Youve probably heard it said many times “you need and 85mm lens for portraits”. But why?
The truth is you can shoot a portrait of some sort with nearly any lens.
If we use a wide lens we take in a lot of the background which is a perfectly valid look but it’s the 85 that’s really considered the classic.
Shooting with a very long lens isolates and flattens the image but, lets say, if we are shooting at 200mm, an additional problem we have is that we can’t really speak to our subject. As a portrait photographer it’s really important that we have that connection to our subjects in order to get the best out of them. It can quickly become a hand on hip smile at the camera job at distance if we aren’t careful. The world doesn’t need any more of that.
An 85mm can take a flattering headshot, half-length and full length portrait. It’s really very flexible and useful. It’s harder to do a headshot with wide lenses and hard to do a full length with say a 135mm lens as you will be pretty far away. Although anything is possible and can be made to work. 85mm is the safe zone of portrait photography. Make of that what you will.
85mm simply provides the best balance of isolation, compression which is flattering and distance. 34mm 50mm 100/105 and even 135 are all very common for portraits, but most photographers find that 85mm the easiest way to get what they need from a portrait. This is simply why it’s so popular. A portrait photographer would make a good start with an 85mm lens and most will own one.
BUT, yes capital but, while 85mm is a very standard focal length for portraits, going outside of the normal range for portraits can yield unusual results and its important to learn what focal lengths appeal to you as a photographer. SO while I would always say a portrait photographer should start with an 85mm lens I have seen amazing portraits shot on, say, 24mm lenses.