on the focal range.
    -Dragos
    Panasonic GH1/G1, Canon FTb(n)/F-1, Mamiya C330F/RB67 Pro SD, Chamonix 45N-2, Nikon F5 + Assorted Lenses

  8. #8
    Super Duper
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    Re: Best focal length for portrait in photography

    Quote Originally Posted by jsf View Post
    Mostly it has to do with camera to subject matter distance. 6-10 feet roughly 2-3 meters is the more preferred distance. It has to do with the length of the human nose. The distance from the eyes to the nose in a ratio to the eyes to camera distance. At a closer distance the nose tends to loom and at a further distance it tends to flatten out. So it isn't the focal length it is the correct lens for the format that will allow you to photograph at this 6-10 feet distance. For my 8x10 view camera that is a 600mm lens, for my micro sensor it is roughly a 40mm lens. For a 35mm or a full frame sensor that would be as you had asked a 85mm-105mm lens. Medium format it would be 120mm-180mm lens. I hope that clears it up. Joe
    +1 on the relationship of distance to perspective.

    The traditional rationale is that with miniature format film (35mm) you need a longer lens (1.5 to 2.5 times normal) to fill the frame for best quality at the right subject distance for the perspective, assuming a head-and-shoulders portrait.

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    Senior Member David Schneider's Avatar
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    Re: Best focal length for portrait in photography

    There's a difference between "best" and most popular. Sometimes a very wide is best to relate the background to the foreground. Sometimes a long tele is best to isolate. Best depends on subject and reason for the portrait.

    But if you are talking just head and shoulders, for business, high school yearbook, etc., then 75-135 is most popular. That said, in my studio, I probably am at about 180mm most of the time.

  10. #10
    Super Duper
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    Re: Best focal length for portrait in photography

    Lately I like 75mm best for my casual and family portrait things.
    I find it gives allready a natural look without being too compressed and also allowing me to be not too far away.

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