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Headshot Photography Tips | Our Three Favorite Lenses For Headshot Photography

July 15th 2017 10:17 AM

With so many lenses out there to choose from, it’s nice to hear from someone who has already tried them out and can report back with what they’ve found the most useful for a given scenario. At SLR Lounge, we have a wealth of collective knowledge and experience that we are happy to share with you, and we happen to be thinking about headshots a lot lately so let’s have a chat about our favorite headshot lenses.

Here are our three go-to’s, and why. We shoot mostly Canon in our studio, but all of these lenses have some kind of counterpart from other brands that will do the trick just as well.

[RELATED: Big Lens Sales & Rebates From Tamron & Nikon | Deal Dash]

THE LENSES:

85mm f/1.2L

This is the classic portrait focal length, and for good reason. It’s not going to distort your subject, places you a comfortable distance from them as you shoot (neither too far nor too close,) and is super sharp.

For bokeh enthusiasts, this lens offers a super shallow depth of field, but in the studio with strobe, it’s actually overkill. Even at their lowest setting, most strobes will be too bright to shoot at f/1.2 without overexposing. For this reason (even though it’s nice to have the fanciest and most expensive stuff when you can), you would be no worse for wear with an 85mm f/1.8 which costs a fraction of the cost and still offers basically all of the benefits in a studio environment.

Alternatives:

100mm f/2.8 Macro

This is another great focal length for portraits, and this lens is as sharp as a tack. It’s a little longer than 85mm, but not so long that you will be a mile from your subject with your back against a wall on the other side of the studio yelling directions.

In the Canon realm, there is an L and a non-L version and you can’t go wrong with either. Outside of the studio, you may find yourself missing the wider aperture available on the 85mm, but in the studio, you’ll be just fine with this lens. Plus, it has the bonus of being a really great detail lens if you also shoot weddings or other occasions that require close-ups. I’ve even used it for product shots with great results.

Alternatives:

24-70mm f/2.8L II

While not quite as ideal as a headshot specific lens, this is a phenomenal piece of glass that is hugely versatile and will give you top-notch quality. There’s not really much getting around the cost of this one for a first party lens – there are third party options that will cut down on the expense but it’s still not going to be cheap. That said, 24-70mm is an incredibly useful range to have. For headshots, you would be using the long end – 70mm.

Since this is a fair bit shorter than our next shortest focal length, it will cause a little bit of distortion. To counteract this, pull back a little and leave room around your subject to crop. You’ll lose a little resolution this way, but most modern cameras have ample megapixels for this without harming anything for this purpose.

Alternatives:

If you’re just getting started in headshot photography, any of these lenses would be a great first addition to your kit to capture portraits.

What is your favorite lens to use for headshot photography? Let us know in the comments, and show us your work in our Facebook community!

For more content like this and in more detail with video demonstration, be sure to check out our Headshot Photography 101 workshop and if you’d like access to our full collection of Premium workshops, become a subscriber!

About

Seattle based photographer with a side of videography, specializing in work involving animals, but basically a Jill of all trades.
Instagram: @HJRphotos

Comments [6]

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  1. Reginald Walton

    I shoot headshots with my Canon 135 – Just can’t beat it. I do occasionally use the 70-200, but the 135 L f2.0 is tact sharp.

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  2. David Long

    For actor headshots, I also have been using the Canon 70-200/2.8L_IS on the 1D3 body (1.3x crop).  I picked up a 5D2 and I’m about use the FF sensor with the 70-200.  I have also been happy with the 24-105/4L_IS on the 1.3x crop sensor.  In the 100mm range, I get good compression and little distortion.

    I would like to add the 70-200/4L to the bag.  Sometimes the f2.8 seems to be a bit of overkill….and heavy for a walking around lens.

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  3. Shai Yammanee

    For actor headshots I primarily use the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L on a full frame body. Shooting between f3.5 to f5.5, and from 100 to 200mm, all depending on the look I want and the background. 

    I used to use the 70-200 f4 L (non image stabilised version) and it was pretty darn sharp. Though, it was best to use a tripod, or at least a monopod, with that lens. Saying that, as long as I shot around 1/160 or faster, or shooting with a strobe,  I was still able to get tack sharp images. 

    A great lens and so much cheaper, and lighter, than its f2.8 sibling.

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  4. adam sanford

    New 85L is imminently arriving, an f/1.4L *IS* version to be sold alongside the f/1.2L II.  Could be killer:

    http://www.canonrumors.com/canon-ef-85mm-f1-4l-is-three-more-lenses-coming-at-the-end-of-august-cr2/

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