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Top 3 Lenses For Photographing Bridal Portraits (And 5 Honorable Mentions)

By Sean Lewis on May 10th 2019

On any given wedding day, bridal portraits rank among the most important. Ask any bride and she’ll tell you the same. Part of the challenge when capturing these images, which often take place in small, cluttered hotel rooms with dim lighting, is knowing which lens(es) to use. In order to capture everything from the bride’s preparation to her solo portraits under these conditions (not to mention within the usually short timeframe), it helps to choose a lens (or three) that will allow you to be versatile and dynamic in how you approach a scene. In addition to choosing the “best” lens for the occasion, it’s worth noting the importance of scouting the location for clean backgrounds and ideal lighting as soon as you arrive.

A Quick Disclaimer…Sort Of.

You may notice a bias for prime lenses in our top three choices. We’ve selected these lenses because they offer great background separation and bokeh when shot wide open, usually with wider apertures than are available with zoom lenses. This can prove especially helpful when shooting in dim lighting or spaces loaded with distracting elements.

That said, here are the three lenses (as well as five honorable mentions) that we prefer for shooting bridal portraits and prep photos.

1. 85mm Prime (True Portrait)

The 85mm focal length really stands in a class of its own. The 85mm prime, in particular, delivers amazing bokeh with little to no distortion of the bride’s face and body. As you’ll notice in the breakdown of our other top choices and honorable mentions, other (usually wider) focal lengths introduce distortion, sometimes considerably, depending on how close you’re standing to your subject.

Even though this focal length is much tighter than a 24 or 35mm lens, you can still use it to capture group portraits, such as the bride with with her bridal party. Of course, you’ll need room to back up, but don’t automatically switch to a wider lens for group portraits unless the size of the space you’re in dictates what you can and can’t do as far as framing your subjects.

Here are some options for purchasing this lens:

2. 50mm Prime (Portrait/Journalism)

Although the 35mm focal length is more widely used for photojournalism, the 50mm prime offers amazing versatility with its photojournalistic properties, which are perfect for capturing both portraits and bride prep candids. It’s wide enough to capture close-up action yet it introduces very little distortion, which means you’ll be able to capture more of a “true portrait” than you would with a wider focal length.

Again, by choosing a wide aperture prime, you’re able to use depth of field more creatively and choose how sharp or blurry you want the background (or the subjects in the background) to be. In the image below, the wide aperture separated the bride from her bridesmaids with shallow depth of field, but the focal length is wide enough to include them in the frame.

Like the other top selections, the 50mm prime is great for capturing group portraits as well. For individual portraits, the 50mm focal length shines for mid to full body portraits so that you’re far enough back from the subject to minimize lens distortion.

Here are some options for purchasing this lens:

3. 35mm Prime (Journalism/Environmental + Exaggerated Portrait)

The 35mm focal length is widely used for photojournalism, and it’s easy to see why. The frame is wide enough to capture a lot of the scene at relatively close distances, which means you can include more details in every image to better tell your story.

One of the other cool attributes of the 35mm focal length is its exaggerative properties. This is where lens distortion works in your favor. You can shoot low and the lens distortion can make your subject appear taller and slimmer. Lines that occur within the frame, such as windows, furniture, or other objects, will also lend themselves to further exaggerating the scene and the bride’s features (such as her dress). Just be sure to capture flattering angles, which really goes for any lens and angles you choose to use.

Here are some options for purchasing this lens:

Honorable Mentions

As a bonus, we are going to include five lenses that are nice to have, but not necessary (which should be a relief to your wallet). These lenses may or may not suit you depending on your preferred shooting style, but this collection will definitely allow you to capture a diverse set of artistic images. Also, having a good mix of primes and zooms will allow you to be ready for action-filled moments while still focusing on the art behind the moment.

4. 1oomm macro (Detail Shots, True Portrait)

Part of bride prep usually includes capturing the details of the bride’s dress and accessories. There’s really no better lens for these product-style shots than the 100mm macro lens. The best part is that this focal length also works well for capturing beautiful, true portraits (with little to no lens distortion). If you have the budget and space in your camera bag, consider adding this bokeh-dream lens to your collection.

Here are some options for purchasing this lens:

5. 24mm (Environmental + Exaggerated Portrait)

The 24mm focal length lives on the wide side, which is great for capturing environmental portraits or working within confined spaces. Also, with a 24mm prime lens, you get the added benefit of having a wider aperture for decent fall-off and background separation. However, it’s important that you remain aware of lens distortion.

Here are some options for purchasing this lens:

6. 90mm Tilt-Shift (Special FX Portrait)

Tilt-shift lenses, when used for portraits, are known for their unique depth of field and artistic appeal. Using this lens well usually requires a bit of practice, but the results are worth the time invested. Few lenses draw the viewer’s eye to the intended area of focus the way a tilt-shift does, and it’s an excellent choice for bridal portraits.

Here are some options for purchasing this lens:

7. 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom (Journalism/Environmental + Exaggerated  Portrait)

Zoom lenses always make the must-have list for lenses when shooting within any number of genres, but for bridal portraits, we reserve using these lenses for situations in which zoom functionality takes priority over the look of the image. Such occasions include shooting in a limited space or not having adequate time to capture different angles without one. To be clear, the 24-70mm lens is a great, versatile choice, but whenever possible, priority goes to the prime lenses mentioned above.

Please note, when shooting at the wider end of the zoom, beware of lens distortion, especially at close distances to your subject.

Here are some options for purchasing this lens:

8. 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto (Journalism/Compression/True Portrait)

The 70-200mm focal range is solid for photojournalism and capturing true portraits. This lens really shines outdoors or in large rooms when you have the space to take advantage of lens compression; however, the telephoto focal length is often too tight for the smaller indoor places in which bridal prep and portraits tend to take place.

Here are some options for purchasing this lens:

Conclusion

There are several lenses to choose from when capturing bridal portraits, and each can be used to serve different purposes, from capturing true portraits to environmental or exaggerated portraits. The important thing is to know which lens to use to get the look you want in the space you have available.

Here’s a recap of our favorite lenses (and honorable mentions) for photographing bridal portraits, in order of preference:

  • 85mm Prime (True Portrait)
  • 50mm Prime (Portrait/Journalism)
  • 35mm Prime (Journalism/Environmental + Exaggerated  Portrait)
  • 100mm Macro (Detail Shots, True Portrait)
  • 24mm Prime (Environmental + Exaggerated Portrait)
  • 90mm Tilt-Shift (Special FX Portrait)
  • 24-70mm Zoom (Journalism/Environmental + Exaggerated  Portrait)
  • 70-200mm Telephoto (Journalism/Compression/True Portrait)
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About

Sean fell into photography while teaching for a non-profit. What started as a minor task – documenting guest speakers and classroom activities – grew into a major obsession, and eventually led to a position shooting with Lin & Jirsa. Nowadays, at SLR Lounge, Sean’s work as a marketing associate merges his interest in the fields of photography and education.

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