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The Best Lenses for Portrait Photography

with Sean Hepburn, Sissela and Ricardo Williams

There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to portrait lenses, but it doesn’t hurt to get some guidance. We talk to three Photocrowd photographers who specialise in portraiture

Sigma 105mm, f/2.8 Macro EX DG OS HSM

Nikon D810, 105mm, 1/180sec at f/13, ISO 64

Chosen by Sean Hepburn

I have been taking portraits for over ten years, most seriously in the last four, and have tried several lenses in that time. It’s well known that the most aesthetic focal length is around 100mm on a full frame camera, but that’s never stopped me experimenting with other lengths. When it comes to beauty portraiture though, I always pull out the same piece of kit: the Sigma 105mm f2.8 Macro EX DG OS HSM.

Press and user reviews show it has a few niggles, but the sharpness, contrast and distortion are very well suited to my style of portraiture. It does suffer from quite strong vignetting, especially wide open, but is much reduced at around f/4. I don’t mind the darker edges; I would probably add a little back if there were none, anyway. It also has nine aperture blades and produces some lovely bokeh effects when used at f/2.8. The fact that the lens is half the price of a Nikon equivalent, plus the fact that it’s a lovely macro lens also added weight to my decision when purchasing this lens.

To see more of Sean’s work, visit his Photocrowd page

Canon 50mm f/1.4

‘Butterflies’, exposure unknown

Chosen by Sissela

It’s funny how it works. Sometimes your favourite thing is something you have had forever. It is a loyal companion that always works. Something you can rely on and that you know in and out. In this case, it is my 50mm 1.4 Canon lens.

I bought the lens way back when I got my first camera, a Canon 450D (a Rebel camera in the States). That was even before I purchased my current camera, which, let’s face it, is pretty old as well – a Canon 5D II, which I bought right after the Mark III came out.

My 50mm is an amazing tool. I recently purchased an 85mm for portraits, and even though I quite adore that lens as well, I always end up going back to my 50mm. The sharpness is on point, it is incredibly reliable, and I adore how it has helped me to see people differently. I love doing close-ups and for that, it is absolutely brilliant. I can use it for both fashion photography or portraits; it really doesn’t matter. At this point, I know it so well and exactly how far I can push it.

One of my favourite features of the 50mm is the bokeh and the light-sensitivity. Sometimes you cannot predict your lighting situation, and having a lens that can cope in a lot of darkness and still perform well, is everything. My entire style of photography has been developed over that one lens and I wouldn’t want to be without it.

To see more of Sissela’s work, visit her Photocrowd page

Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8 D

‘Wonder’, Nikon D90, 50mm, 1/60sec at f/9, ISO 100

Chosen by Ricardo Williams

My favourite lens for portrait photography is the 50mm lens; I am enamoured with it. Its very fast, versatile and lightweight and the bokeh effect it creates expands the options we have at the time of shooting our subject. It is a prime lens so you don't have a zoom feature, but the caveat of having to walk towards or away from your subject is not enough to take anything away from the beauty of this lens.

I use it mainly for portrait photography work be it in the studio, outside in nature or street photography. If you are going to take photos from a bit of a distance I would probably recommend a different lens, but if you are looking for an exquisite portrait finish while not spending an incredible amount of money on a lens, the 50mm is the way to go. It is wonderful for capturing close up portraits and I highly recommend it even if you are a novice or an expert photographer. It works great in studio light situations and only your creativity is the limit when you are using natural night and your surroundings.

To see more of Ricardo’s work, visit his Photocrowd page.
If you have any portrait lens advice, let us know in the comments below.

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