Zoom lenses aren’t the first things that come to mind when creating portraits. See how you can utilize one of the most versatile lenses to create beautiful portraits! We decided to test out the new Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8 and showcase it in a different way. Oftentimes, zoom lenses are regarded as the perfect lens for any situation, but they don’t always come to mind when photographing portraits.

Video: Tamron 17-70 Zoom Lens Tutorial

They’re great walk-around lenses because they offer a lot of flexibility but we don’t often think about using them for portraits and when we do we struggle sometimes because they don’t necessarily offer the depth and bokeh that you would see in a prime lens. So we end up not using them and they stay in our kit collecting dust once we move on to primes. Our goal today is to challenge that theory and stick to the Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8 using only natural light with our model Lauren and see just how versatile a zoom lens can be for capturing portraits. I’ll be shooting with a Sony Alpha a7C, but you can use any camera you have to take shots like we’re about to show you. While we shoot we’ll talk about some dos and don’ts for using zoom lenses for portraiture as well.

Expectations with a Zoom Lens

Oftentimes we get so used to photographing with our prime lenses that when we pick up our zoom lenses we expect the same type of results. We’re not going to get bokeh or depth in the shot, at least not nearly as much as a prime, but there are ways to make a zoom lens function as a prime lens. Now let’s get into some of the don’ts we encounter when shooting with a zoom lens.

Related Reading: Prime Vs. Zoom Lenses

Depth of Field

tamron 17 70 lens review 1Don’t shoot a wide-angle image like this at f/2.8 expecting to get bokeh, it’s just not going to happen. That background and depth we often see with prime lens shots doesn’t translate when using a zoom lens at a wide-angle. A newer zoom lens with shallower depth of field like f/2 might give you a similar look, but still not quite the same as f/1.2-1.4. This means that depth can’t be part of our compositional techniques when building the shot.

Lens Distortion

tamron 17 70 lens reviewDon’t get super close or frame your subject against the edges of the frame. If we get too close to Lauren or start framing her against the edges you’ll start to see the distortion of the lens again, especially when you’re shooting zoomed out at 17mm.  I don’t recommend going wide-angle and shooting portraits from a close distance. We can instead use this distortion to help dictate what types of compositional techniques can work in our favor, such as leading lines and the rule of thirds. You can see I’ve placed Lauren in the center of the frame and I have used that edge distortion to elongate the body. This is the beauty of the zoom, we get that wide-angle lens built into one single lens without having to switch between primes, we just lose a bit of depth as a compromise.

Rewind: If I Could Only Have One Lens, It Would Be the 28-70 f/2

Focal Length

1 tamron 17 70 lens reviewThis is when a zoom lens truly shines. In one single lens, you get popular prime focal lengths like 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and close to 85mm all in one without ever having to swap out your lens. Of course, there are some drawbacks because there is a fixed aperture on most quality zoom lenses at f/2.8, but the potential and variety of shots you have are extensive. Popular portrait focal lengths are 35mm and 50mm and you two for the price of one in one single lens here.

2 tamron 17 70 lens reviewA slight exception to this is that you don’t quite get the compression effect of an 85mm prime lens using a zoom lens at its most zoomed-in focal length. You’ll see in this shot I am maxing out the Tamron at 70mm but we can still see some detail in the background. This is easily what convinces most people to jump aboard the prime train and buy lenses like the 85mm and 105mm at f/1.2 or f/1.4, nothing quite compares.

I hope this tutorial showed you just how versatile a zoom lens can be and why it’s worth dusting it off in your kit and taking it out for a spin on your next portrait session. As long as you use it with the intent and purpose while understanding the realistic expectations it comes with, it can provide some beautiful results as you’ve seen here. You can learn more about the Tamron 17-70mm here. For more education and tutorials make sure to check out our Premium membership where you can access our full library of courses on photography, lighting, post-production, and much more!