Story by Anthony Thurston
50mm is a great focal length for portraits because you get a little bit of that telephoto compression that portrait photographers love so much, but you also still get enough width that you can have some context in the image in regard to the environment (if you like).
But to get the most out of your 50mm lens, we generally feel these are best used at a sort of intermediate distance from your subjects. But the joy of the 50mm is that really you can see it from whatever distance you like; get close for some tight headshots, or pull back and get some epic ‘tiny people landscape’ images. You won’t have much if any distortion and 50mm primes are generally really sharp too.
50mm allows you to get close or still pull back even in fairly tight locations. This is a key advantage to a portrait photographer.
One thing to consider though, given that the 50mm lens you are using will most likely be at least an F2 aperture, is that the closer you are to your portrait subject, the more you should think about maybe stopping down depending on the look you are going for. 50mm, at close distances, will sometimes give you that classic ‘eyelashes in focus and nothing else’ or the even more amateur “one eye in focus the other eye not” look. So just be conscious of what your depth of field is looking like when you are shooting at a close distance to your subject.
As well, when you are shooting with a 50mm lens, don’t be afraid to move around or zoom with your feet. That is the glory of the 50mm lens, it is probably one of the best lenses for zooming with your feet because its distortion is so well controlled, so you can just move closer or away without much issue; unlike with wider lenses where the position of your subject in the frame can come into play with relation to distortion and such.
Regardless, it’s actually pretty hard to screw up shooting portraits with a 50mm lens. Just take these points into account when you are shooting and you will do great.
50mm Lens Recommendations
- Canon 50mm F1.8 STM (Our Review)
- Nikon 50mm F1.8 G (Our Review)
- Fujifilm 35mm F2 (Our Review)
- Sony 50mm F1.8 FE (Our Review)
- Canon 50mm F1.2L