Which canon lenses are best for portraits?

Home Forums Photography Q&A Which canon lenses are best for portraits?

This topic contains 22 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  James Staddon 3 years, 6 months ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 23 total)
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  • #13099

    Allison
    Participant

    I am trying to find a good lens for portrait photography but am getting lost in all the options. Right now I’m shooting with only a 18-55mm kit lens and I’d like to make a definite upgrade. Do you have any suggestions?

    #13114

    David Frazer
    Participant

    I assume you are using a crop sensor body and are wanting to upgrade because the 18-55’s maximum aperture is too small (probably f/5.6 at 55mm).

    My fist suggestion would be a 50′ 1.8 (runs around 110 US$). But before you go get anything, consider going though all your portraits and figuring out which focal lengths you use most often. I personally find that for indoor portraits I use somewhere around 50mm. For outdoor portraits or close single-person portraits a longer lens is great. Do you find you are often wanting to zoom in closer than 55mm?

    #13120

    James Staddon
    Keymaster

    I highly recommend the 50mm f/1.8 too! It’s probably been the most popular portrait lens out there for over a dozen years. And for a lens of it’s optical quality, the price tag is unbelievably cheap. They even came out with an updated version of the lens (the STM one), and it’s still the same amazing low price at $125.

    Another lens that I like for portraiture is the 70-200 f/4 L or f/2.8 L. You’d have to be willing to shell out quite a bit more money though: $1000, $2000 each respectively.

    At any rate, what you’re looking for is a lens that can get you extreme background blur (bokah, or shallow depth of field, or whatever you want to call it). That’s what makes subjects stand out from the background and make portraits look so nice.

    On the 50mm f/1.8, it’s the exceptionally wide aperture that provides that exceptional depth of field.

    On the 70-200mm f/4.0 it’s the longer focal length that provides the depth of field.

    On the 70-200 f/2.8 it’s the wide aperture and longer focal length combined.

    In general, fixed lenses vs zoom lenses, with very low aperture numbers are going to get you the best results in portraiture.

    #13126

    Allison
    Participant

    OK. Thanks so much!

    #13127

    Annika Lystrup
    Participant

    I was going to reply and recommend the 50mm f/1.8 but it looks like James and David beat me to it.
    That is the lens I’ve had the most success with for portraits:)

    #13289

    Rachel L
    Participant

    I agree with the 50mm but would would spend an extra $150 and get the Canon 50mm 1.4 instead of 1.8! You will be glad you did. 🙂

    #13413

    James Staddon
    Keymaster

    Huh, I’ve never had anyone recommend the f/1.4 before. Do you use it often, @shilohphotography? Do you use it for portraiture? Is it difficult to get what you want in focus with an even smaller DOF?

    #13435

    Rachel L
    Participant

    @jamesstaddon I usually don’t shoot any lower than 2.0 or 2.5 for portraits but from my own personal experience the Canon 50mm f/1.4 has a better quality/smoother bokeh and image saturation + depth compared to the 1.8! The 50mm was my main portrait lens for several years but at the moment I use a Canon 35mm 1.4 for 95% of my work(it’s a beautiful lens that produces a crisp clear image). I will use the 50mm for food or product photography. Yes, it can be tricky getting the desired focus with an even smaller DOF but I do a lot of manual focus so it never has been an issue for me!

    I attached a couple images for reference. Cupcakes were shot with a 50mm and portrait was taken with 35mm!

    Attachments:
    #13470

    James Staddon
    Keymaster

    Absolutely stunning!

    It makes sense that you would not shoot as wide open for portraits. But I can see how the 1.4 would be great for product photography work, as that’s just about all manual focusing.

    These are good things to know, as I’ve only recently started fiddling around with prime lenses, so thanks.

    Do you do much product photography? I’ve got a big product shoot coming up in October and haven’t done much product specifically so am not sure where to start. Any recommendations? Do you use lightboxes? Where do you get your “lavender” or props to use in the setups?

    #13488

    Rachel L
    Participant

    Thank you! All glory goes to God.

    Well, I only use prime lenses so I have quite a few things to learn about zoom. 🙂

    Yes, actually product photography is the main portion of my business at the moment. Since the companies I photograph for tend to desire a more “organic” feel to the product photos, I haven’t had to use a lightbox in quite some time. You might try doing a “homemade” lightebox to see if you like to look before buying the full set-up. You can google “DIY photography Light Box” and find quite a variety of helpful tutorials. I still have a lot to learn in this area but 2 tips I usually give is make the photo visually appealing without “photo clutter” and taking the attention away from the subject/product. And always keep it really focused(obviously.) You want to draw the consumer’s eye to the product instantly and capture the attention of the consumer with a beautiful crisp photo!

    Props are found in various places. It’s good to think outside the box when purchasing the props as you can save money and usually find something unique. For example, the lavender was from a local lavender farm, I used Mica gold dust and dried fall leaves for a fall photo shoot purchased from an online craft store, and I keep my eyes open for old crates from thrift-stores or garages sales(I’ve attached 2 images to demonstrate how I have incorporated these into a product photo). Hope this is somewhat helpful. Enjoy the product photography, it’s a fun challenging job!

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 11 months ago by  Rachel L.
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    #13494

    James Staddon
    Keymaster

    Thanks for sharing your examples and ideas! I actually did create my own lightbox. 🙂 It’s a lot of fun if the objects are small enough. What lights do you use? That’s the part I haven’t been satisfied with in my experimentations yet.

    So I bet you have quite a prop closet! And such a creative idea with the Mica gold dust! Beyond crates, is there anything else that you find yourself using on a regular basis in your props? Or do you always purchase new things for each new job?

    For me specifically, I’ve been assigned to shoot “goat milk” products like soaps and lotions. I guess I’m having a hard time envisioning what backgrounds/props would be good with that sort of product. The picture-taking aspect of it shouldn’t be a problem . . . it’s the set up that’ll be the most tricky. 🙂

    If you don’t mind me asking, how would you go about shooting soap products made from goat milk?

    #13497

    Rachel L
    Participant

    I’ve yet to find the perfect lights for the lightbox. But seeing I don’t have much of an occasion to use the lightbox, I haven’t extensively researched lighting!

    I generally try to re-purpose/reuse props as much as possible which helps avoid the massive prop build-up but there will usually be a new element added per season so something new will enter the prop collection a few times a year. The props used most really vary with the product I am photographing so it’s hard to give a list of those used on a “regular basis”.

    Really, set-up is 95% of product photography in my opinion. It takes 5 times longer to create the desired “scene” than it will take to actually snap the picture! If I were to photograph goat products such as bar soap or lotions I would want to provide 1 set of lightbox photos and a set that will be visually appealing and artistic. I would find props with an earthy element to enhance the natural goat theme while still maintaining a clean a “serene” feel to the photos. Burlap, twines(I use a lot of jute twine or bakers twine for example), and the natural elements found in the soap(like lavender, rosemary, mint etc.) to add color. I’d work on accenting the product with these element but keep the background clean. This would be my personal photography style and this is what I would find attractive from a consumer’s point of view. I attached 3 inspiration pictures that seem to have the same feel as I’d like to achieve if I were doing this job. Hope this is helpful! 🙂

    Image 1 would be beautiful as long as a couple of the bars contained the actual logo/label to push the branding of the company.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 11 months ago by  Rachel L.
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    #13567

    James Staddon
    Keymaster

    I can’t tell you how helpful this is!

    One last question: have you come across any helpful articles, blogs, or classes online that would be helpful in learning product photography?

    #13573

    Rachel L
    Participant

    Good, I’m glad it’s helpful! 🙂

    No, strangely not many have dedicated themselves to teaching the art of product photography 😉 so I haven’t found any teaching material that has been helpful in this area of photography. So far for me product photography has been leaned (I still have a lot to learn) through lots of prayer and personal & practical application/experience! I do find that looking at product magazines/catalogs and seeing how professionals style and photograph product is really helpful. It’s good to see what angles and aspects they are capturing!

    #13587

    James Staddon
    Keymaster

    Sad but good to know. Have you ever considered putting together your own training material to help others like me?

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