It's Not About the Gear!
Oct 13, 2023
When it comes to producing compelling portraits, creativity reigns supreme. The gear, including the camera and lens, are a distant second. Too many photographers fail to recognize the importance of their creativity in the equation when it comes to shooting captivating portraits. How many times have you thought, if only I could afford to shoot with a Leica or Hasselblad or if I only had the latest and greatest f/1.4 or f/1.2 lens, then I could make better portraits.
Paraphrasing the gifted portrait photographer, Albert Watson, portrait photography can be analogized to driving a car. It’s not so much about what you’re driving, but where you’re going.
Choosing a portrait lens is a very personal choice. Best advice for those who are just starting their journey, use one lens for all your portraits. Over time, using one lens will make you an expert with that lens and allow you to put its strengths to best use.
Despite the above declaration, I’m quite certain if you’re reading this blog post, you’re curious to know what I use to shoot portraits. Up until very recently, I shot primarily with a Leica M240 and a Leica 90mm f/2 aspherical. Less frequently I would shoot with a Nikon D850 and a 70-200mm f/2.8. In mid-2023 I sold my Leica gear and replaced it with the Hasselblad X2D and a 135mm f/2.8.
Major factors to consider in your portrait lens choice are its focal length and aperture. If you opt for a wide-angle lens and are close to your subject to fill the frame, the model’s face will become distorted. This warped appearance of the face typically happens with focal lengths of 28mm or larger. On the other side of the spectrum, telephoto lenses will compress or flatten the scene. Objects in the frame appear closer than they really are and the space between the background and foreground seems to shrink. Additionally, the compression that occurs with a telephoto lens will compress the features of your model’s face which is a desirable, flattering effect. Most of the portraits I shoot include only the head and shoulders and for this, the ideal focal length is 75 mm or greater. If your preference is to shoot full length portraits, you’ll likely opt for a 50mm or a 35mm focal length or even a 24-70mm zoom.
Actress / Model: Amber Stonebraker