Best Focal Length for Portraits – All You Need To Know About Portrait Photography

Photography is an art, or in other words, a mere game of perspectives. There is no right way to do it, and every photographer wants to get a shot that looks best from their individual perspective.

Moreover, it is true that no one wants to capture look-alike shots. Honestly, it isn’t very likely they would either because the art of photography isn’t based on a set of rigid rules. We are alone in the scenic field, free to capture the image just like we wish to.

However, there are some tricks that help us make the most of our photography game, and one of those tips is using the right focal length. While you are free to use any focal length while shooting portraits, relying on prominent photographers’ advice will help you improve your skills and rank your portrait images high on the list of your best-ever shots.

Focal Length for Portrait Photography

24mm Focal Length for Portrait Shots

24mm Focal Length Portrait Shot of Woman in Sitting Beside Table
Camera: ILCE-7M3 | Focal: 24.0mm | Aperture: ƒ/2.8 | ISO: 125 | Shutter Speed: 0.005s

If you want to capture faces with noses twice their size and eyes that appear awkwardly distorted, 24mm is an ideal focal length for portraits. It is a wide-angle lens that zooms in on every insecurity of the person getting their portrait shot done instead of concealing their flaws. Who wouldn’t love that?

In all honestly, use the 24mm focal length for landscape photography instead. It is the perfect sweet spot that makes the foreground objects look relatively larger while the background appears evenly stretched out, not distorted.

24mm Focal Length for Portrait Shot Of Women
Camera: Canon EOS 5DS | Focal: 24.0mm | Aperture: ƒ/1.4 | ISO: 200

28mm Focal Length for Portrait Shots

While 28mm is a little less wide than 24mm, it is still too wide for portrait shots and will make your portraits appear distorted.

28mm focal length is mostly used for getting decent wide-angle landscape shots without trespassing into the ultra-wide-angle territory. 

28mm Focal Length for Portrait Shot of Group of People Taking Pictures of a Mountain
Camera: ILCE-7M3 | Focal: 28.0mm | Aperture: ƒ/4.0 | ISO: 100 | Shutter Speed: 0.00125s

35mm Focal Length for Portrait Shots

Almost everyone appreciates the 35mm lens. Even though it is slightly wider than the normal 50mm lens, a lens similar to the eye’s perspective, it is still considered a general-purpose lens and can be used for capturing both: portrait and landscape shots.

35mm Focal Length Portrait Shot of Women Sitting on Orange Sofa
Camera: Canon EOS 6D | Focal: 35.0mm | Aperture: ƒ/4.0 | ISO: 1000 | Shutter Speed: 0.008s

In fact, it is a great option for capturing low-light portraits because the 35mm prime lens doesn’t increase the amount of light no matter how close you get to your subject. You can’t really zoom in with a prime lens because they are not zoomable. However, this works in your favor because getting close to your subject allows you to experiment with favorable perspectives- perfect for enhancing your photo.

35mm Focal Length Portrait Close-Up of Woman With Short Hair
Camera: Canon EOS 6D | Focal: 35.0mm | Aperture: ƒ/2.0 | ISO: 125

85mm Focal Length for Portrait Shots

The further you move from the 35mm mark, the better your focal length becomes for portrait shots. The lens narrows down, which means that you no longer face the problem of weird facial features and unwanted distortion.

The 85mm focal length is deemed ideal for portrait photography because you don’t have to sit on top of your subject to get the perfect shot. You can snap natural shots with decent background angles from even a bit further away. However, if you wish to capture a narrower angle, feel free to do so as it readjusts and deepens the focus on the details of your subject: neither of the angles would make your subject appear awfully misconstructed.

85mm Focal Length Close-Up Photography of Asian Girl
Camera: NIKON D700 | Focal: 85.0mm | Aperture: ƒ/2.2 | ISO: 200

135mm Focal Length for Portrait Shots

Two extremes are never enough, and that is true in the case of the 135mm focal length. Just like ultra-wide-angle lenses are not preferred for portrait photography, neither are extra-long lenses.

The 135mm length, though used by many photographers, is not ideal for the best portrait shot because it makes your subject appear way smaller than it actually is. With such a limited field of view, it is almost impossible for your image to capture everything you wish to capture, making you tread awkwardly around your subject in order to shoot every major detail.

135mm Portrait Shot of Parents sitting with children in living room
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Focal: 135.0mm | Aperture: ƒ/2.5 | ISO: 100 | Shutter Speed: 0.0015625s

Portrait Photography 101: Is a Zoom lens better than a prime lens?

While both prime and zoom lenses are used for portrait photography, we prefer a prime lens for this purpose because the fixed focal length paired with a large aperture makes it a great fit for capturing crisp and clear images with no hints of distortion. However, some people prefer going for a zoom lens simply because you can change the focal length instead of carrying several lenses to every photography gig. Who has the pocket to afford those many lenses?

Types of portraits and their recommended focal lengths

Family Portrait

Wide-angle lenses or not, the rules of portrait photography change when you aren’t capturing one subject but instead three, five, or maybe more. For these occasions, grab a 35mm general-purpose lens, and attach it to the full-frame camera to ensure that the entire family gets captured in one swift snap. Step back for an even larger group and grab a 24mm lens instead.

Candid Portrait

Who doesn’t love candids? If taken the right way, a candid shot will probably make you revel in your own beauty for several minutes, if not hours. The ideal focal length for candid photography is 28mm because the wide-angle lens zooms in on the favorite features of your subject without awkwardly distorting them.

Creative Portrait

Creative portraits grant you the most creative freedom by allowing you to steer free from rigid photography rules and experiment with the scene however you wish to. The best way to attain this creative liberty is via the focal length range of 85mm to 105mm.

Standard Portrait

Standard portrait, unlike candid, has your subject posing for the camera deliberately. No one is pretending that the camera isn’t there. Instead, they are looking straight into the camera’s eye and making visible even those features that aren’t the best.

This is why a focal length range from 35mm to 70mm is preferred. It is neither too wide that the features appear twice their size nor too long that you have to take multiple varied shots to capture the tiniest details.


Photography is an art that comes from the individual’s creativity rather than conforming to a standard list of rules. However, by seeking inspiration from the advice of renowned photographers, you can easily switch up your photography game.

After reading our article on the best focal length for portraits, you will understand that 85mm is an ideal focal length to capture stunning, focused portrait shots, while 24mm and 135mm are the least recommended. They tend to distort the images and make them appear unpleasing.

However, the ideal focal length changes when you move from individual portrait shots to family portraits because only some focal lengths will fit the entire family without giving that cramped feeling. Moreover, you can use a prime or zoom lens for portrait photography, but we prefer the former because of their low-light and maneuverable shooting capability.